If you were to compare some of the music of John Coltrane to the world of food, I think you would be safe to place him in the category of today’s gastromolecular chef. Both produce a distinct, out-of-the-ordinary experience for its prospective audiences. Both are easily misunderstood. And I would add that both probably felt a compulsion to create that drives them beyond the norm.
Coltrane was a contemporary of Miles Davis in the late fifties, just at the time Davis was exploring the cool jazz sounds that would reach forward decades later and put his fingerprints on artist like Steely Dan and the electronic sounds of techno, house and trip-hop. Coltrane took the keys to the musical vehicle that Davis handed him and put the pedal to the metal. He found such freedom in expression in the modal jazz form that he often did not know when to quit. It is said of the days when the two played together live, that Davis might leave the stage and take a seat at the bar as Coltrane began his solo. At one particular gig, forty five minutes later, Davis would return to the stage once Coltrane was finished. This created some tension at times, to which Coltrane defended himself by saying, “I just don’t know when to finish.” Miles retorted with a snap, “Just take the damn horn outta your mouth, man!”
Much of Coltrane’s music does not make it on a playlist for the restaurant; else I would have too many people with puzzled looks asking to turn it down. It is not ordinarily accessible. It is “extra“-ordinary. It does what all great jazz should do; it makes you think about what is being played. It creates a statement. It is not background music. It is not to be ignored.
To appreciate the music of Coltrane is to be willing to step deeply into his theory and practice and understand the thought behind the seeming cacophony. There was method to his madness and that method, much like some chefs, requires thought and engagement
It’s a goal of mine to have more Coltrane encounters this year. Whether its food or music, I don’t want to take either for granted. I want to be near the kitchen or near the stage of thoughtful, engaged creators that believe in their craft so passionately that to overlook it would be an ignorant transgression.
The older I get, the less I want to take life for granted.