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

Today we present a rare doc­u­ment from the Smith­so­ni­an’s Nation­al Muse­um of Amer­i­can His­to­ry: Coltrane’s hand­writ­ten out­line of his ground­break­ing jazz com­po­si­tion A Love Supreme.

Record­ed in Decem­ber of 1964 and released in 1965, A Love Supreme is Coltrane’s per­son­al dec­la­ra­tion of his faith in God and his aware­ness of being on a spir­i­tu­al path. “No road is an easy one,” writes Coltrane in a prayer at the bot­tom of his own lin­er notes for the album, “but they all go back to God.”

If you click the image above and exam­ine a larg­er copy of the man­u­script, you will notice that Coltrane has writ­ten the same sen­ti­ment at the bot­tom of the page. “All paths lead to God.” The piece is made up of a pro­gres­sion of four suites. The names for each sec­tion are not on the man­u­script, but Coltrane even­tu­al­ly called them “Acknowl­edge­ment,” “Res­o­lu­tion,” “Pur­suance” and “Psalm.”

In the man­u­script, Coltrane writes that the “A Love Supreme” motif should be “played in all keys togeth­er.” In the record­ing of “Acknowl­edge­ment,” Coltrane indeed repeats the basic theme near the end in all keys, as if he were con­scious­ly exhaust­ing every path. As jazz his­to­ri­an Lewis Porter, author of John Coltrane: His Life and Music, tells NPR in the piece below:

Coltrane more or less fin­ished his impro­vi­sa­tion, and he just starts play­ing the “Love Supreme” motif, but he changes the key anoth­er time, anoth­er time, anoth­er time. This is some­thing very unusu­al. It’s not the way he usu­al­ly impro­vis­es. It’s not real­ly impro­vised. It’s some­thing that he’s doing. And if you actu­al­ly fol­low it through, he ends up play­ing this lit­tle “Love Supreme” theme in all 12 pos­si­ble keys. To me, he’s giv­ing you a mes­sage here.

In sec­tion IV of the man­u­script, for the part lat­er named “Psalm,” Coltrane writes that the piece is a “musi­cal recita­tion of prayer by horn,” and is an “attempt to reach tran­scen­dent lev­el with orches­tra ris­ing har­monies to a lev­el of bliss­ful sta­bil­i­ty at the end.” Indeed, in the same NPR piece which you can lis­ten to below, Rev. Fran­zo Wayne King of the Saint John Coltrane African Ortho­dox Church in San Fran­cis­co describes how his con­gre­ga­tion one day dis­cov­ered that Coltrane’s play­ing cor­re­sponds direct­ly to his prayer at the bot­tom of the lin­er notes.

In addi­tion to Porter and King, NPR’s Eric West­er­velt inter­views pianist McCoy Tyn­er, the last sur­viv­ing mem­ber of Coltrane’s quar­tet. The 13-minute piece, “The Sto­ry of ‘A Love Supreme,’ ” is a fas­ci­nat­ing overview of one of the great mon­u­ments of jazz.

Note: An ear­li­er ver­sion of this post appeared on our site in Sep­tem­ber 2013.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Orga­nized Reli­gion Got You Down? Dis­cov­er The Church Of Saint John Coltrane

John Coltrane Talks About the Sacred Mean­ing of Music in the Human Expe­ri­ence: Lis­ten to One of His Final Inter­views (1966)

John Coltrane Draws a Pic­ture Illus­trat­ing the Math­e­mat­ics of Music

The Secret Link Between Jazz and Physics: How Ein­stein & Coltrane Shared Impro­vi­sa­tion and Intu­ition in Com­mon

by | Permalink | Comments (4) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (4)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • Sipho Khoza says:

    Would appre­ci­ate more of such open cul­ture arti­cles please!
    Sipho khoza

  • Ivan says:

    The we are two, Sipho 😊😊

  • Phillip Brown says:

    I wish i were more devot­ed to belief in God then i am cur­rent­ly. Sad­ly, as much as i want to, i am still more con­crete than spir­i­tu­al.

    But as one of the many who love and admire john coltrane and all that he gave to the world, this most recent rev­e­la­tion of his spir­i­tu­al con­nec­tion to God, helps me the val­ue of “belief”.

    What makes each of us spe­cial is our unique jour­ney through life. And now we know even more about john coltrane’s jour­ney.

    Thank you.

  • Samuel Mashimbi says:


    What is the pro­ce­dure to
    estab­lish a Coltrane church branch in Tem­bisa South Africa


Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.