John Coltrane, 101

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis and more, subscribe to Mother Jones' newsletters.


coltrane.gif

I love jazz biographies as much as the next music nerd, but Ben Ratliff’s latest book on jazz giant John Coltrane, Coltrane: The Story of a Sound, transcends typical expectations of a biography. It documents how one of the most famous and revered jazz musicians of all time actually developed his sound, style, and technique.

Coltrane, in the hands of this New York Times music critic, is a man constantly searching—and practicing—and pushing himself to the next level musically. He’s also a music theory-obsessed saxophonist that people didn’t always know what to make of, but he was consistently invited to play anyway; and repeatedly blew people away with his power and tenacity.

The first-person accounts given by fellow musicians, friends, peers and admirers are the charm of the book. French-horn player David Amram recalls Coltrane sitting outside of a club, eating a piece of pie and talking about Einstein’s theory of relativity. Testimonies from rock musicians help contextualize Coltrane’s influence outside of New York’s jazz clubs. The Stooges’ singer Iggy Pop, known for his wild physicality on stage, explains “What I heard John Coltrane do with his horn, I tried to do physically.” Mike Watt, bassist for the post-punk band The Minutemen, says “[Coltrane] didn’t want to get fuckin’ nailed down. That’s the anarchistic spirit.”

In short, it takes Ratcliff 200 pages to describe how an amazing, controversial jazz man worked to transform himself and the instrument he played, and as a result, challenged what people thought (and still think) jazz music should sound like.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

Thank you!

We didn't know what to expect when we told you we needed to raise $400,000 before our fiscal year closed on June 30, and we're thrilled to report that our incredible community of readers contributed some $415,000 to help us keep charging as hard as we can during this crazy year.

You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

The months and years ahead won't be easy. Far from it. But there's no one we'd rather face the big challenges with than you, our committed and passionate readers, and our team of fearless reporters who show up every day.

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our newsletters

Subscribe and we'll send Mother Jones straight to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate

We have a new comment system! We are now using Coral, from Vox Media, for comments on all new articles. We'd love your feedback.