The class was “Arts in America.” The professor looked like he could have come from central casting – coat and tie, balding with glasses, a goatee. The class was held in a large lecture hall, no doubt to accommodate all the students who were fulfilling their liberal education requirements. And when did liberal education requirements morph into “generals,” as in “I am attending the local community college to complete my generals”? I rather prefer “liberal education requirements.”
We looked at paintings, discussed literature, listened to some music. I remember appreciating a great deal of it. I think it was in this class that I first heard the music of Charles Ives, and it is music I return to from time to time.
The music played in one class session, however, penetrated more deeply. In the darkened lecture hall that day, the record needle (yes, a vinyl record) went down on a recording of a small group jazz combo played a song that was absolutely beautiful. The small group was led by its saxophonist, John Coltrane. After the song ended, the professor moved on to a discussion of jazz as an improvisational art. It is a uniquely American art form.
This was one of my first encounters with jazz, and I spent some time exploring it. I built a small collection of records, including some John Coltrane. I came to a deep and abiding appreciation of Coltrane’s music, from his ballads, like the one I heard that day in Arts in America, to his more experimental pieces. Listening to Coltrane has provided me wonderful pleasures over the years, even been the occasion for experiences that some might call mystical. However, none of the Coltrane records I bought at the time had that song I heard that day.
Over the years, my jazz listening waxed and waned, burning more brightly since watching the delightful Ken Burns series, “Jazz.” Along the way, I found that song that opened the door to the music of Coltrane, “Central Park West.”
With Faith and With Feathers,