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The Origins of Spiritual Jazz

A genre of Jazz music that emerged during the mid 20th century with the aim of inducing a higher vibration of consciousness within the listener, aimed towards spiritual transcendence.


The roots of Spiritual Jazz can be traced back to Yusef Lateef and his 1957 album 'Jazz Mood', followed by 'Prayer To The East' in the same year. Lateef was the first American jazz artist to explicitly charge his music with spirituality, derived from his Islamic faith, pioneering the stylistic elements that would later define the genre, playing instruments from the East such as Chinese wood flutes and the Koto. Lateef coined the phrase "autophysiopsychic".


"...music from one’s physical, spiritual and mental self: i.e., music from the heart. In other words, my music is a conduit whereby and through which Providence may reveal some of the beauties of creation to the ears of those who listen with their ears and their hearts" - Yusef Lateef

You can't talk about Spiritual Jazz without also talking about the good friend of Yusef Lateef: John Coltrane. The American Jazz legend Coltrane released the song 'Spiritual' in 1962 that first expressed his transition into the genre. Following this single, his iconic album 'A Love Supreme' (1965) would pave the way for a new generation of black artists to express their relation to the divine through jazz music in the midst of the civil rights movement that was taking place. In the liner notes of A Love Supreme, Coltrane states that in '57 he experienced:


"By the grace of God, a spiritual awakening which was to lead me to a richer, fuller, more productive life. At that time, in gratitude, I humbly asked to be given the means and privilege to make others happy through music...once you become aware of this force for unity in life, you can't ever forget it. It becomes part of everything you do. To uplift people, as much as I can. To inspire them to realise more and more of their capacities for living meaningful lives. Because there certainly is meaning to life" - John Coltrane

Coltrane's single Om (1965), refers to the sacred syllable in Hinduism which symbolises the infinite sound of creation, or the essence of ultimate reality. Coltrane described Om as the ‘first syllable, the primal word, the word of power'. He also developed a theory of music related to sacred geometry and mathematics that was representative of his belief in universal music, which he passed onto Yusef Lateef as a drawing in the last stages of his life.


The Coltrane Circle (1967)

Following John Coltrane's sad passing at the age of 40 in 1967, his wife Alice Coletrane, an extremely talented jazz musician herself, would carry the torch from her late husband. Alice followed up on her first two spiritually charged albums 'A Monastic Trio' (1968) and 'Huntington Ashram Monastry' (1969) by releasing two iconic projects within the Spiritual Jazz genre, 'Ptah The El Daoud' (1970) and 'Journey in Satchidananda' (1971).


Live at the Berkeley Community Theater - Alice Coltrane (1972)

Jazz harpist Dorothy Ashby's album Rubaiyat of Dorothy Ashby (1971) must also be considered a landmark album within the genre. The album was "inspired by the words of Omar Khayyam", a wise Persian poet-astronomer known for the book of poems 'The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam', blending mystical poetry with her harp and koto compositions.

Rubaiyat of Dorothy Ashby (1971)

The 70's would see Spiritual Jazz thrive, giving birth to many of the genres iconic songs and albums from artists like Pharoah Saunders, Idris Muhammad, Lonnie Liston Smith & Sun Ra.

Astral Travelling - Lonnie Liston Smith (1973)

In recent years Spiritual Jazz has made a revival in the London jazz scene, with artists such as Alfa Mist and Kamasi Washington leading the way amongst many others.


Check out our ASTRAL SPIRITUAL JAZZ playlist below


- ASTRAL MAGAZINE

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