Right after eating a burger at Dicks with my friend Rich Jensen, who got me going on about I Am Cuba, a film that changed my life in much the same way that the three thousand pages in Remembrance of Things Past changed my life when I was 23, I started thinking about A Love Supreme by Coltrane, a record that is constantly changing my life.
Just recently, after almost two decades of deep admiration for this magnificent work of musical art, I realized that it starts with a chinese gong. I have no idea why I didn’t notice this until three or so days ago, and the realization changed (extended) my understanding of the whole project. “Acknowledgment,” the opening and most famous track, starts with a chinese gong, an instrument that is rarely heard in the world of jazz, and it was the one and only time John Coltrane used it—this gong shimmers magically like a city appearing in the sky. It is the concept, the sun, the thing that makes everything what it is. And after the gong’s sound diminishes, radiating out into the nothingness of space (drummer Elvin Jones is the one who strikes the gong), Coltrane blows a fanfare, an announcement, a call to all to come alive, to be born, to be reborn, to rise from either side of life, the void before and the void after existence. On the wings of the fanfare, we descend, angel-wise, spiraling through clouds, to earth and arrive at the ground, the human—the famous four note bass line performed by Jimmy Garrison. That four note bass line is the blues, simply and true. It is the basic block, the basic pulse of life, the human being—its life beat, its life blood. And so, in the 30 seconds that radiate from the majestic gong, the magical sun splash, the life stuff of stars, we go down, by way of Coltrane’s fanfare, to the blues, the beat of human beings. I will stop here. I’m on fire.
Jensen, thanks for the burger.