Monday, November 20, 2017

Film: Chasing Trane - The John Coltrane Documentary (10 Spot Films, 2017)

Chasing Trane is a good biographical documentary film about the legendary saxophonist and composer John Coltrane. It combines concert footage with some genuinely touching rarely seen home movies along with interviews of musicians who were his contemporaries and those of later generations along with family members and various luminaries and interested parties. Denzel Washington reads the words of John Coltrane with grace and reverence while former President Bill Clinton and the foremost collector of John Coltrane memorabilia (a Japanese gentleman whose name escapes me) stand in for the legion of Coltrane fans. The film examines his life in chronological order from his birth in North Carolina and move to Philadelphia where he began to play in earnest. Following a stint in the Navy, he began to play in as many groups as possible to gain experience and after a few years he found a home in Dizzy Gillespie’s Big Band. This was a great opportunity but it came with a price as he began to experiment with heroin at this time. There are some very interesting interviews of contemporaries Jimmy Heath and Benny Golson who comment on the talent and learning ability as well as Wynton Marsalis pontificating and Cornell West places Coltrane in a historical context. He joined Miles Davis’ band in 1955, relentlessly searching, only to be fired when the heroin overtook him. Through a herculean act of self will, he kicked cold turkey, as told in a heartfelt interview with his stepdaughter. After taking part in an apprenticeship with Thelonious Monk, he rejoined Miles has in 1957 and took off on the ferocious ten year journey that awaited him. At this point in the film there is more archival film footage that can be used of Coltrane with Miles and his own bands. The interview sessions with Santana and John Densmore are sincere, but the rock musicians add little to the tale as Coltrane reaches his creative peak with A Love Supreme. The last few years of his life saw him stretching further out into free jazz and while some of the interview subjects have trouble following him into that uncharted territory, fellow musicians like Golson and Wayne Shorter stand in awe of his trailblazing ability. The film ends on an elegiac note with him passing far to young, but with the understanding that his music and spirit will live on as long as humans have music. This was an enjoyable and well done biographical film, presenting a well rounded look at Coltrane’s life and achievements in a way that should satisfy long time fans and intrigue newcomers. Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary -

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