Second Graders Love John Coltrane

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal (registration required) ran a charming piece by Nat Hentoff about a class of second graders in Queens who’ve become such passionate fans of John Coltrane that they’ve begun holding “raffles, cake sales, and books sales” in order to save his Long Island home from being torn down by a developer. (It’s now looking likely that the house will, indeed, be preserved.)

Coltrane lived on Long Island during the last years of his life—the house was where he composed A Love Supreme and all his other late, great works. The students were introduced to Coltrane by their teacher, Christine Passarella, who discovered that her students responded enthusiastically, even passionately, to Coltrane’s music when she played it in the classroom. According to Hentoff:

John Coltrane, Interstellar Space

John Coltrane, "Interstellar Space"

Ms. Passarella’s second-grade students, she says, would have told him how moved they were by not only the ballads “but the more avant-garde recordings, such as ‘Interstellar Space.'” She notes that, through her teaching, “I have discovered that young children have open, welcoming minds, and the more pure and emotional the music, the more they connect. Soon they were hooked on John Coltrane’s music.”

Many jazz fans and critics hate Coltrane’s “late period” work, put off by its perceived harshness and difficulty. But I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve gotten myself thoroughly lost in late records like Meditations or Ascension, which I’d argue are among the most beautiful in Coltrane’s catalog. I’m sure it would have made Coltrane very happy to know that these children are able to connect to his music so directly—he’d be pleased to hear that people who aren’t burdened by lots of musical expectations and experience are able to get right to the heart of his expression. Folks who get caught up in one narrow idea or another about what jazz or music ought to sound like would do well to pay attention to the way these kids are approaching Coltrane’s late-period, avant-garde work: with open minds and open hearts. It’s music that you can understand intellectually, and place in historical and musical context—but that’s not at all where its power can be found. With records like Meditations or Interstellar Space, it’s far better to close your eyes, open your heart, and just give yourself over to the music, while maintaining as much of a child’s openness and innocence as you can manage.


1 Response to “Second Graders Love John Coltrane”

  1. 1 Pins and Needles #2 review « archive 113 Trackback on September 17, 2009 at 4:01 PM

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