John Coltrane and Spike Lee: Their Artforms

“Alabama” is a piece by John Coltrane – written and performed by the renowned jazz saxophonist in response to the 16th Street Baptist Church bombing in 1963. It is said that Coltrane’s musical phrasing on the recording was crafted to mimic Martin Luther King Jr.’s cadence as he eulogized three of the four little girls. I think about Coltrane’s piece in relation to the form of art that Spike Lee has employed to achieve the same goal: remember and respond. It’s interesting to consider how Lee employs music, jazz music specifically, to shape the trajectory of his films. The music in “4 Little Girls,” is by Terence Blanchard, a jazz trumpeter and composer that is notably also the man behind the scores for When The Levees Broke, Malcolm X, ClockersInside Man, among other Spike Lee films. Considering Lee’s father is a jazz musician, it’s clear that jazz as an idiom is close to Lee’s heart and finds its way into what seems like every single one of his films. As art forms, I think they both act as eulogies like King’s.

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