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Dr. Leonard Brown


(Boston) -  Dr. Leonard Brown, Associate Professor of African American Studies and Music, professional musician and author,
reflects on the John Coltrane Memorial Concert, celebrating its 25th season at Northeastern University this September 16-18.

How did Northeastern University come to host the Coltrane concert?   

A group of musicians – Hayes Burnet, Syd Smart and myself – began the concert in 1977 at the Friends of Great Black Music Loft.  It then moved a number of times due to the need for larger space.  When Northeastern hired me in 1986, I was fortunate to connect with Sergei Tschernisch, then-director of NU ARTS, who supported bringing the concert to Northeastern.

There are many great artists whose work deserves to be celebrated.  Why Coltrane?    

Trane’s powerful sonic message spoke to issues of equality and opportunity and economic, political, psychological and social justice reflected in the Civil Rights and Black National Movements during his life.  And his message is still very relevant today.  

How has Coltrane influenced your own life? 

Coltrane’s life and music have served as a rock for me in my career as a musician, scholar, educator – and in my personal life as a husband and father.  There is a brilliant honesty and integrity in Coltrane’s sound.     

His command of the syntax of Black American cultural aesthetics are some of the most powerful in the history of the music...and I can hear that.  Trane’s sound is full of inspiration, dedication, and clarity.        

His attitude values continued diligent pursuance of knowledge that can be used for the good of all humanity.  

Is it fair to call Coltrane a jazz musician?  Or is his work ultimately broader than just one genre?     

Referring to Coltrane primarily as a jazz musician acknowledges his outstanding contributions to the so called jazz legacy but it also illustrates a lack of depth in knowledge and understanding of Coltrane’s musical career and intents.  Trane was skilled in playing blues, rhythm and blues, house rocking, bebop and other stylistic approaches to the music of Black America during his time.    

Trane’s music far exceeded the parameters of  jazz.  His vision as a creative artist sought the link between spiritual enlightenment and music.  My forthcoming book explores Coltrane’s magnificent musical and spiritual contributions to world humanity.


John Coltrane and Black America’s Quest for Freedom: Spirituality and the Music, by Dr. Leonard Brown, is being published in August, 2010 by Oxford University Press. 


- by Michael P. Quinlin

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