Philip Larkin on John Coltraine.

For reasons which may become clearer later in the week, I have been reacquainging myself with some of  Philip Larkin’s prose and poetry. I’m not certain why it is, but every time I come upon a piece of his prose, I delightfully surprised all over again by how good it is.

Well, I still can’t imagine how anyone can listen to a Coltrane record for pleasure. That reedy, catarrhal tone, sawing backwards and forwards for ten minutes between a couple of chords and producing ‘violent barrages of notes not mathematically related to the underlying rhythmic pulse, and not swinging in the traditional sense of the term’ (Encyclopedia of Jazz in the Sixties); that insolent egotism, leading to forty-five minute versions of ‘My Favourite Things’ until, at any rate in Britain, the audience walked out, no doubt wondering why they had ever walked in; that latter day religiosity, exemplified in turgid suites such as ‘A Love Supreme’ and ‘Ascension’ that set up pretension as a way of life; that wilful, hideous distortion of tone that offered squeals, squeaks, Bronx cheers and throttled slate-pencil noises for serious consideration.” (Philip Larkin, ‘Looking Back At Coltrane’ in “All What Jazz: A Record Diary 1960-1971″)

The reader does not necessarily have to agree with Larkin to take pleasure in reading this. It’s prose writing of the highest order.

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