An Animated John Coltrane Explains His True Reason for Being: “I Want to Be a Force for Real Good”

Last week, we post­ed an inter­view with the late, great Ray Brad­bury that was bril­liant­ly ani­mat­ed by the folks over at Blank on Blank. This week, they unveil a new piece fea­tur­ing John Coltrane. You can watch it above.

Coltrane is, of course, one of the true giants of 20th cen­tu­ry music. He first got atten­tion play­ing with the Miles Davis Quin­tet in the mid-1950s on albums like Relax­in, Cookin’ and Steamin’ before he released his sem­i­nal solo album Blue Train. But his career quick­ly fal­tered. He was hooked on hero­in and Davis, a for­mer junkie him­self, fired him from the Quin­tet. When he cleaned him­self up, Coltrane found he was a changed man. “In the year of 1957,” he writes in the lin­er notes for his mas­ter­piece A Love Supreme, “I expe­ri­enced, by the grace of God, a spir­i­tu­al awak­en­ing, which was to lead me to a rich­er, fuller, more pro­duc­tive life.”

Through­out the 60s, Coltrane sought to express his rapid­ly evolv­ing sense of spir­i­tu­al­i­ty through music that grew ever more com­plex and avant-garde. Late peri­od Coltrane is a far cry from the moody grace of Blue Train; it’s a cas­cade of fren­zied notes that can be as sub­lime as it is dis­cor­dant and chal­leng­ing.

The piece above is a record­ing by Paci­fi­ca Radio reporter Frank Kof­sky who talked with Coltrane in Novem­ber 1966, just eight months before he died at the age of 40 of liv­er can­cer.

At one point in the piece, Kof­sky asks him how much he prac­tices. Trane was famous for the man­ic inten­si­ty with which he played. He once report­ed­ly spent ten hours per­fect­ing the sound of a sin­gle note. 12-hour prac­tice ses­sions were the rou­tine. In the inter­view, how­ev­er, Coltrane is non­cha­lant. “I find that it’s only when some­thing is try­ing to come through you know that I real­ly prac­tice and then it’s just, I don’t know how many hours, it’s just all day. “

Lat­er in the video, when Coltrane dis­cuss­es switch­ing from a tenor sax to a sopra­no, you get a glimpse of how dri­ven he was by his muse.

The sound of that sopra­no was actu­al­ly so much clos­er to me in my ear. I didn’t want admit this damn thing because I said well the tenor’s my horn, this is my baby but the sopra­no, there’s still some­thing there, just the voice of it that I can’t… It’s just real­ly beau­ti­ful. I real­ly like it.

But the most poignant moment comes at the end of video when he describes what kind of per­son he wants to be.

I mean I want to be a force for real good. In oth­er words, I know that there are bad forces. I know that there are forces out here that bring suf­fer­ing to oth­ers and mis­ery to the world, but I want to be the oppo­site force. I want to be the force, which is tru­ly for good.

For Jazz fans every­where, there is no ques­tion that he was a force for good. And it was all embod­ied in his music.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

John Coltrane Per­forms A Love Supreme and Oth­er Clas­sics in Antibes (July 1965)

John Coltrane’s Hand­writ­ten Out­line for His Mas­ter­piece A Love Supreme

Watch John Coltrane Turn His Hand­writ­ten Poem Into a Sub­lime Musi­cal Pas­sage on A Love Supreme

Jonathan Crow is a Los Ange­les-based writer and film­mak­er whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hol­ly­wood Reporter, and oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. You can fol­low him at @jonccrow. And check out his blog Veep­to­pus, fea­tur­ing lots of pic­tures of bad­gers and even more pic­tures of vice pres­i­dents with octo­pus­es on their heads.  The Veep­to­pus store is here.

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