Rich Copley: Jazz group brings Coltrane's 'A Love Supreme' to church

the late John coltrane made some of his finest music with god in mind

Herald-Leader Culture ColumnistOctober 19, 2012 

  • If you go

    'A Love Supreme' John Coltrane's jazz masterpiece performed by the Dick Sisto Quartet

    When: 7 p.m. Oct. 28.

    Where: The Church of the Good Shepherd, 533 E. Main St.

    Tickets: $15 in advance, $20 at the door. Call (859) 252-1744.

    Learn more: Goodshepherdlex.org, Dicksisto.com.

Jazz usually evokes images of neon lights, strong drinks and smoky, dark clubs.

But like classical music, which has drawn many masterpieces from the church, John Coltrane's A Love Supreme has spiritual roots and is broken up into sections familiar to people who know the mainline Christian church liturgy — Acknowledgement, Resolution, Pursuance and Psalm. The first section contains a chant of the title, decidedly vertical before contemporary worship had defined the term for worship music.

And the title most definitely refers to the love of God.

"The music is transcendent," says Louisville-based vibraphonist Dick Sisto. "It's all based on the worship of God and the poem (Coltrane) wrote, A Love Supreme, which speaks of his absolute devotion to music through his love of God."

Sisto and his quartet will accentuate the spiritual roots of A Love Supreme on Oct. 28 with a performance of the piece at Lexington's Church of the Good Shepherd.

The event is born out of a relationship that started when the Rev. Brian Cole, Good Shepherd's pastor, brought Sisto to the church Cole was serving in Asheville, N.C., for a performance of A Love Supreme.

"He did an evening of Coltrane that also allowed us to commemorate the anniversary of Thomas Merton's death," Cole says, referring to the Trappist monk who lived in at the Abbey of Gethsemani near Bardstown and apparently liked to slip into Louisville to hear jazz.

"He listened to Coltrane," Sisto says. "He also listened to classical music, Joan Baez, (Bob) Dylan — all music that pertained to the quest in life for beauty, for transcendence, for social comment."

Sisto says he used to live in Chicago but would come to Louisville to play at a club called 118 Washington.

"When I came off the stage from the set, the owner would tell me, 'That monk had been in here again,'" Sisto recalls.

He got to know Merton and said the relationship made sense "because the music that has always spoken to me came from the spiritual side.

"Coltrane is known in the jazz world as someone who embraced faith late in his life," Sisto says. "He had early roots in the Southern, gospel church, and then as he grew into his spirituality he embraced bits of Eastern spirituality such as yoga. So, at the end of his life, he was able to give up many of the bad habits that were killing him and embrace yoga practice ... but by then the damage was done."

Coltrane, who died in 1967 at 40, is regarded as one of the finest artists of the genre.

And that is part of what makes Cole and Good Shepherd organist and choirmaster John Linker interested in bringing in artists such as Sisto and music like A Love Supreme.

"To have a space where good music is presented is an important practice for a church," Cole says.

"My sense of the church right now is we know the story of our faith, yet so much of what we're doing with gifted leaders is kind of improv. So we need to see, where is the future going. But we need to connect and be willing to improv, and it makes sense that we would connect jazz to the church."

Sisto notes that there are some churches with jazz traditions, such as New York's Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine, which was known for presenting sacred works of Duke Ellington and others.

And for Sisto, there is no better place to play A Love Supreme than a church.

"It gives me chills because, to me, it's a pinnacle. It doesn't get any better," he says. "You have people that are here for the right reason. You have the best acoustics, generally, because it doesn't require amplification.

"The vibe is the best — the vibe is the music and the people in the church. It's not a dark place, like a jazz club can be."

Rich Copley: (859) 231-3217. Email: rcopley@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @copiousnotes.

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