Gary Crosby reflects on Coltrane’s A Love Supreme

In 1993 J-Night booked a band called Jazz Jamaica, who were beginning to create a storm with their infectious mixture of jazz and ska, to headline the Jazz Festival. So began a partnership with Dune Music Tomorrow’s Warriors and its M.D. Gary Crosby OBE that has lasted for over 20 years. Rarely a year goes past without a visit from one of their amazing stable of bands and artists and J-Night has presented all of their major projects in a relationship that has lasted 22 years! So what have we got for you this year? We asked Gary Crosby to outline his next project for Hull:

“ 2015 marks the 50th anniversary of the only live performance by John Coltrane of his everlasting classic, A Love Supreme. I feel honoured to have been invited to perform this monumental piece on Saturday 25 July at 3pm at Hull Truck with my quartet, which features my long-time friend and musical sparring partner, Denys Baptiste. Completing the rhythm section are the great Rod Youngs on drums and rising star pianist, Joe Armon-Jones, a graduate of Tomorrow’s Warriors’ Young Artist Development Programme.

I first discovered Coltrane’s A Love Supreme in about 1977, and it has to be said that this classic jazz album had an instant and profound effect on me.

It was apparent to me that this was a personal piece of work – a spiritual albeit very public declaration by Coltrane that his life as a musician was now a seamless (at one) dedication with his faith in God. Here was a man who was rising out of his personal problems, including a long struggle with drug and alcohol addiction.

It’s about ten years ago that I started playing A Love Supreme with Denys Baptiste (and I’ve only ever performed this work with Denys on saxophone). This is a rare piece and, in fact, we have only played it about 7-8 times. However the way we play Coltrane is engrained in our consciousness. We try to keep the spontaneity, and are mindful about how and when we rehearse. In fact we only ‘rehearsed’ the piece before we had to perform it for the very first time all those years ago, and every other time since then, we command up our energies, get into the mindset and play the set in the sound check before the live performance. In doing so we try to keep a collective purity, a kind of naturalness if you like.

However A Love Supreme is one of the world’s sacred canons, and we certainly will not abuse the composer’s intention. As musicians, we want to learn from the piece each time we undertake the work. It’s our absolute duty to play it as Coltrane intended, for example in the case of the bass solo in the movement, Resolution, it really does not need anything from me (or any musician) to be heard as a great piece of art. The work is awesome and awe-inspiring.

It’s really important that the audience engages with Supreme from a pure live perspective. Forty minutes of an intensified and meditative experience. It surely takes you over and elevates the mind and spirit. There’s no choice – you have to take the piece seriously, audiences and musicians alike, but never allow the weight of its meaning and significance to scare you because the rewards are so great. Before we play, I like to ask tacit permission from the audience to give us 45 minutes of their unadulterated time and attention also to allow my Quartet to transport them to another zone, through an immensely hypnotic score – to recapture that spirit that Coltrane shared all those years ago. For me A Love Supreme is pure inspiration.

Pure genius. Whether you are religious or not, it’s revealing to be allowed to share in the visceral statement that Coltrane is making – his service to God. The music/concept came to him by some sort of osmosis, apparently. Coltrane congregated all the elements in one day and, with that, he left us a great piece of work that in a thousand years we will be still be listening to, one that unites humans at the spiritual level – a work that unites musicians across genres. Whether you are religious or not, people all over the work respect what Coltrane did. Not everybody ‘gets’ jazz, but back then in 1965, hippies, folk and progressive rock musicians, accepted this as one the great universal musical statements for the ages.

A Love Supreme is “for music fans, not just jazz fans. For people across musical boundaries and cultures — for Carlos Santana, Bono, Joni Mitchell, Steve Reich, Bootsy Collins, Gil Scott-Heron — hearing A Love Supreme was a revelation” Arun Rath, npr.

Come and hear us play A Love Supreme live. I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

Peace and love.

Gary Crosby