Saturday, October 02, 2010

Coltrane on Coltrane Is Invaluable Book on the Jazz Legend

Coltrane on Coltrane: The John Coltrane Interviews
Edited by Chris DeVito
2010: A Capella Books - Chicago Review Press

The lead author of The John Coltrane Reference, Chris DeVito has provided an invaluable new volume that includes practically all of the published interviews about John Coltrane although with articles, album liner notes (including Coltrane’s notes and poem for “A Love Supreme”) and similar pieces which have material where Coltrane talking about himself and his music. Also included are lengthy interviews with a child hood friend from Coltrane’s native high point, NC, and a music teacher in Philadelphia. while some of the material may be familiar to some, there are a number of pieces that most will be aware of. That said, it should be noted that the overwhelming majority of the interviews and articles will be new to the reader. Also it does not include the full text of Ralph Gleason’s interview with Coltrane (only an excerpt is provided) as the entire interview will be published in a book of Gleason’s interviews that is coming out. Also, where the source tape is available, DeVito makes corrections and changes based on the tape such as on Frank Kofsky’s interview, the lengthiest of the interviews with Coltrane published here.

The earliest piece here is a 1952 Baltimore Afro-American account of a 1952 performance by Coltrane and Specs Wright followed by a previously unpublished interview by August Blume in 1958 when Coltrane was in Baltimore with the then new Miles Davis Quintet. The informality of the discussion, which was recorded without Coltrane’s knowledge at the end is fascinating as he discusses music, philosophy, religion and other performers. Coltrane’s straight-forwardness comes across her and throughout the latter interviews. His humility and the fact he was constantly striving to improve himself as a musician and searching in his music is something repeated in various latter interviews and so many of the interviews not the contrast between the apparently ‘angry’ music and the calm and thoughtful responses of him, whether discussing how he tries to relate to audiences, reactions to him and Eric Dolphy being called anti-jazz (an infamous DownBeat article), how playing the soprano saxophone was affecting his playing of the tenor saxophone, and thoughts on members of his band and musicians he admired.

Interestingly, many of the interviews from the sixties after the famous DownBeat article where Coltrane and Dolphy respond to their critics, come from European publications and we get a sense of audience reactions to a live performance of “A Love Supreme,” from some of the introductions and questions. Then there are concerns (and restraints) about playing in clubs and the quality of PA systems as opposed to concerts. While the issue of politics and the issue of racial discrimination do come up, the interview with Kofsky is perhaps the one in which he discusses points at length. Also included is an invaluable remembrance of Coltrane with Babatunde Olantunji with whom Coltrane was a friend and eventually a collaborator, and Coltrane helped open the Olantunji Olantunji Center of African Culture, which was the site of one of Coltrane’s last performances and notes that Coltrane was withdrawing from certain performance venues because of a desire to have more self-determination over his music. Also included is a remembrance of Hod O’Brien that remembers Coltrane as an extremely generous man, who allowed O’Brien to take a break when O’Brien had not had a break for several hours and needed to use the facilities.

Chris DeVito has provided an invaluable service in bring all this material together, despite some repetition of themes between some of the interviews. They do help provide a sense of this gentleman who was not simply one of the most significant musicians of the 20th Century, but a man to be admired on so many other levels.

For purposes of FTC regulations I received a review copy from the publisher or a publicist for the publisher.

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