Reliving John Coltrane and his A Love Supreme with Philly’s finest recorded live at Philly’s Mother Bethel AME Church.
During the earliest weeks of 1965, one-time Philadelphian, and full-time bourgeoning saxophone god, John Coltrane released his deeply free and deeply spiritual instant classic, A Love Supreme. A spacious, emotional and holy awakening for audiences and musicians alike. This collection of mesmerizing moments seemed to be, both, a culmination of every innovation from the saxophonist-composer’s collective past. As well as something bold, new and beyond mere improvisation. A Love Supreme is the sound of a man speaking, calmly, in tongues.
This weekend, in support of Black History Month and PBS’ “The Black Church: This is Our Story, This is Our Song”, a new performance of A Love Supreme recorded live at Philly’s Mother Bethel AME Church, will air throughout NPR’s local networks. After WRTI broadcast the program dedicated to the concept of spiritual love on Valentine’s Day, WXPN-FM will carry the John Coltrane-inspired concert on Friday, February 19. WHYY-FM will air the program on February 28. Valentine’s Day is also Founder’s Day for Mother Bethel, since it is Bishop Richard Allen’s birthdate.
For this fresh, free, complete take on A Love Supreme, Philadelphia pianist Orrin Evans and his trio are joined by saxophonist Morgan Guerin. Along with singer-writer Ruth Naomi Floyd’s texts and songs (“Surrounded”) created for the occasion. Additional music includes a traditional Communion hymn (“Let Us Break Bread Together”), and a Civil Rights era classic (“Oh Freedom”).
“My reason for playing with Morgan is simple… He’s the future,” said Orrin Evans during a brief email chat. “One of the most talented artists on the scene today. And as for how this came together, I would call Josh Jackson from WRTI. This was all his idea.”
In speaking with Jackson, he illustrated NPR/WRTI’s A Love Supreme, from start to its present-day, in one long incredible email. Thank you, Josh.
“In late December, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting issued a Request for Proposals for public radio stations with music formats for a project grant to support engagement around the PBS documentary series, The Black Church: This is Our Story, This is Our Song, with Dr. Henry Louis Gates. WRTI was among the stations invited to submit for consideration.
Since WRTI has a robust jazz presence in Philadelphia, the city claims John Coltrane as its own, and Mother Bethel AME is among the most historic landmarks related to the Black Church in America, there seemed to be enough dots to connect and make some interesting content – both audio and video – for people to experience. A Love Supreme is a landmark work, and it’s very much about a deep spirituality born from Coltrane’s experience. His music has impacted every generation following his death in 1967, and it will continue so.
I imagined this almost as a jazz vespers service. In fact, we originally wanted Rev. Tyler to contribute a benediction from the pulpit at Mother Bethel, but he was unavailable. So we put together a program that reflected aspects of love, communion, and freedom, since those are among the tenets of Black liberation theology and foundational to many aspects of worship for African-Americans of many denominations. Coltrane’s A Love Supreme is interfaith in nature.
Ruth Naomi Floyd was a natural for this project because her work has reflected many of these principles, and she could write some poetic text to support the other parts of A Love Supreme and make it fit to the moment. I asked Orrin to participate because I know I can expect a high level of engagement and a strong ability to handle the music direction. He has a working trio that can support a vocalist, and they all know Coltrane’s music intimately. Orrin has been a mentor to Morgan for many years, and most musicians who are listening recognize that Morgan has great potential to contribute to music in a significant way. Finally, all these musicians have a sympatico, and they understand the job is not to simply mimic Coltrane’s quartet but to play it how they feel it.
I don’t know if there’s any one moment in the show that is above any other. I’ll say when we recorded it on January 31, everything was done in a single, continuous take. I had to cut it up to make it work within the broadcast format. WRTI will release the complete, uninterrupted performance – audio and video – in September. It’s our way of honoring Coltrane around his birthdate later this year. And it should stand alone without announcing and the other things that radio requires.”
Amen to that.