No other jazz musician has proved so inspirational and so fascinating as Coltrane. Ben Ratliff, jazz critic for the "New York Times", has written the first book to do justice to this great and controversial music pioneer. As well as an elegant narrative of Coltrane's life Ratliff does something incredibly valuable - he writes about the saxophonist ...
No other jazz musician has proved so inspirational and so fascinating as Coltrane. Ben Ratliff, jazz critic for the "New York Times", has written the first book to do justice to this great and controversial music pioneer. As well as an elegant narrative of Coltrane's life Ratliff does something incredibly valuable - he writes about the saxophonist's unique sound.
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New. This item is printed on demand. In this major work about the great saxophonist--and about the state of jazz--Ratliff looks for the sources of power in John Coltrane's music, not just in matters of technique, composition, and musical concepts, but in the.
Ratliff gives us a well written and deeply thought book that asks hard questions about Coltrane's musicianship and about the continuing potency of his legacy. It turns out that Coltrane's early death may be a greater loss than we commonly acknowledge.
Dec 2, 2008
Chasin' the Trane
In his lifetime, tenor saxophonist John Coltrane had his share of acolytes and detractors. While followers of bebop alto saxophonist Charlie Parker scrawled ?Bird Lives!? on walls after his untimely death at 34, Coltrane is arguably the only jazz musician at risk of canonization by his adherents after his death at 40 in 1967. After escaping the ravages of alcohol and heroin, the saxophonist told an interviewer without irony that his ambition was to become a saint. It?s difficult now to conceive of such high purpose in a popular artist.
In Ben Ratliff?s Coltrane: The Story of a Sound (Picador/Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2007), we have a book that is worthy of its towering subject. The author?s thesis is that Coltrane?s lifelong quest for a sound took on the characteristics of a spiritual journey. He was determined to create music that ?stepped outside of history.?
John Coltrane?s background isn?t predictive of the master musician he would become. He was born in Hamlet, North Carolina. After high school, he moved to Philadelphia. Like most saxophonists of the time, he worshipped Charlie Parker. Gigging around Philly, Coltrane focused on the ?refinement of a basic set of skills.? From 1951-55, Ratliff writes, ?not much of consequence happens?: an exile in the wilderness. Coltrane practiced continuously, even between sets. His big break comes when trumpeter Miles Davis hires Coltrane for his quintet. ?The music we were playing together,? Davis said, ?was just unbelievable.? In 1963, after leaving his first wife, Naima, he and Alice Coltrane moved to a house in Long Island, raising their children. They rarely socialized.
Coltrane?s achievements were major: His work with Davis and Thelonius Monk in the Fifties, and his groundbreaking Atlantic albums as a leader like ?My Favorite Things? and ?Giant Steps.? The classic quartet, which recorded albums from 1961-65 like ?A Love Supreme,? included pianist McCoy Tyner, bassist Jimmy Garrison and polyrhythmic drummer Elvin Jones. The band had, Ratliff writes, ?become miraculous, a buoyancy.? The raw, volcanic, even terrifying live performances, which had the feel of inward exploration, possessed ?almost a physical sensation.?
The difficult free-jazz phase featured the additions of tenor player Pharaoh Sanders, pianist Alice Coltrane and drummer Rashied Ali. Ratliff characterizes this period as ?one interconnected song . . . music of meditation and chant, the sound of his interior cosmos.? That seems exactly right. ?Meditations? is one of the most beautiful, moving records from that moment. His last recordings are his most controversial.
Coltrane?s own compositions like ?Naima,? ?Afro-Blue? and ?Alabama??likely an elegy for the four African American girls killed in the Birmingham, Alabama church bombing in 1963?are also significant as is his absorption of black spirituals, Indian, African and Latin influences. Contrary to the anti-European bias in some jazz criticism of the era, Coltrane also listened to Debussy, Stravinsky and Hindemith. He was the ultimate student.
The considerable virtue of Ratliff?s book is its stubborn lucidity in the face of endless mythologizing. The book is divided into two sections: first, ?the story of his music,? and second, his vast influence not only upon post-bop jazz musicians but rock stars from The Byrds to Iggy Pop, and minimalist composers Steve Reich and Terry Riley.
If the sections overlap, there?s logic to the form. The critical response is part of the tale of this protean figure, whose swift, furious changes recall other iconic Sixties figures: Miles, Dylan, Ali, Godard. Yet in his music?s profound depths, technical command, exquisite beauty and purifying power, Coltrane travelled further into the harsh, lightless territory of the soul.
Publishers Weekly, 2007-06-04 Ratliff, the jazz critic for the New York Times, isn't interested in simply retelling the biographical facts of John Coltrane's life. Instead, he analyzes how the saxophone player came to be regarded as "the last major figure in the evolution of jazz," tracing both the evolution of his playing style and the critical reception to it. The first half of this study concentrates on Coltrane's career, from his early days as a semianonymous sideman to his final, increasingly experimental recordings, while the second half explores the growth of Coltrane's legacy after his death. Ratliff has a keen sense of Coltrane's constantly changing sound, highlighting the collaborative nature of jazz by discussing the bands he played in as both sideman and leader. (One of the more intriguing asides is a suggestion that Coltrane's alleged LSD use might have inclined him toward a more cooperative mode of performance.) The consideration of Coltrane's shifting influence on jazz-and other modern musical forms-up to the present day is equally vigorous, refusing to rely on simple adulation. Always going past the legend to focus on the real-life stories and the actual recordings, Ratliff's assessment is a model for music criticism. (Sept.) Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information.
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