Secrets and stories behind John Coltrane’s 'A Love Supreme: Live in Seattle'
The 1965 recording of Coltrane’s spiritual suite performed live at the Penthouse Club in Seattle was finally released on Oct. 22. Robin Lloyd spoke with saxophonist and writer Steve Griggs about the long journey and many stories surrounding the landmark album.
Steve Griggs loves a good story, and he believes that the stories jazz musicians tell each other are as much a part of jazz as the music they play.
A storyteller himself, Griggs had been researching the life and legacy of Joe Brazil, a saxophonist and educator who came to Seattle from Detroit in the early 1960s. In both cities, Brazil made room in his home for musicians to practice, experiment, study and grow.
"I wanted to add stories to music, and of course, the story that is closest to my heart is the story of John Coltrane's music," says Griggs. "The story of John Coltrane in Seattle was underreported, untold, with lots of unknowns that felt like an intriguing mystery. I started interviewing the eyewitnesses, people who were around at that time, and it seemed like Joe Brazil was this key figure."
Brazil was a natural teacher, and he knew the value of “the hang,” the time musicians spend together telling stories. It’s an essential type of tribal networking that passes along musical wisdom, tips for survival, and some very funny jokes.
Many touring jazz stars would “hang” at Joe Brazil’s house, including John Coltrane.
With the blessing of Brazil’s widow, Griggs took on the Herculean task of cataloging the stacks of reel-to-reel tapes that Brazil had recorded and collected. In those stacks, one marked “Coltrane-Live” emerged as a previously unheard live performance of “A Love Supreme” at the Penthouse in Seattle in 1965.
Realizing its historical significance, Griggs offered the tape to the production company that was filming the 2016 John Coltrane documentary “Chasing Trane.” It didn’t get used in the film, but a production assistant helped to get it into the hands of Zev Feldman, co-president of the nonprofit Resonance Records.
Griggs was sworn to secrecy and could not mention the recording for six long years, as it made its way through the labyrinth of legalities and the maze of music licensing.
Released Oct. 22, 2021, the album is available on CD, vinyl and various streaming services.
Jazz historians and Coltrane fanatics are now gleefully analyzing each note.
But let’s not forget that behind the music are the contributions of teachers like Joe Brazil and the storytellers like Steve Griggs.