Religious faith. What does it mean to you? Could it be a misinterpretation of facts, a grand illusion, a mental relief in times of trouble, a definitive and undeniable truth maybe? To me, there is no point for a conclusive verdict to be ever drawn, mostly because it has a different meaning to everyone. And this is why, throughout the centuries, the most peculiar things have been religiously worshipped. From celestial bodies and regular people who are perceived to have ascended to heaven after their resurrection, to Argentinean soccer players and the greatest sax maestro the world has ever known.
Under regular circumstances, a piece of writing like this would begin with a basic who-is-who on John Coltrane. But that’s not going to happen. Not only because ‘Trane was so important to american jazz, so it’s a given that everyone is familiar with him, but mainly because a regular biography could not be our case here. What matters is the impact of his figure and his music on people’s lives in the course of years. That’s the first reason. The other would be that very recently, I got myself in a situation, where I had to talk about Coltrane with someone at work, starting from absolute scratch, and the experience was surreal.
I run a record store in Thessaloniki Greece and it was a quiet Wednesday afternoon. At the time, I was arranging the vinyl section, when a really likeable gentleman came in, looking concerned, as if he was searching for something, but wasn’t quite sure of what exactly. He explained that he was interested in buying a record for himself, preferably of jazz music, while he had absolutely no clue about it. So far so good, I don’t see myself as an elitist snob like the guys in “High Fidelity” (at least i hope not), so I gladly offered to help. I picked out 3-4 classic albums for him to listen and of course, “Soultrane” was one of them.
That first partial listening didn’t help him a lot in order to decide, as he was unfamiliar with the genre, but he was persistent to get at least one of the records. Being stubborn is a good feature for a music fan. But he was also very skeptical, which made things difficult for me.
“You think I should get this Coltrane guy huh?”
“Yes sir, absolutely”.
“So you say that he is good, right?”
“I’m pretty certain he is the best, yeah”.
I promise, I have all the good will to help, but nobody should EVER have to convince anyone that John Coltrane is “good”.
– Yeah, he is alright, a good guy, with his sax and everything, a decent player. That is just wrong.
And it’s definitely something that would never happen in 1286 Fillmore Street, San Francisco. Not where bishop Franzo King ministers the African Orthodox Church of Saint John Coltrane.
After his death in 1967, a congregation in California under the name of “The Yardbird Temple” began to hold services in his name, considering him “God reincarnate”. Having taken their name from Charlie Parker’s pseudonym “Bird”, they were later united with the African Orthodox Church and changed his status to “saint”. As bishop King himself puts it “God is never without a witness. St. John Coltrane is that witness, for this time and this age”. Ever since, his music and words are included and used as guidelines to the sermon, attended by the 100+ members of the congregation and visitors from around the wolrd.
The cornerstone of the preaching is the seminal album “A Love Supreme”, where Coltrane had his epiphany and opened himself to spiritual paths, even though he never followed any organized religion. He was embracing a more universal form of God, which of course didn’t stop him from creating this masterpiece. Certainly, it has made bishop King’s life a lot easier, providing exceptional music and words for the sermons, which I’m certain are much more appealing than the ones at my local orthodox church.
So nobody should be surprised, if you see me doing some serious packing to San Francisco when (and if) my true moment of epiphany comes along…
This article is an adaptation from Artcore Magazine