Jazz Film Review: 'Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary'

May 3, 2017

This well-constructed documentary is informative and entertaining.  Rarely-seen photos and home movies plus interviews with family members round out the picture of the iconic saxophonist who was always searching and pushing forward.  

Musicians Benny Golson, Sonny Rollins, McCoy Tyner and others are all eloquently emotional in remembering their friend John.  Denzel Washington gives convincing reads of Coltrane's words from interviews from 1957-1967.  Of course, the music is sublime.

Prepare for some moments of cognitive dissonance, however:  former president Bill Clinton speaking as a Coltrane expert, Carlos Santana explaining a cleansing ritual, and the over-the-top enthusiasm of the obsessive proprietor of the Coltrane House of Osaka, Japan.  

But then you'll see that's really the whole point of the film:  John Coltrane's music, and the spirituality expressed in that music, touched the souls of people all over the world.  It still does.

I'm not a religious person; my spiritual underpinnings are a bit wobbly, at best.  But the sincerity of emotion in John Coltrane's music has been a touchstone for me ever since I first heard his "My Favorite Things" album in grade school.  It's not hard to see why some people feel it strongly enough to make a religion out of it. 

Coltrane fans should find much to like in this film, and for those who are new to the Coltrane experience, this is a great place to start exploring.

"Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary" shows in Seattle May 6-11 at SIFF Cinema Egyptian.  Go to the Calendar page at knkx.org for a special ticket discount code just for KNKX listeners.

On May 9 in Tacoma at the Grand Cinema, join KNKX Mid Day Jazz host Dick Stein for the evening showing, followed by a post-film discussion.

Other screenings in the region include May 12-18 at the Pickford in Bellingham and The Rose in Port Townsend, May 20-21 at the Liberty in Camas, and May 26-June 1 at VanCity in Vancouver BC.