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Posts Tagged ‘Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker’

John Szwed: Notes on John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme

Posted September 19th, 2017

This is a guest post written by anthropologist, writer, and jazz scholar John Szwed. He has taught Anthropology, African American Studies, and Film Studies at Yale University as well as Music and Jazz Studies at Columbia University where he served as Director of the Center for Jazz Studies. He has published many books on jazz and American music, including studies of Sun Ra, Miles Davis, Jelly Roll Morton, Alan Lomax and Billie Holiday. On Sept 23, he will interview Salva Sanchis, co-choreographer of A Love Supreme, at the FringeArts Bookstore.


On December 9, 1964, the members of the John Coltrane Quartet crossed the river from New York to Rudy Van Gelder’s studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. It was night, because producer Bob Thiele preferred to work after the ABC-Paramount executives had left for the day; he could then avoid having to explain what he was doing. The quartet arrived at 7 o’clock and left before midnight, completing the entire recording of A Love Supreme with few retakes or edits, something quite extraordinary for a piece that long and complex, and without rehearsal.

Manuscript of A Love Supreme, by John Coltrane, 1964. Photo by The National Museum of American History.

More remarkably, there was no written music prepared for the session, only a chart that Coltrane had made to remind him of the structure. The musicians followed his directions, most of which were not spoken, but came from what they heard him playing. They were collectively composing by improvising together, creating a 33-minute art work, risking everything as the tape continued to roll. Musicians have improvised collectively since the beginning of jazz, but never for such a sustained period with no given harmonic structure and no agreed-upon melodies or rhythm. Bob Thiele was there, but unlike other producers he sat back and listened. His trust in Coltrane was such that he gave John control over what he recorded and when, an arrangement that no one in the music business short of a Frank Sinatra might have had. Thiele did not always understand John’s music, because it changed so rapidly and radically. Still, his belief was so strong that he defended anything Coltrane recorded to the company, both financially and musically. But A Love Supreme would not need defending.

While he was still living in Philadelphia and becoming a member of the Miles Davis Quintet, John Coltrane was controversial. To some his playing was meandering, boring, and harsh, even described as anti-jazz. Once, when French CBS received the master tapes for a Miles Davis Quintet recording, they complained to Columbia Records in the US that there was electronic distortion during Coltrane’s solos. But to others, he was a revolutionary—an intense, yet disciplined master, whose music carried the message of struggle and resistance, and was theme music to the Civil Rights Movement. But Coltrane saw a spiritual dimension to what he was doing, a means to peace. When Impulse Records placed ads in Rolling Stone calling it “fire music,” grouping him with the protests of some other black free jazz musicians, he distanced himself from such claims.

In 1957 Coltrane experienced a spiritual awakening of such force that he ended his addictions, reset his life, and with this recording he sought to signal his conversion musically, to testify to his encounters with God. When A Love Supreme appeared in February of 1965 his harshest critics were silenced, and for the first time he received virtually universal praise (though a few were put off by the confessional spirituality of his poem included in the album’s notes; it was too much for high modernists and hipsters). The album cover was black and white, a stark departure from all other Impulse records that were trimmed in orange and black.

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Rosas dances Coltrane: Interview with Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker + Salva Sanchis

Posted September 3rd, 2017

“For dancers, improvising should be the norm rather than the exception.”

Choreographers Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Salva Sanchis bring their full evening dance work A Love Supreme to the 2017 Fringe Festival. Four dancers surrender themselves to John Coltrane’s spiritual ode to divine love, his 1965 jazz masterpiece A Love Supreme. The album was revolutionary for its carefully balanced interplay between improvisation and structure. Likewise the choreographers create improvised and composed materials, interweaving and absorbing them into one another, for the performances.

In addition to jazz music, the practice of improvisation has always occupied a distinct space within the choreographic oeuvre of Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker and Rosas. Salva Sanchis—who studied at PARTS (Performing Arts Research and Training Studios) from 1995 to 1998—was himself a privileged witness to that very evolution: he performed as a dancer in the 2003 Rosas creation set to Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew, and in 2005 as dancer and co-choreographer in Desh, a piece based on Indian music and John Coltrane’s “India“. More than ten years after the presentation of the piece in a diptych with Raga for the Rainy Season, De Keersmaeker and Sanchis have undertaken a reworking of Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, turning it into an evening performance now danced by a wholly new cast of dancers.

Interview by Michaël Bellon.

Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker: Taking on A Love Supreme fits with the idea of revisiting, and rewriting, Rosas’s repertoire for a new generation of dancers. We did the same thing with Rain (the piece from 2001 that we picked up again in 2016 with an entirely new cast). In 2005, Salva and I conjointly choreographed A Love Supreme and since then he has frequently used material from the piece in his classes as a teacher at PARTS. What is interesting about the piece, in addition to its intrinsic connection with this milestone of 20th-century music, is the way it combines improvised and written choreography.

Salva Sanchis: When we were working on Bitches Brew, we used to listen to Miles Davis a lot. We therefore inevitably developed a fascination with the role that Coltrane played as a musician in the Miles Davis Quintet. Davis and Coltrane admired each other very much, yet they were at the same time very different. Miles is about simplicity, Coltrane about expressive excess and energy. On the whole, A Love Supreme is more suitable for a dance performance than a simple collection of songs. The music possesses a structure with a beginning and an end, thus offering a kind of dramaturgical accessibility.

Michaël Bellon: Were you already a “jazzman” when you got involved with Rosas’s jazz-based projects?

Sanchis: I was a fervent jazz-adept before we started on the piece, definitely. I have always been interested in different kinds of music, but in the period before and during Bitches Brew, I happened to be sharing a flat with two jazz students. I learned a lot from them. Within their discipline, they were wrestling with the same things I was in my dance training. Take improvisation for instance. Dance shares a relationship with every musical genre since the two media show a strong mutual compatibility. Yet what is so interesting about jazz is how the practice of improvisation has always been at the very core of the genre. That has always fascinated me, mainly because my experience with improvisational practices in dance was only in an infant stage at the time. As a choreographer, I found it difficult to justify the use of improvisation, whereas for jazz musicians this has always been the norm.

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