The eviction notice posted on the church door, February 24, 2016, announced that as of Tuesday, March 1st, the John Coltrane Church had sixty days to leave its home on Fillmore Street in San Francisco. This forced departure marked the shuttering of one of the few remaining jazz venues in the neighborhood once known as “Harlem of the West”.
San Francisco was and is changing, transforming more quickly than anyone can remember seeing before, old time businesses losing their longtime store locations. But the good news is: the Saint John Coltrane Church has a new address, 2097 Turk Street, in its home city.
The founders of the church, Franzo and Marina King, were celebrating their first wedding anniversary in 1965 when they saw the great saxophonist, who’d been “discovered” by Dizzie, Miles and others, playing at a now defunct jazz nightclub. It was when they first felt the transformative power of John Coltrane’s music. “We experienced the effectual transference of the Holy Ghost through sound,” Franzo King later wrote on the church’s website. They began their spiritual outreach in 1971, holding Sunday noon-time mass services on Fillmore Street in San Francisco, http://www.coltranechurch.org/, a ministry that’s going strong in 2016.
There’s a statement that has always intrigued many readers of The Urantia Book. “Some day a real musician may appear on Urantia, and whole peoples will be enthralled by the magnificent strains of his melodies. One such human being could forever change the course of a whole nation, even the entire civilized world.” (The Urantia Book, The UB, 44:1.15)
John Will-I-Am Coltrane set out purposefully to do spiritual work -- his mission: to uplift people as an evangel with his music. In his 1965 album, Meditations, Coltrane wrote about the goal: “to inspire them to realize more and more of their capacities for living meaningful lives. Because there certainly is meaning to life.” In October of that same year, Coltrane recorded Om (the sacred chanted sound in Hinduism that symbolizes the infinite), in which he described Om as the "first syllable, the primal word, the word of power". His recording included chants from the Hindu holy book, the Bhagavad-Gita.
Coltrane’s universalist view, his exploration of other religions, mixed well in the melting pot of spiritual traditions found in the San Francisco Bay Area of the 70s. This local cultural diversity evolved and became the foundation of a later interfaith movement. And perhaps this is why the idea of the John Coltrane Church was seeded here, and found a fruitful place to grow.
Coltrane’s spiritual journey began with an investigation into a “universal musical structure that transcended ethnic distinctions” in an effort to harness the mystical language of music itself. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Coltrane
“Harmony, the music of the seven levels of melodious association, is the one universal code of spirit communication.” (44:1.11)
In Coltrane’s study of Indian music, he came to believe that certain sounds and scales could “produce specific emotional meanings.” The goal of a musician was to understand these forces, control them, elicit a worshipful response from the audience, and even heal his listeners.
“It is literally true, ‘melody has power a whole world to transform.’ Forever, music will remain the universal language of men, angels, and spirits. Harmony is the speech of Havona.” (44:1.15)
Coltrane said: "I would like to bring to people something like happiness. … If one of my friends is ill, I'd like to play a certain song and he will be cured; when he’d be broke, I’d bring out a different song and immediately he’d receive all the money he needed."
Although in the Saint Coltrane Church services, people experience the same effect described in The UB from his melodies, I couldn’t help having doubts that he was the person described in The UB. I didn’t even think that George Harrison was such a musician, even though with the Beatles, he and the group changed the course of the entire planet in the 1960’s. Could it be that the Beatles fulfilled the prophecy made in Paper 44 of The Urantia Book?
An obvious difficulty with them fitting The UB description was that the quote refers to one male individual. The phenomena the Beatles brought in with their success and their cult of young believers were not often so celestial. So I harken back to earlier eras, to when the genius of Mozart and Bach flourished, admiring the greatness of their work. Yet The UB authors can still say this about Urantia’s music, “The best music of Urantia is just a fleeting echo of the magnificent strains heard by the celestial associates of your musicians.” (44:1.14). Makes me wonder what we’re in store for.
Coltrane’s musical art had more than a religious foundation. His “sound” was also shaped by the civil rights movement that swept America in the late 50s and 60s. In 1964, Coltrane played eight benefit concerts in support of Martin Luther King. On the Sunday morning of September 15, 1963, a dozen sticks of dynamite planted by white racists in the basement of Birmingham’s 16th Street Baptist Church exploded, killing four young black girls aged between 11 and 14. The Birmingham murders moved him to create one of his most poetic works, “Alabama,” and he patterned the saxophone lines on the resonant cadences of the speech Martin Luther King made at the funeral.
“Science lives by the mathematics of the mind; music expresses the tempo of the emotions. Religion is the spiritual rhythm of the soul in time-space harmony with the higher and eternal melody measurements of Infinity.” (195:7.20)
If you never have before, give a listen to the Black Classical music that helped liberate our country from bonds of segregation and prejudice. It’s the music of the civil rights movement, made for all people who have been held down, held back from reaching their potential. This music can be difficult to listen to. Not only does it present difficult challenges to the ear, there is pain in it. There are also pinnacles of accomplishment, sweetness, sacredness and joy. And it expresses the triumph of Barack Obama’s journey to the Presidency.
“I know that black is beautiful and white is beautiful. But the most beautiful color of all is black and white together. We hate each other because we fear each other. We fear each other because we don't know each other. We don’t know each other because we won’t sit down at the table together.” (Rev. Ralph David Abernathy, quoted in Partners to History, by Donzaleigh Abernathy)
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