Alabama:: John Coltrane

original post 9/23/09


RESPECT.  and thank you for helping me to walk and keep the peace all these years.


this is one of the most solemn, haunting heavy peaces/pieces by John and it is one that serves as a good reminder for what we continue to work for, what we continue to stand for, OUR HUMANITY.

DESCRIPTION taken from the youtube clip above

Coltrane wrote the song ‘Alabama’ in response to the bombing. He patterned his saxophone playing on Martin Luther King’s funeral speech. Midway through the song, mirroring the point where King transforms his mourning into a statement of renewed determination for the struggle against racism, Elvin Jones’s drumming rises from a whisper to a pounding rage. He wanted this crescendo to signify the rising of the civil rights movement.
New Generation

Coltrane had already revolutionised jazz twice–the sheets of sound and his ‘classic quartet’ sound. He changed direction again with the recording of Ascension. He threw himself into the free jazz movement which was coalescing around a new generation of young musicians–Ornette Coleman, Archie Shepp and Albert Ayler. The music was pure improvisation. Coltrane was now playing two hour long solos. The music was free from constraints and barriers. Coltrane began to introduce percussionists, harp players and African vocalists. He was creating a world music 25 years before the term was even coined. For some in the free jazz movement the musical revolution was purely artistic, but for many that aesthetic revolution was linked to the explosion sweeping the Northern cities. Coltrane’s drummer, Rashid Ali, said as much:

‘Those were trying times in the 1960s. We had the civil rights thing going on, we had King, we had Malcolm, we had the Panthers. There was so much diversity happening. People were screaming for their rights and wanting to be equal, be free. And naturally, the music reflects the whole period… I think that that’s where really free form came into it… I’m sure that the music came out of the whole thing.’

As one club manager noted, ‘Whenever Coltrane played we seemed to attract the most politically advanced blacks. He’d take a long solo, probably close to an hour, and these guys would be shouting, “Freedom Now!”‘ King and the other leaders of the civil rights movement were left floundering as a new generation of leaders such as Malcolm X and the Black Panthers began to articulate the growing radicalisation of the movement. Coltrane heard Malcolm X speak in 1964.

Despite all their attempts, Coltrane and the free jazz musicians failed to become the musical voice of the movement. It was the sound of the Beatles and Motown that the youth bought into. Soul and rock expressed in a much more direct and dynamic way the spirit of the times. While jazz musicians codified their message, James Brown sang ‘Say it Loud–I’m Black and I’m Proud’ and Aretha Franklin demanded ‘Respect’.

That criticism is not in itself a reason to write off free jazz. It is an incredibly complex music, and the lack of melody can make it difficult to follow. But for any art form to move on it has to shock and it has to experiment. As is the case with much art that is regarded as avant garde, years later it becomes understood and familiar, and swiftly moves into the mainstream. Many of Coltrane’s musical ideas that shocked the music critics have today been incorporated into the jazz canon. Just listen to the music of Joshua Redman, Courtney Pine and Kenny Garret.

Sadly Coltrane died on 16 July 1967 aged 40 from the effects of liver cancer. So what does Coltrane offer us today? During his life the US was waging war against Vietnam. When he was asked for his opinion on the war, he replied, ‘Well I dislike war–period. So therefore, as far as I’m concerned it should stop, it should have already stopped. And any other war.’ Oh yes, and of course there is his wonderful life affirming music.


Eulogy for the Martyred Children
September 18, 1963. Birmingham, Alabama
Martin Luther King, Jr.

This afternoon we gather in the quiet of this sanctuary to pay our last tribute of respect to these beautiful children of God. They entered the stage of history just a few years ago, and in the brief years that they were privileged to act on this mortal stage, they played their parts exceedingly well. Now the curtain falls; they move through the exit; the drama of their earthly life comes to a close. They are now committed back to that eternity from which they came.

These children—unoffending, innocent, and beautiful—were the victims of one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity. Yet they died nobly. They are the martyred heroines of a holy crusade for freedom and human dignity.

And so this afternoon in a real sense they have something to say to each of us in their death. They have something to say to every minister of the gospel who has remained silent behind the safe security of stained-glass windows. They have something to say to every politician [Audience:] (Yeah) who has fed his constituents with the stale bread of hatred and the spoiled meat of racism. They have something to say to a federal government that has compromised with the undemocratic practices of southern Dixiecrats (Yeah) and the blatant hypocrisy of right-wing northern Republicans. (Speak) They have something to say to every Negro (Yeah) who has passively accepted the evil system of segregation and who has stood on the sidelines in a mighty struggle for justice. They say to each of us, black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution. (Mmm) They say to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers. Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American dream.

And so my friends, they did not die in vain. (Yeah) God still has a way of wringing good out of evil. (Oh yes) And history has proven over and over again that unmerited suffering is redemptive. The innocent blood of these little girls may well serve as a redemptive force (Yeah) that will bring new light to this dark city. (Yeah. Mmm) The holy Scripture says, “A little child shall lead them.” (Well) The death of these little children may lead our whole Southland (Well) from the low road of man’s inhumanity to man to the high road of peace and brotherhood. (Yeah) These tragic deaths may lead our nation to substitute an aristocracy of character for an aristocracy of color. The spilled blood of these innocent girls may cause the whole citizenry of Birmingham (Yeah) to transform the negative extremes of a dark past into the positive extremes of a bright future. (Mmm) Indeed, this tragic event may cause the white South to come to terms with its conscience. (Yeah)

And so I stand here to say this afternoon to all assembled here that in spite of the darkness of this hour, (Well) we must not despair. (Well) We must not become bitter, (Yeah. That’s right) nor must we harbor the desire to retaliate with violence. (Mmm) No, we must not lose faith in our white brothers. (Yeah) Somehow we must believe that the most misguided among them can learn to respect the dignity and the worth of all human personality.

May I now say a word to you, the members of the bereaved families? It is almost impossible to say anything that can console you at this difficult hour and remove the deep clouds of disappointment which are floating in your mental skies. But I hope you can find a little consolation from the universality of this experience. Death comes to every individual. There is an amazing democracy about death. It is not aristocracy for some of the people, but a democracy for all of the people. Kings die and beggars die; rich men and poor men die; old people die and young people die. Death comes to the innocent and it comes to the guilty. Death is the irreducible common denominator of all men.

I hope you can find some consolation from Christianity’s affirmation that death is not the end. Death is not a period that ends the great sentence of life, but a comma that punctuates it to more lofty significance. Death is not a blind alley that leads the human race into a state of nothingness, but an open door which leads man into life eternal. Let this daring faith, this great invincible surmise, be your sustaining power during these trying days.

Now I say to you in conclusion, life is hard, at times as hard as crucible steel. (Mmm) It has its bleak and difficult moments. Like the ever-flowing waters of the river, life has its moments of drought and its moments of flood. (Yeah) Like the ever-changing cycle of the seasons, life has the soothing warmth of its summers and the piercing chill of its winters. (Yeah) But if one will hold on, he will discover that God walks with him, (Yeah. Well) and that God is able (Yeah) to lift you from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope and transform dark and desolate valleys into sunlit paths of inner peace. (Mmm)

And so today, you do not walk alone. You gave to this world wonderful children. (Mmm) They didn’t live long lives, but they lived meaningful lives. (Well) Their lives were distressingly small in quantity, but glowingly large in quality. (Yeah) And no greater tribute can be paid to you as parents, and no greater epitaph can come to them as children, than where they died and what they were doing when they died. (Yeah) They did not die in the dives and dens of Birmingham, (Well) nor did they die discussing and listening to filthy jokes. (Yeah) They died between the sacred walls of the church of God (Yeah) and they were discussing the eternal meaning (Yes) of love. This stands out as a beautiful, beautiful thing for all generations. (Yes) Shakespeare had Horatio to say some beautiful words as he stood over the dead body of Hamlet. And today, as I stand over the remains of these beautiful, darling girls, I paraphrase the words of Shakespeare (Well): Good night, sweet princesses. (Mmm) Good night, those who symbolize a new day. (Yeah) And may the flight of angels (That’s right) take thee to thy eternal rest. God bless you.

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