St John Coltrane African Orthodox Church

John Coltrane 500 Miles High

The undoubted musical highlight of our recent trip to California was an invitation to join the weekly service of the Church of St John Coltrane  in San Francisco. As a former jazz-head, I’d long been aware of this unusual offshoot of the African Orthodox Church, but nothing prepared me for the sheer intensity of the proceedings there.

Our family group was walking through the Fillmore district as part of a Sunday lunchtime sight-seeing stroll and my only expectation was to have a quick look at where the Church is based – turns out it’s in a bland, modern community centre – not the battered Victorian storefront I was hoping for. Having got over this mild disappointment we briefly paused outside when the pastor enthusiastically beckoned us in.

Thinking we might just stand as the back of what was a pretty small room, we were surprised (and my daughter a little alarmed) to be ushered in to the middle of things. “Things” being part jazz concert, part religious service and part 1960’s-style freak out. Though I personally found it an amazing musical – and perhaps at some imponderable level, spiritual – experience, not all members of our party were comfortable with staying for the duration and we made our apologies just as they were warming up for A Love Supreme, presumably the service’s climax.

Now it’s fair to say that organised religion plays little part in my day-to-day life, so who am I to analyse this curious musico-religious hybrid, but I can safely say the participants over there are tapping into something deep. If nothing else this experience has sent me back to my mid-60’s jazz albums with a renewed vigour.

At this point it perhaps seems inappropriate to “share” a John Coltrane track, but here’s a slice of late-period JC to kick-start your own Sunday service…

Download: John Coltrane – Stellar Regions (Alt. Take) (right click)

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