March 30, 2011

Coltrane Home to Whitman Birthplace

Last weekend, I drove by the Coltrane Home in Dix Hills. From the years 1964 to 1967, this dwelling was the home of legendary jazz artist, John Coltrane. As I stood at the foot of the long driveway, I imagined Coltrane sitting on the front steps with his saxophone at his lips, blowing jazz into a crisp Long Island evening. It gave me a feeling of great reverence.

As the sign at the curb states, this is the place where Coltrane composed his great work “A Love Supreme.” This highly spiritual album consists of a 32-minute suite done in 4 parts. The music represents Coltrane's journey toward purity and gratitude to God. Recorded in December of 1964, the album was originally released with liner notes that included a devotional poem. In the fourth movement of the piece, Coltrane does what he called a "musical narration" in which he plays the words of the poem on his saxophone as if speaking them. While the liner notes aren't usually available on new CD versions of "A Love Supreme," I've been able to dig up this except:

"A Love Supreme" is widely known as one of the greatest jazz albums of all time. Though, my personal favorite John Coltrane album is "Giants Steps." A fantastic recording! When I hear the descending major seventh arpeggio that opens the title piece, I am immediately transported back to my college days and Jazz Appreciation class. I really love the piece on that album called "Countdown." It starts off with a drum solo. Soon, Coltrane bursts into some stellar saxophone improvisations. The piano and bass come in several measures later to introduce the sweeping chord progression. The main melody of the piece isn't played until the very end thus making the song form backwards. Hence the title: Countdown. Brilliant.

As long as were on the subject of great jazz albums, let me share with you one of my long time favorites: "Travels" by the Pat Metheny Group. It is a double live album from 1983 that includes some of the most atmospheric, haunting, and beautifully emotional jazz/fusion that I've ever heard on a record. Around that time, I was lucky enough to see a Pat Metheny concert at an outdoor pier in Manhattan. I recall people looking out of the windows of nearby buildings as grand music filled the night. Immediately after the show let out, it started to drizzle and I just walked around New York City beneath the kiss of gentle rain, completely high on jazz. Ah, what a beautiful scene...

Another historic house that I recently visited is the Walt Whitman Birthplace in Huntington. The site consists of an Interpretive center and the original dwelling. I had been to the Interpretive Center several times for poetry events (it has a great open room with a round stage surrounded by all kinds of memorabilia and statues of Whitman), but this was the first time that I had gotten the chance to take a guided tour of the house. It was fascinating to walk through the boyhood home of one of America's most well-known poets. I had to stop and catch my breath for a moment when the docent announced, "You are now standing in the room where Walt Whitman was born." Just wow!

"I have come into the world as a light,
so that no one who believes in me
should stay in darkness."

~John 12:46