An Artist Supreme

“Book writing can be tricky: one can write to fit, or one can do it in broad strokes, letting the words choose the path and limit,” says Ashley Kahn, author of the forthcoming A Love Supreme: The Story of John Coltrane’s Signature Album (due out in late October from Viking Penguin). “When it came to delivering the story of John Coltrane’s most renowned recording I went broad.

“I wanted to get it all in and edit later: a biographical section; eyewitness reports of the sessions; rare photographs; studies of Trane’s famed quartet, of the studio, of the record company.”

That “edit later” came in the form of a huge section on Impulse Records (we’ve dropped the label’s famous exclamation point to help the text flow); Kahn says his editor deemed it “too ancillary” and cut much of it.

We’d like to thank that editor, for he provided JazzTimes with this month’s remarkable cover story, “The House That Trane Built: The History of Impulse Records.”

“Though portions survive in the Love Supreme book, the majority was edited out,” Kahn says. “As a history I feel it’s instructive as to the forces that make great jazz recordings happen. I’m still fascinated by the personalities and varying agendas that built and maintained the cradle of Coltrane’s final years, and intrigued by those who continue to keep the Impulse name alive.”

With “The House That Trane Built” anchoring this issue, our three columnists—Stanley Crouch, Gary Giddins and Nat Hentoff—weigh in on the legacy of Coltrane as well. Also, I spoke to Herbie Hancock about his Directions in Music band, which honors Trane and Miles Davis, and Bill Shoemaker reevaluates four recent Alice Coltrane CD reissues.

In other words, it’s a Coltrane-themed issue that isn’t explicitly about Coltrane.

Our columnists did focus on Trane specifically and, without asking them to, all three gravitated to the era a few years before Coltrane died. Crouch and Giddins take on the music the saxophonist made post-1965, and Hentoff focuses on Coltrane’s spiritual quest, which reached an all-time fervor near the end of his life.

Last year was the 75th birthday of Trane, who was born September 23, 1926. We opted not to buy into the arbitrariness of birthday-related tributes and didn’t do a Coltrane-based issue last September. And this issue came together not in response to a PR-related push, but organically, like the music of the man we are covering.

Originally published in September 2002

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