By James Calemine
Ben Ratliff wastes no words in this book about John Coltrane. Ratliff chose to write about Coltrane’s music in the first half of the book and his indelible influence on other musicians in the second half. Make no mistake, Ratliff does not overlook facts in the artist’s life that causes changes in his art, but Ratliff refuses to allow speculation to creep into his work.
Coltrane died of liver cancer at the age of 40. Born and raised in North Carolina, Coltrane soon moved to Philadelphia where his musical aptitudes deepened. His quick and unexpected death left a formidable body of work behind.
Ratliff provides brilliant insight to Coltrane’s sessions and how his music expands the consciousness, ear and memory–if allowed. Ratliff covers Coltrane collaborations with Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and the role he played among black Americans during and after the civil rights movement.
Coltrane played with all the jazz greats–an American idiom–like “Cleanhead” Vinson, Dizzy Gillespie, Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins, James Harris, Charlie Parker, Stan Getz, Oscar Peterson, Ornette Coleman and McCoy Tyner. Coltrane remains a primary musician in the jazz movement and Ratliff exposes his new language of music. The writer examines Coltrane’s relationship with Atlantic Records mogul Nesuhi Ertegun as well as the hypnotic influence he left on his peers.
In a letter to a friend, Coltrane explains his true intention–the backbone of this biography: “Truth is indestructible. It seems history shows that the innovator is more often than not met with some degree of condemnation; usually according to the degree of departure from the prevailing modes of expression or what have you. Change is always hard to accept. We also see that these innovators always seek to revitalize, extend and reconstruct the status quo in their given fields, whatever is needed. Quite often they are the rejects, outcasts, sub-citizens, etc. of the very societies to which they bring so much sustenance. Often they are people who endure great personal tragedy in their lives. Whatever the case, whether accepted or rejected, rich or poor, they are forever guided by the great and eternal constant–the creative urge. Let us cherish it and give all praise to God. Thank you and best wishes to all.”
If you’re a Coltrane fan, Ben Ratliff’s book–The Story of a Sound–emerges as an essential addition to one’s collection. Read a Coltrane story in Insured Beyond The Grave Vol. 2…