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A Love Supreme: The Story of John Coltrane's Signature Album Paperback – October 28, 2003
The Amazon Book Review
Author interviews, book reviews, editors picks, and more. Read it now
"The emotions I experienced while reading Ashley Kahn's A Love Supreme gave me a feeling of beauty, elegance, excellence, grace and dignity. I congratulate him for a supreme effort well done." (Carlos Santana)
About the Author
Ashley Kahn is the author of critically acclaimed Kind of Blue: The Making of the Miles Davis Masterpiece; the primary editor of Rolling Stone: The Seventies, and a primary contributor to The Rolling Stone Jazz & Blues Album Guide. His freelance features on music and culture have appeared in the New York Times, TV Guide, MOJO, Newsday, The New York Observer, New Statesman (UK), Jazz (France), GQ (Japan), Down Beat, Jazz Times and many other publications. He was music editor at VH1, and has also been a concert producer and tour manager, working with a wide variety of artists from Paul Simon, Peter Gabriel and Britney Spears, to Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Cassandra Wilson and Debby Harry and the Jazz Passengers.
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In A Love Supreme, journalist Ashley Kahn attempts to tell the story of the making of A Love Supreme. Of course, with it, we also get a good account of who John Coltrane was, his rise into the Miles Davis "Kind of Blue" sextet, drug addiction and self-imposed rehabilitation, the civil rights and black power movements of the 1960's, and the evolution of jazz music. All of these are told in crisp journalistic prose supplemented by interview excerpts from those close to the press-shy Coltrane: Elvin Jones, Kenny Burrell, Rudy van Gelder, even Alice Coltrane.
I will never listen to A Love Supreme in the same way again. Yes, I always knew - it is just obvious in the suite's movements - that ALS is infused with meaning and significance. But now, I feel like I know a little more about what Coltrane had in mind for the suite. Interestingly, at the time this book was written, the audio for the mysterious second day's session (with two saxophones and two bass players) had not been released to the public, so Kahn puts the pieces together about what transpired on that second day as a detective putting together the facts of a case. Of course, now, that second day's material has been released and is available for listen on an 2 CD set of A Love Supreme put out by Impulse!. Of course, this just adds to the book because now, we can hear what Kahn describes.
Anyhow, this is a very well done book about one of the most evocative jazz albums of all time. Strongly recommended for both jazz novices and true fans.
First of all, let me explain that I have a substantial library on jazz music - mostly about Miles and Trane. I found this book to be very insightful, regardless of what anyone else has written in their review. I don't want to be disrespectful of those reviews but I fail to see how some arrived at a mediocre or low opinion of this book. Not at all! In fact, I've learned so much and enjoyed this book so much that I'm definitely going to purchase Kahn's Making of Kind of Blue and Impulse the House That Trane Built. Personally, I can't wait to read 'em!
Kahn provides first hand accounts of both the December 9 & 10 sessions at Rudy Van Gelder's studio from Archie Shepp, Art Davis, McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones, Bob Theil, and of course Rudy himself.
The book tells us what made recording at Rudy's so special, he describes the studio and even gives a high-level look at Van Gelder's methodology (the details are Rudy's closely guarded secret).
There is a title by title analysis of the suite in layman's terms but he & Ravi Coltrane DO give the listener some sign-posts to listen for each time you listen to the suite. I know that as a semi-professional jazz musician, I've learned new things about this music that I can actually apply to my own playing.
The description of how Impulse started, how they packaged and produced the recordings and took them to market was fascinating (to me anyway). I learned some things that I'd always wondered about. There is some discussion on Billboard and how the news about this fantastic work of art quickly spread 'round the USA.
There is a chapter toward the end "The Unbroken Arc of A Love Supreme" where I felt like Kahn was flirting with becoming trite and a little over-the-top but thankfully, he didn't quite go there... but it was close. That is my only criticism of this book. He just goes a little over-board with the reverence for this music, i.e., he sort of hits the reader over the head again and again with it. Ok, I get it. This is a special recording. Of course, we already KNOW that otherwise we wouldn't be reading a book devoted to a specific recording. Duh? It's not an annoyance but some reader may begin rolling their eyes, let's put it that way.
This book is perfect for the non-musician and a great read for musicians. The only downside (if you can call it that) for musicians is that there really isn't a detailed analysis of the music - no transcripts. If you are a musician you will want to purchase Lewis Porter's John Coltrane: His Life and Music. That book will give you transcripts galore. In fact, Porter is cited often in this book & this book is cited often in the Porter book. I enthusiastically recommend both books and of course, the deluxe edition of A Love Supreme. Buy them all, I guarantee whether you are a musician or just a jazz lover, you are going to learn something.