An Angel of Jazz

“The main thing a musician would like to do is to give a picture to the listener of the many wonderful things he knows of and senses in the universe.”

And so speaks American Jazz legend John Coltrane.

Born September 1926 in North Carolina, the virtuoso of modern jazz revolutionized the genre during his dynamic career and continues to illuminate the essence of jazz far beyond his death.

If an angel is one whose spirit lives through time and continues to inspire the greatest beauty in humanity, then John Coltrane’s music soars on wings of grace. His most beloved piece, “A Love Supreme” — first recorded in a dimly lit New York studio and referred to by Coltrane as his “humble offering to God” — will be sailing over our island at this Sunday’s Jazz Mass at St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church in Lihu‘e.

The suite’s main theme was constructed by Coltrane around a simple, four-note pattern — based on the phrase “a love supreme.”

“My goal is to live the truly religious life, and express it in my music. If you live it, when you play there’s no problem because the music is part of the whole thing,” Coltrane said in his famous interview of 1966 with Frank Kofsky, discussing the connection between his work and his spirituality. “To be a musician is really something. It goes very, very deep. My music is the spiritual expression of what I am — my faith, my knowledge, my being.”

The 32-minute suite transcends the ordinary and reaches towards the ethereal. There is something magnificently meditative about what most musicologists, or any jazz fan, would term one of the masterworks in the entire jazz canon. Whether it’s the first or hundredth time you’ve heard the piece, there is a sense of great depth that comes from within, a pointing towards a melodious silence.

Colleague and drummer Elvin Jones said Coltrane “never wrote out any music for us. When he played, we more or less had to imagine, or feel, how to interpret the song. And it got to the point where I felt I was almost part of his mind, almost telepathic in a way.”

And while improvisation is the cornerstone of the jazz genre, there is something truly inspired about “A Love Supreme” — a testament to what Coltrane saw as the mission of music.

“When you begin to see the possibilities of music, you desire to do something really good for people, to help humanity free itself from its hang-ups,” he has said. “I want to speak to their souls.”

This weekend, St. Michael’s is calling all angels: A unique integration of jazz music in a sacred context will feature the world premiere of “The Gospel According to John Coltrane” Sunday at 10 a.m.

The Jazz Mass will be the culmination of the three-day All Angels Jazz Festival that includes 7:30 p.m. concerts Friday and Saturday night with Grammy-nominated musicians from Hawai‘i and the Mainland, including Michael Ruff, some of Los Angeles’s top gospel players, former New York tenor saxophonist Denny Morouse, Latin Jazzsters Sistah’SHE and Picante and composer/producer Paul English with the Austin Texas Jazz All Stars. 

Sunday’s World Premiere of “Variations on John Coltrane’s ‘A Love Supreme’ for Mixed Choir and Jazz Quartet” by Paul English in collaboration with the Rev. William Miller includes text by Coltrane and the four primary components of his spiritual classic: Acknowledgement, Resolution, Pursuance” and “Psalm.”

• Information, call 245-3796 or visit www.stmichaels-kauai.org.

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