Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary, 2016
By John Scheinfeld
Directed and written by John Scheinfeld, and with the support of Coltrane’s family, friends, people he worked with, and music fans, including son Ravi Coltrane, stepdaughters Michelle Coltrane, musicians Sonny Rollins, Benny Golson, Carlos Santana, Wayne Shorter, Common, Kamasi Washington and fans like Bill Clinton and YasuhiroFujioka. John Scheinfeld’s “Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary” reconstructed Coltrane’s spiritual life and music journey.
The movie started from the moment Coltrane first join Miles Davis Quartet, he was new to the world. But his journey started from his hometown North Carolina in the deep south, experienced discrimination at first hand, religious and black church was one thing that held black people together. Coltrane played the sax and always wanted to learn more while he could support his family. So he played lots of gigs and played with another jazz musicians even though they didn’t share same taste. He joined the navy in the WWII, stationed in Pearl Harbor, people said he was trying to imitating Charlie Parker but it didn’t sound right. While he was still trying to his own voice, he was able play jazz standards.
He joined Miles Davis Quartet and it was big step forward for him, however he became heavily addicted to hard drugs and alcohol. He would end up dead like his idol Charlie Parker. Not long Coltrane was fired by Miles (or so they said in the movie).
Coltrane become clean (obviously it was hard for him to quit drugs for good according to his stepdaughter), but he got his path back on track. He joined Monk’s band in the late 50s and released a celebrated jazz album “Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall”. He became “Coltrane” in 1957, the celectrated hard bop Blue Note album “Blue Train” (with Lee Morgan as trumper) was born a year later . “Lady Bird” showed that he was not just a session/standard jazz musician, away from his previous Bebop style, he’s got his own voice now.
Then Coltrane rejoined Miles for the second time. Coltrane was given a lot of space that was exactly what he needed. He played the longest solo in the band, even longer than Miles. Miles once asked him why didn’t he stop and then Coltrane answered “I couldn’t find the right time to stop”. “Well you can just out the sax of your month” Miles said.
The result was another celectrated jazz record “Kind of Blue”, with Miles Davis, Coltrane, Bill Evans, Wynton Kelly, Paul Chambers, Jimmy Cobb and Cannonball Adderley. Coltrane actually “grew out of the band” that he could stay in it anymore.
Coltrane regarded jazz as the highest art form, he developed his own free form style starting from his major project “Giant Steps” in 1960 and he formed his own quartet with McCoy Tyner Steve Davis and Elvin Jones. “My Favorite Things” came a year later.
Here comes a glimpse of his private life regarding to his masterpiece “A Love Supreme”. After he married the jazz pianist Alice, for the first time he became a father to three sons. He was happy. By the time John Jr. he started his project with her wife understanding and support, locked himself upstairs for two weeks, “A Love Supreme” was born and this was the first time he felt ready.
Coltrane “A Love Supreme” was one of my first encounter with jazz (another were Ellington and Mingus). It was a portal to heaven, it was whole new level for jazz and for audiences, that he was getting into avant garde jazz and free jam direction. Coltrane had messages hidden in it in notes and melodies, the listeners would explore his spiritual mind and widen their own as well. I consider “A Love Supreme” as a door to jazz because even the people not into jazz also would love it.
By the third of the movie, “Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary” showered us interviews of a devoted Coltrane fan Yasuhiro Fujioka from Japan. He was a first a devoted fan and than a collector of Coltrane, anything you can name of, records, photos, books etc. He encountered Coltrane in 1966 when he performed in Japan. Coltrane visited Nagasaki Peace Memorial Park, he bowed in prayer. “Well, I dislike war. Period. So, therefore, as far as I’m concerned, it should stop. It should have already stopped. And any other war.” Coltrane said later regarding the Nagasaki bombing in the Great War. A year Coltrane died, a short life of 40. A soul was gone too soon.