Movie Review – Chasing Trane

Chasing Trane is a documentary about the life of John Coltrane which I had the good fortune to see a few nights ago at a local repertory theater. All the words attributed to Coltrane from interviews, liner notes, etc. are spoken in the film by Denzel Washington.

From the website: it is a “definitive documentary film about an outside-the-box thinker with extraordinary talent whose boundary-shattering music continues to impact and influence people around the world. This smart, passionate, thought-provoking and uplifting documentary is for anyone who appreciates the power of music to entertain, inspire and transform.”

Some reviewers have criticized this film, stating that more time should have been spent just listening to Coltrane play and less time with the interviewees. But they seem to miss the point that this is a documentary, not a concert. My guess is that anyone going to see this is already pretty familiar with Coltrane’s music and wants to hear from people who knew him and/or his music and appreciated his artistry.

And so yes there are interviews with Coltrane’s kids, Carlos Santana, Jimmy Heath (90 years young), Bill Clinton (a sax player, lest we forget), Dr. Cornel West, Wayne Shorter, Sonny Rollins, Common, Wynton Marsalis and Doors drummer John Densmore among others. (Densmore, a rock drummer, is every bit as passionate as the jazz guys.)

And yes, they fawn over him and yes, everybody they mention (Miles, Monk, Dizzy) is a “genius.” But you know, so what? These people who were interviewed – not to mention pretty much everybody who enjoyed Coltrane – were profoundly affected by his music.

If sometimes words fail them, well, how do you describe the impact of great, timeless music on your soul? We bloggers attempt to do it and fall short every time, simply because music has to be experienced, not just discussed.

I enjoyed this film tremendously. I enjoyed learning Coltrane’s biography (about which I knew little) and hearing from the people who worked with or were affected by him. I enjoyed the relatively few clips of Coltrane playing (one from a TV show with Miles in the Kind of Blue era) and hearing from the people who knew him and loved his music and the man. (One of his biographers said he interviewed 250 people and couldn’t find anyone who didn’t like him.)

An interesting and, to me, new piece of information is Coltrane’s visit to Japan late in his life. (He died in 1967 at the age of 40 due to liver cancer.) He had become fairly spiritual by then and so, visited Nagasaki and honored those who died there in the atomic blast of WWII. An interesting side note is an interview with a Japanese guy who is such a Coltrane fan he has a special house just for all the memorabilia and spends 4 – 5 months going around the world “chasing Trane.”

As to the music, well it’s really all there. What some of the reviewers missed is that there is a constant soundtrack going on during the movie and it really enhances the effect. That, together with the interviews, provides what I think is a worthy documentary. Should there maybe have been a little bit less Bill Clinton and a little more Wayne Shorter? Probably. But it is what it is.

Carlos Santana says that when he goes to a hotel room, he lights incense and puts on A Love Supreme. I forget his exact words but he says something like it “brings in the good spirits.” Coming from anybody but Carlos – whose spirituality is akin to Coltrane’s – that would sound like bullshit. Sounds just right coming from Santana. (One of my own great musical heroes.)

This movie is not just for lovers of Coltrane’s music. If you love great music – especially if you love jazz – you owe it to yourself to see it. It is still playing around the world and there are places it has not yet been. If it’s come and gone in your area, no worries. I’m sure it will show up on DVD and the usual streaming outlets sooner rather than later.

Spotify link

Special thanks go to my sister for giving me the heads up on this pic coming out.

15 thoughts on “Movie Review – Chasing Trane

    1. Yeah, given that its running time is about 1 1/2 hours, there’s only so much they can pack in. But I did learn a few things. I’m pretty sure I have that album too, maybe in a one-or-two CD set? It’s been a while since I bought it so I’ll have to dig that one out. Thanks for the reminder.

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    1. Yeah, really not to be missed. Don’t know why it’s not showing in Switzerland. You may have to go to France. (Screenings are on web site in case you missed it). 😀

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  1. “music has to be experienced, not just discussed.” Totally agree but the discussing lends another layer of richness to the experiencing.
    I just love Coltrane. The man was so unique. It took me a long time to get A Love Supreme. Then one day I realised I’d been listening to it wrong. I’d been sitting in a quiet room, earnestly listening and trying to decode his message.
    Then one day I took it out with me with earbuds in and, as I sat on a tram watching life going on around me, the music started to synch with the frenetic activity of the streets and everything suddenly made sense. A whole joyous world unlocked for me that day on the 86 tram.

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  2. Yes, indeed. I was actually (mis) quoting someone in the film (I forget who) that made more or less that statement. You should definitely see this (screening date and time on the web site) as much is made of how much people love that album and how Coltrane holed himself away to create it on paper before going to the studio. I don’t think I gave much thought before to what a staggering output he had for such a brief life. Wikipedia lists 25 under his name alone, not even counting his collaborations.

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  3. It’s funny, I’m sitting here listening to Monk and i find your take. Coltrane is one of those guys that when I put him on I get stuck on his groove for a few days. He is also near the top of CB’s list of most recordings in the pile. I have few.

    I’m going to be asking for a few doc recommendations in the near future so you beat me to the punch (on the same vibe again). I’ll watch it for sure just because it’s John, Jazz and I like doc films. I’m pretty forgiving with things like the ex prez being in it. Hey he’s a music fan. I always talk about bands and musicians rocking hard. John Coltrane rocks real hard!

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  4. Clinton was actually pretty cool in it. He talked knowledgeably about Coltrane’s music and seemed to not just be there for show. But I totally would have liked to hear more from Wayne Shorter. And in looking at the screenings, looks like the closest one to you is in Ontario which, if I know my Canada geography, isn’t close at all. Probably have to wait for the DVD release. But trust me, you’ll want to see it.

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    1. You know your northern neighbors geography. No panic. It will be there when i get to it. On the list. I was being polite about Bill. Obviously you want to hear more from guys like Shorter and the like. They speak the same language. Musicians are different cats. Love hearing them talk music.

      As I’ve said a few times, CB is a card carrying “Sax Guy”. John is part of a long line of those guys that I can’t get enough of. Falda took me to see Sonny Rollins a few years ago. What a treat. You’ll smile when you see the post coming up this weekend (same vibe or what). John is a direct decedent of the guy I feature. I think that’s an easy one for the Doc. Good piece fella. Thank the Sis for the heads up.

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  5. Sonny Rollins! Shit, totally forgot. He’s interviewed in there too. He gets good air time in this. He still seems on his game. I need to see him but never have. He was one of the first guys whose song I tried to play on my first foray into jazz years ago. (St. Thomas). Anyway, added his name to the list of interviewees in the piece. Thanks.

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  6. Sonny is one of the last links to that creative period of jazz. He connects so many eras and great players. One of my favorite human beings. Coltrane is Sonny’s album ‘Tenor Madness’. Look what you’ve done Doc, you have sent me into this vein of great music.

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  7. I’ll check this movie out. Just got back from out West, and “My Favorite Things” and “Blue Trane” are two CDs that made the long car trip easier. I can do without Dr. Cornel West and Bill Clinton being interviewed, though! (Jerry Garcia was a huge fan of Coltrane, but probably no archival interviews with him?).

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