Thursday, June 17, 2004

More on 'Trane

The Naked Maja goes into the documentary far more deeply than I did. *Half-assed excuse alert* Actually, Marcello reminded me of a few things I noticed, but did not mention here.

I'm hearing people scream SO WHAT? already Not me.

Coltrane is allotted 45 minutes in a vacant post-World Cup slot whereas if, say, Michael Frayn popped his Chablis tomorrow he'd get a suffocatingly reverent four-part series Isn't that post-Euro Cup? I don't know who Michael Frayn is, but it is indeed sad that one of jazz's only two (in the mass popular imagination, the other being Miles) eminently cool figures can only carve out 45 minutes of TV time for himself. The BBC did, however show a two-part Miles documentary and the Ken Burns thing. I saw neither.

But at no point during the programme did Yentob convey the impression that he had to make this documentary, that he was so consumed by the consumption of Coltrane that this programme could not have waited. I got the impression that by the angle was to make us understand the source of
the fascination for Coltrane: the church, the WKCR orgy, the Japanese fan(atic). Consumption by proxy.

From heroin to clean to LSD. Even before this documentary, I'd wondered what was up with that. Miles's cold turkey drug break is also well-known, but his autobiography makes it fairly clear that he continued taking various drugs, just not to the point of re-becoming a junkie who stole his friends' possessions to get his fix.

"I would like to be remembered as a saint" I'd never heard that one before, it was rather strange.

yes, musicians are sometimes HAPPY shock horror! I'd read that Coltrane rarely smiled for pictures because he was embarassed about his bad teeth. After finally seeing a picture of him smiling, I can see that that was indeed the case. As one who also modified my way of smiling because of my teeth (and not just for pictures), I understand. The funny thing is that those unsmiling, far-off-in-the-cosmic-unknown gaze photos have greatly contributed to the Coltrane myth.

an overly diplomatic McCoy I was hoping for some discussion of why the Quartet ended (and maybe, why did Garrison stay), but no possibly negative comments on Coltrane were possible, apart from the happily-ever-after and oh-so-inspiring drug addiction tale.

Meanwhile, Yentob walks right past the Village Vanguard without mentioning it, and walks into a deli which used to be the Half Moon club. It was the Half Note, but I found that funny too. Especially as the narrator is saying something along the lines of "I went looking for the scene of some of Coltrane's greatest performances" as he walks past the VV.

Not a word about how his influence spread into rock and even pop - the ghost of Hendrix must be wondering if he's deliberately being written out of history

Hendrix being written out of music history? Where do you get that impression from? The pop connection could have been interesting (thought it probably whouldn't have been done well in this show), as jazz has always served as an interface between high and low.

crucially NO Alice Coltrane I'd be very surprised if they didn't ask her. Maybe she turned them down. Of course, they could have made it more explicit that she replaced Tyner, especially as Alice is on-screen several times, both as a wife/mother and as a performer. Less crucial, but equally puzzling, was the absence of Ravi Coltrane. Or, indeed, any sense of the legacy of Coltrane beyond those who played with him (Tyner, Shepp, Ali).

BUT HOW GOOD WAS 'TRANE AS A FREE IMPROVISER? I'm not sure that this is as crucial a question as Marcello makes it. Why this one rather than "BUT HOW GOOD WAS 'TRANE AS A BEBOP IMPROVISER?"? Marcello mentions the live version of "A Love Supreme," I would also put Sun Ship up as a good example of the Classic Quartet playing free.

What bothered me more was the documentary's description of only latter-day Coltrane as "experimental," when he was clearly experimenting and experimental right from the beginning. Cf. some of the fumbling he does on Walkin' or Tenor Madness.

there was nothing in this documentary which would have been likely to convert an unbeliever I find that difficult to determine. Ultimately, what converts people is the music

I forgot to mention that Benny Golson also appeared - he seems to be everywhere at the moment, doesn't he? Kenneth Clarke popped up too. I'm not sure why, as he had nothing coherent to say.