The History of Spiritual Jazz: Hear a Transcendent 12-Hour Mix Featuring John Coltrane, Sun Ra, Herbie Hancock & More

Jazz has inspired a great many things, and a great many things have inspired jazz, and more than a few of the music’s mas­ters have found their aspi­ra­tion by look­ing — or lis­ten­ing — to the divine. But that does­n’t nec­es­sar­i­ly mean they sub­scribe to tra­di­tion­al reli­gion. As befits this nat­u­ral­ly eclec­tic music that grew from an inher­ent­ly eclec­tic coun­try before it inter­na­tion­al­ized, its play­ers tend to have an eclec­tic con­cep­tion of the divine. In some of their inter­pre­ta­tions, that con­cep­tion sounds prac­ti­cal­ly all-encom­pass­ing. You can expe­ri­ence the full spec­trum of these aur­al visions, from the deeply per­son­al to the fath­om­less­ly cos­mic, in this four-part, twelve-hour playlist of spir­i­tu­al jazz from Lon­don online radio sta­tion NTS.

“Dur­ing the tumul­tuous ’60s, there was a reli­gious rev­o­lu­tion to accom­pa­ny the grand soci­etal, sex­u­al, racial, and cul­tur­al shifts already afoot,” writes Pitch­fork’s Andy Beta. “Con­cur­rent­ly, the era’s pri­ma­ry African-Amer­i­can art form reflect­ed such upheaval in its music, too: Jazz began to push against all con­straints, be it chord changes, pre­de­ter­mined tem­pos, or melodies, so as to best reflect the pur­suit of free­dom in all of its forms.”

This cul­mi­nat­ed in John Coltrane’s mas­ter­piece A Love Supreme, which opened the gates for oth­er jazz play­ers seek­ing the tran­scen­dent, using every­thing from “the sacred sound of the South­ern Bap­tist church in all its ecsta­t­ic shouts and yells” to “enlight­en­ment from South­east­ern Asian eso­teric prac­tices like tran­scen­den­tal med­i­ta­tion and yoga.”

It goes with­out say­ing that you can’t talk about spir­i­tu­al jazz with­out talk­ing about John Coltrane. Nor can you ignore the dis­tinc­tive music and the­ol­o­gy of Her­man Poole Blount, bet­ter known as Sun Ra, com­pos­er, band­leader, music ther­a­pistAfro­fu­tur­ist, and teacher of a course called “The Black Man in the Cos­mos.” NTS’ expan­sive mix offers work from both of them and oth­er famil­iar artists like Alice Coltrane, Earth, Wind & Fire, Her­bie Han­cock, Gil Scott-Heron, Ornette Cole­man, and many more (includ­ing play­ers from as far away from the birth­place of jazz as Japan) who, whether or not you’ve heard of them before, can take you to places you’ve nev­er been before. Start lis­ten­ing with the embed­ded first part of the playlist above; con­tin­ue on to parts two, three, and four, and maybe — just maybe — you’ll come out of it want­i­ng to found a church of your own.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

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

Dis­cov­er the Church of St. John Coltrane, Found­ed on the Divine Music of A Love Supreme

Sun Ra’s Full Lec­ture & Read­ing List From His 1971 UC Berke­ley Course, “The Black Man in the Cos­mos”

Sun Ra Plays a Music Ther­a­py Gig at a Men­tal Hos­pi­tal; Inspires Patient to Talk for the First Time in Years

The Cry of Jazz: 1958’s High­ly Con­tro­ver­sial Film on Jazz & Race in Amer­i­ca (With Music by Sun Ra)

Space Jazz, a Son­ic Sci-Fi Opera by L. Ron Hub­bard, Fea­tur­ing Chick Corea (1983)

A Huge Anthol­o­gy of Noise & Elec­tron­ic Music (1920–2007) Fea­tur­ing John Cage, Sun Ra, Cap­tain Beef­heart & More

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­ma, the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Ange­les Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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