Dec
10

What can jazz teach us about passion?

In this special guest blog, Michael Gold takes us back to an important moment in jazz history and tells us how we could all learn a thing or two about true passion from one of music’s greats.

December 9, 1964 marks the day one small group of coworkers came together to produce a lasting testament to the power of workplace passion. They gathered at Rudy Van Gelder’s recording studio in Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey. I mention this studio because it is the “workplace” that produced some of the most influential and innovative recordings in the history of modern jazz. The “team leader” for this project was legendary saxophonist John Coltrane.

The small-scale “working group” that Coltrane, the most influential figure in the world of jazz at that time, led into the Van Gelder studio consisted of McCoy Tyner on piano, Jimmy Garrison on bass, and Elvin Jones on drums. They were focused on a big objective: finding the next innovative breakthrough that would indicate the direction that most protean of art forms- jazz- would take. They wanted to achieve a truly collaborative ensemble piece that would turn the complex structural ideas of previous Coltrane showcases, (notably the tremendously influential recording called “Giant Steps”) on their head.

This Van Gelder session would not be about one person supported by great sidemen. It would be a recording that captured the actual “substance” that integrates all the individuals in the jazz ensemble; what animates a group to perform as one integrated consciousness.

This would be an ensemble performance that used as its coordinating purpose not the astonishing technical prowess that Coltrane had become so famous for but rather the connective power of passion that is at the core of the music- passion in perhaps the oldest and most enduring sense of the word. It would be an album about the spiritual passion that exists in every human being.

The album, recorded in a single day, was called “A Love Supreme.”

It was a major departure from the hundreds of recordings that emanated from Van Gelder’s studio. “A Love Supreme” is not an easy recording to listen to because it demands a surrender of expectation and assumptions. It was and still is, in effect, a spiritual journey. The interaction is so intense that it erases the boundaries between individual players … and, in doing so, taps into a massive, infinite field of intelligence.  The limits of individuality, the uses of passion, and the purity of combined human intention, are the great themes in play on this extraordinary, incomparable suite. Coltrane’s ensemble recorded it in a single day, and only played it publicly once; it is essentially unrepeatable.

The recording generated many questions for both listeners and musicians about the fundamental role and importance of such a deep level of the passion of emotional commitment.

The great jazz historian and cultural sociologist Nat Hentoff aptly noted: “By the time “A Love Supreme” hit, (Coltrane) struck such a spiritual chord in so many listeners that people started to think of him as being beyond human. I think that’s unfair. He was just a human being like you and me- but he was willing to practice more, to do all the things that somebody has to do to excel. The real value in what John Coltrane did was that what he accomplished, he did as a human.”

“A Love Supreme” demonstrates a focused, personalized flow of energy and attention – an authenticity of presence in the moment. And yet it is an achievement of collaborative potential through the passion of shared purpose. It demonstrates a collaborative dynamic that makes self-discovery and group achievement possible at the same time, in same setting.

HUMILITY AND FOLLOWING THE FLOW

Coltrane was at the top of his game when he made this record. In a most unlikely field he’d become a wealthy man whose individual style and sound were the centerpiece of his success. To step back, surrender this formula and put the spotlight on the ensemble in the way he did, and change his life the way he did, was a little like Bill Gates deciding to go to Calcutta for his final years on earth and start begging for a living.

“A Love Supreme” was, above all, a statement of humility. It was a demonstration of transcendent leadership- a surrendering of one’s own individual interests to the higher powers. Coltrane had reached a level where he could hear and sense “the bigger picture” and, as his actions demonstrated, that bigger picture was all about the power of connection and engagement through a shared passion- the power of the ensemble.

With “A Love Supreme” the complex, intense “cerebral” solos of previous works like “Giant Steps” were transformed, and what emerged was a sound that conveyed a deep yearning for connection to “other” – an enormous sense of gratitude for the beauty and potential of the human condition.

THE CREATIVE FORCE

“A Love Supreme” confirmed that the most profound achievement of passion lies not in reaching inward to our egos, but in reaching outward towards one another — and, ultimately, to a compassionate higher power that dwarfs human comprehension. I can’t tell you what that higher power is supposed to be called in the workplace, but I can tell you that the action of using engaged, focused emotion to reach out to it is going to be different for each member of your ensemble, just as it was for Coltrane’s ensemble. If you’re interested in listening to four very different people making that singular, emotional journey of shared passion together, you can hear it on this album … and marvel, as I do each time I hear the album, at how passion can transform the whole into far, far more than the sum of its parts.

Michael Gold is the founder and principal of Jazz Impact, touring the country and teaching with a fusion of live jazz performance and business lessons.  For more information on Michael and Jazz Impact, please visit www.jazz-impact.com.

  • 9

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