Coltrane Made Music a Mathematical Spiritual Journey

John Coltrane was one of the greatest musical geniuses of the 20th century and, like some musicians before him, he was able to recognize the relationship between mathematics and music, a relationship that allowed us to approach the understanding and experience of the divine.

His masterpiece, A Love Supreme, is an ode to divinity based on a poem to God: Coltrane plays a note for each syllable of the poem. Years before composing this work, Coltrane had a religious experience that, according to him, allowed him to overcome a long drug addiction. In the last part of his work he experimented with the influence of Eastern spirituality, particularly Hinduism.

Coltrane believed that certain sounds and scales were capable of triggering specific emotional meanings and that music could even be used to affect nature or heal people. The musician had to understand the underlying forces of the sound, to apply them and produce melodies capable of driving emotions and influencing natural forces.

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The drawing shown here was given by Coltrane to saxophonist Yusef Lateef in 1967 and he included it in his text Repository of Scales and Melodic Patterns. Lateef wrote that Coltrane’s music was “a spiritual journey” that “embraces the themes of a rich tradition of autophysiopsychic music.

Coltrane, being aware of the before mentioned relationship between music and mathematics, become interested in Einstein’s theory. Curiously, physicist and saxophonist Stephen Alexander has argued that there are parallels between Coltrane’s music and Einstein’s physics, particularly in what is known as the “Coltrane circle,” an elaboration of the so-called “circle of fifths,” in which the relationships between the 12 tones of the chromatic scale are established.

Coltrane is venerated and considered a saint by the African Orthodox Church.

by pijamasurf

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