The Church of John Coltrane in San Francisco

The Church of John Coltrane, or more formally the St. John Will-I-Am Coltrane African Orthodox Church, is a San Francisco church which recognizes the late jazz saxophonist John Coltrane as a saint. Their services transcend typical church ceremonies, and are typified by passionate musical performances that inspire a kind of group communion with Jazz. Turnstyle News, based in Oakland, made a great video feature that really captures the spirit of their ebullient, idiosyncratic services and the vibe of the congregation. It is one of a series of videos they’ve made on Bay Area subjects.

Archbishop Franzo Wayne King founded the church in 1971, originally called “Yardbird Temple”, referring to Charlie Parker and also a jazz club that King ran in San Francisco’s Bayview neighborhood in the 1960’s. In 1982, the church joined the African Orthodox Church, changed its name, and canonized Coltrane. More specifically they canonized the Risen Trane:

The ascension of St. John Coltrane into one-ness with God is what we refer to as the Risen Trane. In dealing with the Saint, John Coltrane, we are not dealing with St. John the man but St. John the sound and St. John the Evangelist and Sound Baptist, who attained union with God through sound. From the standpoint of the biography of John Coltrane, the Risen Trane is the post 1957 John Coltrane. He who emerged from drug addiction onto a path of spiritual awakening and who gave testimony of the power and empowerment of grace of God in his life and in his Psalm on A Love Supreme, and in his music thereafter.

Things didn’t look so good for the church a decade ago as the dot-com boom forced them out of 351 Divisadero, where they were based for 30 years. Jack Boulware wrote a great piece at the time of the church’s eviction in 2000. That article covers the church’s history, but also includes great detail about San Francisco in the 1960’s and John Coltrane himself. Here’s an amazing section on the musician:

In his formative years, the shy young saxophonist from Philadelphia apprenticed under some of the best bandleaders at the time—Earl Bostic, Johnny Hodges, Gillespie, Davis, Thelonious Monk. As Porter points out, Coltrane wasn’t born a boy genius like Charlie Parker. He had to work at his talent. Friends would find him backstage in the dressing room between sets, practicing constantly for the perfect series of notes. While on tour, if hotel guests complained, he laid on the bed and silently fingered the keys. At night he fell asleep with the horn still in his mouth.

The church was without a home for several years, holding services at various locations, but they have found a permanent home once again. They are now based in the Fillmore district, an area of San Francisco which was known as Harlem of the West in the 1940s and 1950s. The church draws visitors and press coverage from all over the world.

video via Boing Boing