New Jersey poet and activist Amiri Baraka was inspired by music, wrote about music, and collaborated with musicians throughout his entire career. The Newark native — who died last year at the age of 79, and was the father of current Newark mayor Ras Baraka — audaciously tried to summon the wild, liberating spirit of saxophonist John Coltrane with his words in the 1982 live version of “I Love Music (For John Coltrane)” that can be heard in the YouTube video below. He is backed on the recording by the free jazz group Air (saxophonist Henry Threadgill, bassist Fred Hopkins and drummer Steve McCall).
“The poem ‘I Love Music’ was written to recall when I was locked up in solitary confinement after the Newark rebellions in 1967,” Baraka once said. “I sat one afternoon and whistled all the Trane I remembered. And then later that afternoon they told me he had died. But I knew even then that that was impossible.”
Coltrane did in fact die on July 17, 1967, the last day of the Newark riots. What Baraka meant, I’m sure, was that the spirit of his music would never die.
New Jersey celebrated its 350th birthday in 2014. And in the 350 Jersey Songs series, we marked the occasion by posting 350 songs — one a day, from September 2014 to September 2015 — that have something to do with the state, its musical history, or both. To see the entire list, click here.