Acknowledgement: 50 Years of John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme (Excerpt)


A Love Supreme apparently sold almost half a million copies by 1970. Despite this success, John Coltrane only performed the material in concert once (there is a live version of the suite from a festival gig in France that took place in July of 1965, about half a year after the studio session). Compared to the number of times he played “My Favorite Things” throughout his career (one of his early “hits”), it seems strange that he never really revisited the material of this suite again. The day after he recorded A Love Supreme with his classic quartet of Jimmy Garrison, Elvin Jones, and McCoy Tyner, Coltrane went back into the studio to record a sextet version of the opening piece, “Acknowledgement”, adding Art Davis and Archie Shepp to the group. It doesn’t work as well, and not only because of losing the signature “chant.” As great a musician as Archie Shepp is, his approach to the mood of the composition feels inappropriate. And when the rendition in France is compared to the studio version, though it’s extremely interesting, the performance feels overwrought (something I never feel when listening to Coltrane’s live performances in contrast to his studio sessions).

In a sense, I believe these facts point to why John Coltrane never reworked or performed the music of A Love Supreme again, as a suite or utilizing the pieces separately. I am not a religious person, but it is hard not to hear A Love Supreme as the testament of an individual’s belief in God during the existential times of the 1960s. The album presents Coltrane’s lone voice in a statement supported by the choir of his band, the studio transformed into a sacred space for one day, no secondary comment from another saxophonist needed, no stage set in front of a cheering crowd wanted — just a man alone with his faith. I think that John Coltrane knew he could not repeat the experience of A Love Supreme again, and after that he went onto other ensembles and other hymns: Kulu Sé Mama, Ascension, Meditations, Expression, Om.

– Ken Vandermark

Originally published February 27th 2015 at