A Tribute to  Ohnedaruth John Coltrane: More Than Only A Musician

By  Dawoud Sabu Adeyola

If there’s any such thing as a perfect man, I think John Coltrane was one. And I think that kind of perfection has to come from a greater force than there is here on earth. “[Elvin Jones]

For more the more than fifty two years since the passing of one of jazz’s  most revered saxophonists, John William Coltrane, from this life of this world to the Hereafter, there has been much in the way of remembering him and his iconoclastic impact upon the world of music and art. 

Like his contemporaries Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Duke Ellington and Eric Dolphy, musicians and music aficionados alike have focused on his recordings and documentaries of his life mainly to enhance their enjoyment and appreciation of his music. Very little attention is given to the factors behind his motivation and what inspired fueled his eternal quest. The purpose of this writing is to elucidate  and expand the understanding of myself the general  public on the spiritual, political and humanitarian motivation of the man who has even been declared a ‘saint’ in some circles.      There have been many great musicians and artists but how many have been nominated for sainthood? 

The Saint John Will-I-Am Coltrane African Orthodox Church in San Francisco is a place where music is religion and the classic Coltrane album A Love Supreme- which he recorded in 1964 calling it his “attempt to say ‘THANK YOU GOD’ through our work” – is the church anthem from which much of the church theology and world view  comes from the music and commentary of A Love Supreme written by Trane himself:  

“I will do all I can to be worthy of Thee Oh Lord.

 It all has to do with IT.

Thank You God.

 Peace There is none other.

 God is, it is so beautiful

Thank You God. God is ALL.

Help us to resolve our fears & Weaknesses.

In You ALL things are possible.

Thank You God.

We know God made us so, Keep your eyes on God.

God is. He always was. He always will be.

No matter what ———it is God. 

He is Gracious and Merciful.

It is most important the I know Thee.

Words – speech – men – memory

Thoughts – fears – emotions — & time, all

Related – all made from one all made in one.

Blessed be His Name.

(John Coltrane)

“To begin services, nine people, who form the church’s musical collective,  Ohnedaruth, assemble at the front of the room and begin the opening prayer: “Let us proceed in peace. In the name of the Lord, Amen.” Ohnedaruth is a Sanskrit word meaning “compassion” and was given to the group by John Coltrane’s second wife, Alice Coltrane. These Ministers of Sound shepherd the rest of us toward “Coltrane consciousness.”

Weekly services take place every Sunday from noon to 3 p.m. All are welcome, and if you play an instrument, bring it with you and get ready to jam.”

Alice Coltrane on her album ‘A Dynastic Trio’ dedicated the first track Ohnedaruth which was the spiritual name that she had given to her husband. 

John William Coltrane, affectionately known as Trane to musicians and serious aficionados, was born in Hamlet, North Carolina September 23, 1926 but raised in High Point, North Carolina. Picking up the E flat alto horn and clarinet before settling to serious study if the alto saxophone, he graduated from high school in 1943 when he moved to be with his mother Alice in Philadelphia where she had relocated following the death of his father and maternal grandfather. 

The great architect of African-American Classical music (Jazz), genius and master of the tenor and soprano saxophones, he  was the son of whose parents were very spiritual and dedicated to service in the church in which his grandfather faithfully served.  John’s mother, Mrs. Alice Coltrane, Sr., was a fine singer.  He was blessed to have them as his parents. His father played violin and guitar in his spare time, mainly at home where he would practice as much as possible.

 John Coltrane came to Buffalo for a gig at the Royal Arms in 1962 when I was a sophomore in high school. We were considered too young to enter the club so we watched and listened from outside the front of the club which had a huge plate glass window. In the band were pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison and drummer Elvin Jones. Even from that vantage point, the music was captivating, spell-binding and a wonder vibrate ferociously as he and John seemed to be speaking directly to each other on the bandstand. The lush lyricism of Mr. Garrison’s bass was audible from outside as was Mr. Tyner’s masterful piano that embellished the music of the John Coltrane Quartet. Unlike many “Jazz Clubs” at the time and even today, the stage was central to the room and surrounded by a semi-circular bar and tables for good visual affect. His album, “Live at the Village Vanguard,”  had recently been released and that was the general direction of the music played by the Quartet at the Royal Arms at that time.

On July 17, 1967 John Coltrane made his  transition. 

To Coltrane, a musician was a message-giver; making music was an endeavor tied to a larger, greater good. “I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music,” Coltrane wrote in 1964 in a letter to his listeners, telling of a prayer to God. In 1966, less than a year before his death, he stated: “I know that there are bad forces, forces that bring suffering to others and misery to the world. I want to be the opposite force. I want to be the force which is truly for good.” (From his official biography)

Bassist Sabu Adeyola of Buffalo, protégé to the late jazz master Charles Mingus, is one of jazz music’s finest.  As a member of the most celebrated trios to have toured with legendary pianist Ahmad Jamal, Sabu (with Payton Crossley) incorporated a spiritual swing to Ahmad’s signature style. Dawoud Sabu Adeyola is Executive Director of The Association for the Advancement of Creative Art, Inc.