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Book Review: Coltrane on Coltrane: The John Coltrane Interviews, Edited by Chris DeVito

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Editor Chris DeVito has compiled an impressive collection of “almost every known [John] Coltrane interview—as well as articles, reminisces, and liner notes that include quotes by Coltrane.” They are presented in chronological order and show the growth of Trane as an artist through his words.

And it certainly seems extremely thorough. The first piece in the book is a 1952 article from The Baltimore Afro-American by Rufus Wells entitled “The Afro Goes to a Be-Bop Concert” where the one quote from Trane in the piece is only “Yeah” in response to something trumpeter Johnny Birks said. Thankfully, Trane is more forthcoming in the rest of the book’s selections.

The interviews take place between 1955 and 1966 and feature interviewers from the U.S., Europe, and Japan. While some artists are only good at expressing themselves through their art, Trane comes off as a very thoughtful, contemplative person when talking about his work. He comes off most at ease in the book’s longest interview when talking with August Blume in 1955 who was clandestinely recording their after-dinner conversation until Trane notices the machine and understandably becomes self-conscious.

He is well versed in the work of musicians before his time and that of his contemporaries. The coolest article in the book is “Honest John: The Blindfold Test” from Down Beat in 1959 where Trane is blindfolded and played records. His accuracy in identifying what he is hearing on seven records is almost perfect. Trane doesn’t mind sharing the spotlight as friends/fellow musicians join him as interview subjects: Cannonball Adderly in the Michigan Chronicle and Eric Dolphy in Down Beat.

Trane is also interviewed for album liner notes. Jazz critic Nat Hentoff wrote the majority featured here: Giant Steps, “Live” at the Village Vanguard, Meditations, Live at the Village Vanguard Again!, and Kula Se Ma. Dom Cerulli authored the notes for Africa/Brass, Stanley Dance for Duke Ellington & John Coltrane, and on one of his most personal records, A Love Supreme, it’s no surprise the notes are written by Trane himself.

One of the last pieces to conclude the book is Herb O’Brien’s heartfelt remembrance “Trane’s Gone” after liver cancer ended his life at the much-too-early age of 40 on July 17, 1967. The two appendices are interviews taken after his death of people who knew him, childhood friend Franklin Brower and music teacher Isadore Granoff. They present their view of a younger Trane before these interviews and help create a fuller picture of the man’s entire life.

DeVito does a supreme job creating this one-stop interview archive for fans that comes close to serving as a biography. Coltrane on Coltrane is well worth owning for those curious about the man behind the music.

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS