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Baker's Dozen

Jazz Is My Religion: Idris Ackamoor’s Baker’s Dozen
Siobhan Kane , September 6th, 2023 09:49

In a sprawling Baker’s Dozen, longstanding jazz legend Idris Ackamoor tells Siobhán Kane about the way Cecil Taylor, Albert Ayler, Bob Marley and more have inspired his life and work


John Coltrane – A Love Supreme

It is one of the pinnacles. In 1964 I was preparing for high school and knew nothing of this person John Coltrane or jazz either. I was a budding musician who had studied various musical instruments since I was eight years old. It was the height of the civil rights movement, and my mother, who was like many outspoken African Americans; she could not abide the hatred, the lynching, by White Christians. She was raised in a Christian church, but if she saw a church not involved in the movement, she quit it, and went to one that had a more social and political stance, so we went from Baptist to Methodist, then she eventually took us to the Catholic church. Fast forward to 1964 and Coltrane’s A Love Supreme – his resolution and spiritual rebirth from a drug addict to an enlightened musical prophet changed his life and so many others over the years. Whether A Love Supreme changed my life or not, this album is one of my favourites, from the very first tenor flourish that opens the album to that mesmerising bassline. “A love supreme, a love supreme…” that’s just incredible.

I’ve never been much for the religious establishment, I don’t consider myself a Christian or Muslim or Buddhist, but what John brought to us as musicians was that you really have to look inside yourself for spiritual salvation. I’m not an atheist, as I feel the divine nature of God in creation. Just like Pharoah said, “The creator has a master plan.” I also believe what the old great beat poet Ted Joans said, who was a friend of mine. “Jazz is my religion and it alone do I dig, the jazz. Clubs are my houses of worship and sometimes the concert halls.” So, I try to fill my spiritual congregation when I’m on the stage.

Organised religion is not my thing, but this album and John’s continued search for a higher power and the supreme being is so instrumental it spawned an actual church in San Francisco – the St. John Coltrane Church! I don’t believe in that either, I don’t believe he was a god, but I know a lot of the people in the church. Some are friends like the bishop over there. I have some musical compatriots there who perform, even I have been there and jammed myself, but if you want to compare it to Christianity, he’s our saint. He’s also a man with all the foibles of being a human being, but he brought himself up into an enlightenment, so yes, A Love Supreme is the epitome of spiritual jazz in that sense.