Life-changing jazz albums: John Coltrane's 'A Love Supreme'

Hammond organ hero Joey DeFrancesco talks about the album that changed his life, A Love Supreme, by John Coltrane. Interview by Brian Glasser

When I started, because I played the organ, I was listening to a lot of records related to that – the obvious guys: Jimmy Smith, Jack McDuff, Jimmy McGriff, and my father. But A Love Supreme changed my whole process of music – harmonically, spiritually, everything. It just went inside my body and took over! Since that time, that record’s been a very big part of my musicality. I was probably 12 or 13 when I heard it on the radio in my house in Philadelphia. They had several jazz stations in Philly then – and there’s still one, in fact. I used to stay up late at night and sneak down and listen to the stereo real close to the speakers. Being a musician himself, I’m sure my dad wouldn’t have objected if he’d known! I was a big fan of Coltrane already, but in different settings. In our collection at home, we had mostly 1950s and 1960s records, including lots of Miles Davis, so Coltrane was on those; and of course we had ‘My Favorite Things’. When you hear certain things as you’re coming up, you can think they’re not good. I remember when I was around 10, my dad brought home Live at the Plugged Nickel by Miles and the great quintet. At the time, I was listening to Cookin', Steamin', Relaxin', which were fantastic; so when I heard Plugged Nickel, I wasn’t ready for it. I thought, ‘Miles – does he practice? What’s Wayne playing?’. But as you grow, you understand how unbelievable it is – it’s all feeling. Miles can miss a note better than most guys can make one…

“It seemed like the history of music with so much feeling in it, all wrapped into one thing”

So obviously it was the timing of the late-night radio revelation – by now, I was ready. I’d been playing for eight years, since I was four – so I had heard a lot of music. I guess I was an old 12! I was understanding a little more about other styles and harmony. The freedom of the improvisation on the record was amazing – improvising is already free of course, but this was improvising to the point where you feel you could do anything. It takes a long time to be able to do that. I heard the song ‘Resolution’, and I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Because there was everything – I didn’t only hear this other sophisticated harmonic approach, but I still heard the serious groove of Elvin Jones and Jimmy Garrison, and the way McCoy Tyner was playing behind Coltrane, the feeling. I heard a lot of blues in there too – it seemed like the history of music with so much feeling in it, all wrapped into one thing. I think that was what I loved about Coltrane: you hear the big basis of the blues, but they’re stretching the harmonies, and they keep swinging and groovin’ so hard underneath. All the elements are there. I think it’s very important to know the tradition. Without the foundation, the fundamentals, there’s no depth to your music. All those guys back then knew that. When I played with Miles, he explained everything musical to me with reference to that.

Ever since then, that’s kinda been my approach. Though I suppose directly in terms of my own music, it didn’t really hit me really hard until a few years later. It takes time to digest and add that into your playing. You have to do a lot of listening to understand it. It was the attitude, the possibility that grabbed me when I was young and stuck. The radio announcer said what it was, and I thought, ‘I have to get this’. So we went to the store the next day – at that time there were incredible record stores in Philly, specific jazz stores that had everything. I went in with my dad and asked for it. We bought it on vinyl – CDs only started happening when I was about 15. The record was an old record – secondhand, but in really good condition. I still have it! When I heard the whole record, I just couldn’t stop listening to it. I didn’t know what was going on: it was so different, and so the same – it’s hard to explain, like all great music! But something about A Love Supreme drove me wild – and obviously, I’m not the only one!

The album

Love SupremeJohn Coltrane

A Love Supreme

Impulse! (1965)

John Coltrane (ts, ss), McCoy Tyner (p), Jimmy Garrison (b) and Elvin Jones (d).

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