Franzo King and his wife, Marina King, heard John Coltrane perform at the San Francisco Jazz Workshop one night in the mid-1960s. King had already been a fan of Coltrane. But that night, which he and Marina describe as a “sound baptism,” King became a disciple of Coltrane. Coltrane was performing “A Love Supreme
,” a seven-years-in-the-making personal testament to God. Having nearly overdosed on heroin in the late 1950’s, Coltrane had been forced to depart from the Miles Davis Quintet – and was then inspired to write this devotion to God. After hearing Coltrane that night
, King left believing that Coltrane was more than a musician. Coltrane was, King believed, a saint chosen to “guide souls back to God.”
Four years later, in 1969, King and his wife founded the Saint John Coltrane African Orthodox Church
, which has since become a presence in the San Francisco Bay Area for nearly five decades. “The worship of God is what we encourage, and we’re using the music of John Coltrane,” stated King in the 1996 documentary
, “The Church of Saint Coltrane” by filmmaker Gayle Gilman, which shows the growth of Archbishop Franzo King and the founding of the church by King and his wife, the Reverend Mother Marina King. The film documents King’s own evolution through the despair of heroin use to the creation of the church with the support of his mother and his wife. In the documentary, King says that “John Coltrane said that music is a venue of rising and so we wanted to create a temple that was an expression of it.” As a recovering addict, Coltrane had found God in 1957, experienced
a “spiritual awakening,” and dedicated his masterpiece “A Love Supreme” as “a humble offering” to God, who in turn had invited him to “a richer, fuller, more productive life.” Indeed, “it was the distinct absence of drugs that lit the flame” of Coltrane’s devotion, and in turn inspired
the devotion of King and his later congregation.
King reminds us in the documentary “that God is never without a witness. St. John Coltrane is that witness for this time and this age.” The four movements of A Love Supreme—Acknowledgement, Resolution, Pursuance, and Psalm—are the basis of worship. King says, “It’s like saying, ‘Father, Son and Holy Ghost.’ It’s like saying melody, harmony and rhythm.’ In other words, you have to acknowledge and then you resolve and then you pursue, and the manifestation of it is a love supreme.”
King and his congregation are serious about their spirituality and about loving community and Coltrane. Coltrane’s music is a vehicle
for God-consciousness and of “deep listening,” being attentive to the “tone” of Coltrane’s saxophone for spiritual consciousness. Their message is “To know sound as the preexisting wisdom of God, and to understand the divine nature of our patron saint in terms of his ascension as a high soul into one-ness with God through sound. In our praises we too seek such a relationship with God. All praise to God. One Mind, A Love Supreme.”
The vibe of the Coltrane congregation is “a rapturous out-of-your-head-ness” writes Aeon magazine
. The congregation, NPR tells us
, “mixes African Orthodox liturgy with Coltrane’s quotes” and of course music, and A Love Supreme
is “the cornerstone of the [Bishop King’s] 200-member church.” The church offers a unique blend of spirituality (Christianity/jazz/Vedanta) and constitutes a vibrant piece of history of the San Francisco African American community and civil rights movement. Reverend King's work embodies consistent social action and inclusiveness.
The Saint John Will-I-Am Coltrane African Orthodox Church is a place where music is the practice of religion. Weekly Divine Liturgy services take place every Sunday and Sound Meditation is the first Sunday of each month. All are welcome, and participants are encouraged to bring their instrument if they play.
Join us in conversation with Reverend Franzo King!