10 months ago

HHr-PJM 2017-FINAL2 -Publishing Version

Pure Jazz Magazine covers the music called Jazz from a very unique perspective not seen in most publications.

“Chasing Trane” –

“Chasing Trane” – reflections on the film By Willard Jenkins Page 16 - Pure Jazz Magazine

This must be the season for deeply penetrating jazz documentary films! In the midst of much – and well-deserved – positive buzz about the current Lee Morgan doc “I Called Him Morgan” comes the John Coltrane documentary “Chasing Trane”. Last May I had the pleasure of serving on a post-screening panel discussion following a “Chasing Trane” screening at the annual Annapolis Film Festival. For much of the audience that packed the house that evening, “Chasing Trane” was a real revelation, offering an in-depth look at a man many in the audience knew of as a jazz legend… but not much more. The film follows Trane’s humble North Carolina family roots north to Philadelphia. The telling of his family bio offered such keen insights as the fact that both of John Coltrane’s grandfathers were preachers, which in at least one of the film’s testaments from the exceptional legion of intimates, scholars, writers and enthusiasts who offered their take on Trane’s impact, indelibly influenced the storytelling inflection and cadence of the man’s horns. Filmmaker John Scheinfeld assembled a prodigious cast of talking heads to testify to John Coltrane’s greatness from several angles, including sons Ravi and Oran Coltrane, and his stepdaughter (daughter of first wife Naima; for whom Trane dedicated his piece “Sayeeda’s Song Flute”); musical intimates Sonny Rollins, Philly homeboys Jimmy Heath and Benny Golson, and acolytes Wynton Marsalis and Kamasi Washington; such writer-critics and historians as Ashley Khan (another who sat on that Annapolis panel), Ben Ratliff and Lewis Porter; Coltrane enthusiasts from across the imaginary musical divide as Carlos Santana, Common and Doors drummer John Densmore; and such socio-political figures as Bill Clinton and Cornel West. With such a broad cast of dialogue contributors, one might get lost in identifying each cogent bit of testimony; thankfully Scheinfeld cannily employed the introductory graphic each time this crew was called upon to offer their take on Trane’s arc, which may seem John Coltrane an insignificant touch but proved quite effective in enabling viewers to keep up with the source of such insights. Apparently not enough useful footage exists of John Coltrane’s voice to include in this film (though one wonders whether they checked Frank Kofsky’s Coltrane interview from the Pacifica Radio Archives), so the actual words of John Coltrane were effectively narrated by actor Denzel Washington. Hearing Denzel express Trane’s words took this viewer back to the potent sequence in Spike Lee’s jazz film Mo’ Better Blues where Washington’s character rehabs his assault & battery ruined trumpet chops to a recording of Coltrane’s powerful spiritual gemstone “Tunji”. John Coltrane’s career is detailed from his days as a road warrior and sometime bar walker on the chitlin’ circuit as an itinerant section tenor, to his time in Dizzy Gillespie‘s bop orchestra, to his early development as a recording artist, and his signature moments with Miles Davis quintet and sextet. That Trane succumbed to hard drugs was not surprising given the times he came up in, and how he triumphed over his habit is given new detail, including particularly poignant testimony from his stepdaughter on his cold turkey battle at home with the twin demons of heroin and alcohol abuse. Among the more warmly revealing elements of “Chasing Trane” are the frequent glimpses of John Coltrane the family man. His life with Naima is explored in greater detail than previously known, expressed most lovingly by his stepdaughter. John meeting and courting his second wife, pianist Alice McLeod, is beautifully detailed, as is their married life together. Included are lovely still photographs of John Coltrane the family man, including family life in the home they shared in Dix Hills on Long Island. We tend to think of John Coltrane in terms usually reserved for deities, but “Chasing Trane” provides a more nuanced sense the humanity of John Coltrane. There are several sequences of home family movies included in the film, including shots of an everyday John Coltrane enjoying his family, playing in the backyard with his dog, even a sequence of him taking a road trip respite at the side of some turnpike with Alice and one of their children. This film does much to humanize John Coltrane the man. Each of John Coltrane’s musical touchstones are explored in this film, from Pure Jazz Magazine - Page 17