On my way to the studios of WPFW (Washington, DC) this morning to do my show–ARISE!–I listened to DJ Candy Shannon remind us that today the iconic John Coltrane would have turned 90.
John Coltrane’s famous piece Giant Steps is the theme for my show, so the mention of his name grabs my attention.
I was ‘won’ to Coltrane when i was first introduced to Jazz in the late 1960s. Coltrane had already passed away (1967) by the time i found myself in the world of jazz. His music, his social commitment and his willingness to take creative risks put him in a very special category.
I don’t so much worry that Coltrane will be forgotten. There are plenty of jazz fans who will keep the torch burning. What does worry me, however, is that there are many younger Black people who have not a clue as to who Coltrane was or his historical significance. This is not just a matter of overlooking Coltrane, but rather part of the generational disconnect that has emerged over the last 30+ years when it comes to jazz. This disconnect seemed to happen in stages, first among those of us of the Baby Boomer generation and, later, between those who worshiped jazz as such an unusual art form and those who thought that it was irrelevant or, at best, quaint.
Certain musicians, such as the late Billy Taylor, but also Wynton Marsalis and others regularly campaigned (or campaign) to keep jazz in front of the public and to infuse it into a new generation of African American musicians, while at the same time, encouraging jazz creativity among such musicians, i.e., ensuring that we all understand that Jazz is not a frozen-in-time art form but one that is constantly evolving.
Few musicians so exemplified this recognition as the late John Coltrane. We must take a moment to thank him for this and to hope that his soul rests easy.