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Where Jazz and Spirituality Meet

John Burger - published on 07/09/14

John Coltrane's "Psalm" inspires prayer.

Here’s a new take on the ancient practice of lectio divina.

Fifty years ago, the great jazz saxophonist John Coltrane recorded an album called A Love Supreme, a suite in four movements. Each of the four pieces had a name: Acknowledgement, Resolution, Pursuance and Psalm.

The fourth movement is actually based on a “psalm.” Not one of the 150 psalms in the Bible, but one that Coltrane himself wrote.

As David had his lyre, "Trane" had his sax.

In spite of some theologically-dubious statements in Coltrane’s psalm (“all roads lead to God”), the poem is nevertheless the kind of prayer of praise and thanksgiving one might expect to read in the Psalter.

But here’s the thing. The words aren’t sung on the album but served as Coltrane’s inspiration. Apparently, he had the hand-written poem in front of him as he improvised the piece, along with pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison, and drummer Elvin Jones.

According to Wikipedia, Coltrane was reared in a Christian home in North Carolina, which apparently had a big influence on him. Both of his two grandfathers were AME Zion ministers.

Later in his short life, Trane became interested in all kinds of spiritualities. He and his second wife were interested in Indian philosophy. In the liner notes of his 1965 album Meditations, Coltrane wrote, “I believe in all religions.”

Nevertheless, as you watch this video by James Cary, you get a glimpse into the musical process and how Coltrane “prays” the words with his sax.

Kind of like a prayer experience one might have as one deeply meditates Scripture—the very essence of lectio divina.

Have a lookand a listenand let us know what you think. 

John Burger is News Editor for Aleteia.org’s English edition.

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