Every day leading up to Valentine’s Day this year, The Key is recapping 14 songs that scream “love” just as strongly as they scream “Philly.” The Essential Love Songs of Philadelphia continues with “Naima” from John Coltrane’s 1960 album Giant Steps.
Music comes in when words fail, and nobody knew that better than John Coltrane. The iconic saxophonist burned bright across a turbulent life where he struggled with addiction, relationships, spirituality, and the tension between artistic vision and the cold demands of a capitalistic society — all topics that leave those ensnared speechless. Fittingly, two of his most enduring works unpack the complexities of love to the sound of saxophones melodies sweet, somber, and spectral.
John Scheinfeld’s 2016 documentary Chasing Trane places the musician’s creative and personal zenith at the January, 1965 release of A Love Supreme, a euphoric, exaltational song cycle about Coltrane’s relationship with God and, by extension, the spiritual life of humankind writ large. At the point of its recording and release (which happened, amazingly, within one month of one another), Coltrane had been living sober and wholly dedicated to his music for eight years, and was wrapped up in a love affair with his pianist Alice McLeod, who would later become his second wife.
By contrast, the song “Naima” from his 1960 Atlantic Records debut Giant Steps — arguably Coltrane’s first great love song — captures a much more difficult time in his life and the love that emanated from it; a sort of love that’s sad, delicate, fraught with trouble, but no less profound. Continue reading →