To celebrate John Coltrane’s birthday, I went to the SF Jazz Family Jazz Concert and heard Teodross Avery channel Coltrane’s soulful playing in a stunningly beautiful and powerful concert. I always say that good jazz is the perfect blend of body and soul, intellect and heart, but people being who they are, some lean to one of the four more than the other. But Coltrane always fired on all four cylinders. A prodigious intellect studying and practicing for hours and hours Slonimsky’s Thesaurus of Scales, but gathering all that information in service of a soulful feeling the mines the heights and depth of our capacity to feel. Indeed, I often complain that most of the kids at Family Jazz are restless toddlers and preschoolers interrupting the music with their outbursts. But today, when a baby scream erupted, it fit right in with the music! And back to Coltrane, the music goes straight to the body, as it did with the 10-year old girl near us dancing in her seat with her long hair flailing about. And the sound of Coltrane’s horn does not pass Go or collect $200, but goes straight to the heart. There is a John Coltrane church in San Francisco and it’s not just because his initials are J.C.! The man and his music remind us that Spirit and Soul are real and possible to express and receive through the sacrament of sound and music.
I then had the pleasure of leading the Family Jazz workshop with two other fellow Orff-Jazz conspirators following the concert and because more post-toddler children than usual came and I finally had the good sense to put the Orff instruments in a horseshoe shape and have the kids play first with their fingers, it was one of the more satisfying workshops we’ve given. Boom Chick a Boom followed by Step Back Baby and we were almost ready for Giant Steps when our time was up. J
From there to the De Young Museum’s exhibit of African-American art and Coltrane would have approved. More body, soul, intellect and heart in these powerful works created by women quilters, machinists, steelworkers, making use of what’s around them to bring beauty to their difficult, difficult lives and redeem themselves and others. For my money, ten thousand times more colorful, aesthetic, powerful, moving and authentic than so much of the indulgence I see at MOMA done by people with lots of time and privilege on their hands.
From there, walked through the Peace Festival at the Park, kind of a time-warp Summer of Love thing with tie-dye shirts, rock music, yoga and meditation tents and such and hey, you can’t argue with peace and love, but it all felt so airy and superficial next to the works I just had witnessed. It has something to do with the lack of struggle and suffering and time spent with soil or steel, something about skimming from the surface of feel-good practices and therapies, something to do with the Smooth Jazz mentality, all the discordant notes removed. Coltrane played them all and made them beautiful, Thornton Dial took scrap metal and tree roots and created extraordinary sculptures in his back yard and neither of them tiptoed around the grief of simply being human and the added grief of being black in America.
I’m not saying any of this well, but just wanted to get something out on Coltrane’s birthday. Amazingly, he could have still been here with us—he would have been 91 today—and how amazing would that have been to sit down and jam with him at the Jewish Home for the Aged!!
Happy birthday, J.C.