Melissa Campanella: My Brother and Trane


The dedication to LeRoi Jones’ 1960’s collection of essays entitled Black Music reads as follows:

To John Coltrane:
“the heaviest Spirit.”


For many black artists and intellectuals, tenor saxophonist John Coltrane was “the great artistic liberator.” His music was “the age of bright (mystical) understanding” and had the potential to move black people “beyond the pettiness and stupidity of our beautiful enemies.” For critics like John Tynan and Ira Gilter, Trane’s work was  “musical nonsense currently being peddled in the name of jazz” and his “yawps, squawks, and countless repetitive runs,” were best  “confined to the woodshed.” For Trane himself, music was “an instrument” that could “create the initial thought patterns that can change the thinking of people.”


My Brother and Trane: Jazz and Love is an installation inspired by and dedicated to the heaviest spirit in my life, my brother Christopher Campanella, and is an exploration of the formal, theoretical, and spiritual connections I feel exist between Coltrane and Christopher. Although it was easy for outsiders to look at Chris and see a person whose life was defined solely by the pain and limitations associated with his disabilities, his life also defined by his agency, laughter, joy, and love, which like Coltrane’s love, moved those who were able to “sit and hold on” and “hear the music.” Christopher passed away in July of 2007 of complications related to seizure disorder and neuro-axonal dystrophy.