Coltrane, Harrison, Dylan, and God, Pt. 1

John Coltrane – Om

Time has a tendency to turn axioms upside down if one is listening, reading, watching, etc. with an open mind.  The Beatles were this after experimenting with psychedelics.  Elvis was that after the army.  Stevie Wonder and Marvin Gaye were something completely different once they started singing about what was “going on,” etc., etc.  Clear delineations with no middle ground, right?  Of course not.  Not only do we listeners/fans change as we age, but so do the artists, obviously.  What was once hip or great is now a punch line (Culture Club, anyone?), and what was too deep we now like to dive into and not come up for air for roughly 45 minutes.  This is why there will probably always be “new” 50-year-old music for me to explore.

One example is an album I didn’t originally intend to write about, but which I realized segues into my main topic (which I’ll now save for my next post):  John Coltrane’s Om, released posthumously late January/early February 1968 (Coltrane passed away July 17, 1967).  Recorded in 1965, Om is a further exploration by the saxophonist into Eastern spirituality and avant-garde jazz.  It is also widely considered his most disliked work.  I find this interesting, as I feel the album only expounds upon his A Love Supreme recorded just months before, and that work is considered a groundbreaking classic.

But Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders push the boundaries of art even further out with their soprano and tenor saxes, respectively, and Trane is even more pronounced about his spirituality on this record.  At a couple of points on the recording, he and a couple of others chant a portion of the Bhagavad Gita:  “Rites that the Vedas ordain, and the rituals taught by the scriptures: all these I am…I am Om!”  Certainly this must have ruffled the sensibilities of a waspy Dave Brubeck connoisseur.  It wouldn’t be the last time an artist vexed their fans with the imposition of their spiritual leanings into vinyl grooves or on stage.  Either way, Om is an acquired taste for the layperson such as myself, and I’ll keep nibbling.

Francis Wolff photo

But even if I don’t really understand what Coltrane and Pharoah Sanders were doing on this record, musically speaking, I appreciate the spirit in which it was done due to my own spiritual interests and an inclination to understand avant-garde or free jazz a little better.  That’s my “in” for an album such as this, just as it was for its predecessor.  Will I like it as much as A Love Supreme in the long run?  Probably not.  It’s really out there.  But it doesn’t matter, because finding out is the best part of the journey.


Side One:

  1. Om, Part One

Side Two:

  1. Om, Part Two

But enough about jazz musicians exclaiming their newly found spirituality through their music, and on to folk and rock musicians exclaiming their newly found spirituality through their music…