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