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Saint Coltrane: The Church Built On 'A Love Supreme'

John Coltrane composed these words in December 1964, as part of a poem he called A Love Supreme.

I have seen God – I have seen ungodly – none can be greater – none can compare to God.

He included the poem in the inside gatefold of an album by the same name, released the following year. That same year, a young couple in San Francisco heard Coltrane in concert, sharing a jolt of higher purpose when he seemed to fix them in his sights with the bell of his saxophone.

That couple, Franzo and Marina King, went on to establish a church devoted to Coltrane and his spiritual message, incorporating A Love Supreme as their chief liturgical text. Their house of worship — known today as the St. John Will-I-Am Coltrane African Orthodox Church — has survived decades of change in a gentrifying city, while making a few notable revisions to its charter.

In this 20-minute documentary short, Jazz Night in America pays a visit to the Coltrane Church, thoughtfully tracing its winding history — including a tumultuous period when Alice Coltrane, John's widow, bestowed and then revoked her support. We'll delve into the spiritual mysteries of A Love Supreme, from "Acknowledgment" to "Psalm," and consider what it means to be of service — to a calling, to a community, and to the music that sparked it all.

Copyright 2021 WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center. To see more, visit WBGO and Jazz At Lincoln Center.

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Anastasia Tsioulcas is a reporter on NPR's Arts desk. She is intensely interested in the arts at the intersection of culture, politics, economics and identity, and primarily reports on music. Recently, she has extensively covered gender issues and #MeToo in the music industry, including backstage tumult and alleged secret deals in the wake of sexual misconduct allegations against megastar singer Plácido Domingo; gender inequity issues at the Grammy Awards and the myriad accusations of sexual misconduct against singer R. Kelly.
Jack Corbett
Annabel Edwards