FAME AND GREATNESS
FAME AND GREATNESS
Getting a lot of attention and doing great things are different objectives. Greatness takes some time to be recognized and rewarded. It often remains hidden until we spend some time to uncover it.
TO WITNESS GREATNESS, TAKE A MOMENT AND WATCH THIS PREVIEW VIDEO OF JOHN SCHEINFELD’S BRILLIANT DOCUMENTARY, CHASING JOHN COLTRANE
THE GREAT JOHN COLTRANE
A documentary of John Coltrane’s life and music was shown this past week on PBS’s The Independent Lens. It was well made, and like most things worth watching it wasn’t shown until past my bedtime. Thankfully we can now record anything using the cable box that sits beside the TV. This week I have played it over and over while I painted in my garage. I have been listening to it more than I have been watching it. The documentary is well constructed and is a purposeful piece of work. It introduces us to the man and his unique but too short journey. It has inspired me to one more time try to figure out why he is so special.
I am probably the least qualified person to write about John Coltrane. From time to time I have gone to the library and taken out his album, “A Love Supreme”. I have never bought the CD nor really understood the music. I have never learned to read music and can’t carry a tune. John Coltrane really knew music and explored all the possibilities. Not realizing the intricacies and freshness of his playing, I found myself wishing that he would end his solos and play something I recognized. Some critics also thought his selections were too long and thus boring, but his fellow jazz musicians knew that “you have to listen carefully to Trane, get involved with him”. I was missing something and the film helped explain John Coltrane to me.
Over 200 people were interviewed for the documentary and no one had a negative thought about John Coltrane. He was universally well liked. As fierce as he was as a jazz man, John Coltrane was privately a rather quiet and humble man, He was always described as spiritual. He had no sense of self promotion. No one thought he was perfect. He did screw up, he would triumph, and then he would abruptly change directions. He sometimes went too fast and left his friends and band mates behind, but he always identified his faults and self corrected. He was addicted to heroin and quit on his own. His friends described him as “almost introspective and deeply religious. “. Coltrane studied all music and all religions and turned his research into art. He often studied Eastern music which is often apparent in his compositions. The one constant was that he wanted his music to be a force for good. He said: ” I know that there are bad forces, forces that bring suffering to others and misery to the world, but I want to be the opposite force. I want to be the force which is truly for good.” This I realize is what made him great.
I often listen to jazz musicians talking about other musicians like chefs talking about a favorite dessert, You would hear things like :”It has the right sweetness”, ” What was that in the middle that brought out the other flavors?” and “It was very complex.” As a serious cookie consumer I only know when the cookie has chocolate or vanilla in it because I like chocolate and vanilla. I end up listening to a lot of chocolate and vanilla music.
Most musicians revere John Coltrane exactly because he was never vanilla. You had to try a second slice in order to savor all the delights that his music offered. I will never have the same appreciation for Coltrane’s music as a musician would. Part of his personal pilgrimage was to find new paths for future musicians to follow. When he first heard Charlie Parker he felt freed from both technical and emotional restraints. He then used this freedom to expand the range that fellow musicians could roam. I will never share a jazz artist’s understanding of the complexities of his playing. I am learning to just close my eyes and go on an emotional journey with him.
Like most great artists John Coltrane dove deep into his art. This can be a lonely place. He often found a truth through his preoccupations with music and God. He would then rush to share his truths using his skills as a musician. He thought he was a rocket ship trying to break free of gravity. Not every one wanted to go with him to outer space. I am now ready to make the journey.
GETTING TO KNOW THE ARTIST MAKES A DIFFERENCE
John Coltrane’s music reflected what was going on in his life. He always had to know more about what he didn’t know. When he shared his process of discovery, critics were quick to reject his findings. They heard honking and bleating and angry barking. Later many discovered that his process was worth listening to. Nat Hentoff the jazz critic said, “He was instrumental in freeing the concept of what a jazz performance is.”
There is so much that we don’t know. What some heard as a scream of confusion was one of the greatest examples of an improviser extrapolating his passion on the fly. All my musician friends got John Coltrane. They knew he was important. They knew why he was important because they knew music and knew John Coltrane. I think I am getting to know John Coltrane, and I know that I will soon purchase the CD “A Love Supreme,”
I always did hear his emotion and the force of his person. He seemed to have an urgency to tell me something, but I just didn’t have the skill to hear what he was saying, probably because I had never seen John Coltrane perform live. So get out and hear some live music and look at some real art.
I am taking to heart what Coltrane replied when asked why he played so long, “Because I can’t find a good place to stop”.
THERE WILL BE LIVE MUSIC AT THE DIRTY DOG THIS WEEK
November 15 – November 16
EMMA LEE ABOUKASM
Emma will be bringing her perspectives on where jazz is going to the Dirty Dog this week. Her solid grounding in the music has brought her international attention and awards. She will gather a great band around her for this not to be missed two day appearance.
November 17 – November 18
Make your reservations early as Alexander has earned a loyal following eager to find out what he is up to. There will be music guaranteed to lift your spirits.
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