MIFF Review: Chasing Trane – The John Coltrane Documentary

A comprehensive, albeit long overdue, look at legendary alto jazz saxophonist, Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary charts the rise of Coltrane from his early days in the 1950s playing in the Miles Davis Quintet, through to the envelope pushing work in the late 1960s, which alienated many fans at the time.

Through a series of talking heads, which include such diverse people as Carlos Santana, Bill Clinton and Common, and the voice of Denzel Washington reading Coltrane’s own words, we learn about Coltrane’s personal life and his development as a musician and composer. It’s easy to imagine that Washington would have liked the chance to portray Coltrane had he been a few years younger.

He was, at heart, a family man, although one who developed a heroin addiction early on and was a very heavy drinker. It was the former that ended his tenure with Davis, but a much more authoratarian Dizzy Gillespie saw Coltrane clean up his act to stay in Gillespie’s band. After striking out on his own in the late 50s, he created jazz that was both innovative and popular. He later worked with Davis again and can be heard on the landmark Kind Of Blue album.

The early stretches of the doco are rendered in a fairly straight forward format that benefits greatly from the subject’s music, and are further embellished with artwork which adds a visual stimulation to the commentary. The film opens out more in the second half when Coltrane’s music is put into perspective with the political climate of the time in America’s south. This was when Martin Luther King was speaking out about segregation and Coltrane made his own statements through his compositions.

For the uninitiated, but curious, this is a good primer. You’ll get to hear a good sampling of all the stages of Coltrane’s evolving career, including the controversial latter material which had a lot of people saying he was taking jazz in the wrong direction. Who knows what he would have come up with next had he not died at the age of 40.

Fans will be pleased that music doco specialist John Scheinfeld has assembled a wealth of former band members, family members and devotees to flesh out the facts. One Japanese fan in particular, with an insatiable appetite for Coltrane memorabilia, gives the film it’s name.  He’s always Chasing Trane

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Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary screens at the 

Richard Leathem @dickiegee