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Anybody reading this new book by Ben Ratliff, jazz critic for the NY Times? The first part is a biography, documenting how Trane came up, who he played with and how his style changed over the years.

The second part gets into how his music influenced others, and reflected the political environment of the day. This part started out slow for me, but I'm starting to get into it. I remember hearing about this stuff at the time, but was too young to really understand what was going on.

Your thoughts?
 

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I have read the book. I think the premise is interesting [edit: for those who don't know, the thesis of the book is that it will document the genesis and evolution of JC's SOUND as such, first through the course of his career and then as an influence on other musicians, hence part one and part two] -- it's an unusual approach to a musician's body of work. In the end, though, I found the book to be worthy but not great. The author stakes out a territory between biography and analysis of the music, and while here and there he strikes paydirt (I was especially interested in what he had to say about JC's early development, about his time with Earl Bostic [to which he gives proper but not undue attention], etc.). But at other times the book seems caught between potential audiences. Is he writing for a "general" audience, or for an audience of musicians/specialists? Is he going to do comparative analysis between the "Giant Steps" period and the "Crescent" period (say), or expend a lot of space explaining the cultural milieu of the 1960s? (Maybe if I hadn't been alive and listening during that time I'd be happier to have this explained to me.) There are points, it seems to me, when he ought to be diving incisively into the music and instead he turns away to discuss something peripherally related.

I did find the book worthwhile, though. It must be very tough to get a publisher to take on a work with a subject like this, and I'm sure the author had to make compromises to get it into print at all.
 

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The thing about Ben Ratliff is the kid was only 20 years old back in 1988 (and John passed away in 1967) and although he is a competent critic for artists of recent times, remember this book was done from research...which many times is not totally accurate.
 

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Also, when an author develops a specific premise—stakes out a territory—the work often gets bogged down because the author tries to stay on a narrow track to be true to the premise rather than allowing the research and writing to chart its own course and find its own way.

I haven't read this particular book, but I've seen this happen many times. I am guilty of it, in fact, which is why I painfully understand it.
 

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In this case, the problem is compounded by the fact that the thesis of the book ultimately is about something very difficult to deal with in words. What exactly is Coltrane's "sound" anyway? How does one describe it, and differentiate it from the "sound" of other players? Style is one thing, and sound is bound up with that, but the sound itself as a distinct thing: what is it? To what extent is it a subset of the history and phemonology of the saxophone itself? [Radliff scarcely takes this one on at all -- too bad, because there is a LOT to say in that territory, IMO.] Radliff places the question more in the context of the history of jazz (no surprise there) and of the cultural milieu of the 1960s, and all that has validity, but it's not enough to get at the essential thing the book wants to be about. It's a very difficult subject. I admire him for taking it on, and it's no surprise that the resulting book is not perfect. He makes many very interesting points.

I'd like to know more about the history and dynamics of Trane's (or any player's) physical and mental involvement with the saxophone per se, from the inside (would would Coltrane's sound have been had he gravitated to the trumpet? His process of musical discipline and analysis and transcendence might have been the same, and his band might have been the same, but the result would have been very different). Unfortunately, this is a story that is damned near impossible to get at, and even if you did, how many would want to read it?
 

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Ben Ratliff is the best and most insightful jazz writer the Times has got, and I'm consistently impressed with his work there. For that reason alone I'm looking forward to checking out the book and seeing how well he pulls off the longer form....

Reedsplinter said:
I'd like to know more about the history and dynamics of Trane's (or any player's) physical and mental involvement with the saxophone per se, from the inside (would would Coltrane's sound have been had he gravitated to the trumpet? His process of musical discipline and analysis and transcendence might have been the same, and his band might have been the same, but the result would have been very different). Unfortunately, this is a story that is damned near impossible to get at, and even if you did, how many would want to read it?
Man, Reedsplinter, I think you pose a fascinating question, and I'd love to read that book!
 

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This is always the question I revolve around, philosophically and psychologically, from my own perspective. My personal history with the saxophone -- the critter as such -- is so intense and mysterious to me that I scarcely know who I'd be without it (even though I'm not a professional player; that particular decision was agony but is long in the past). Surely a Coltrane has a vastly deeper and richer story; but unless the player personally goes on record about it, it can't be discovered. Some genius writer might find a way to recover or recreate it convincingly, but if anyone's ever tried that, I don't know about it.
 

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Reedsplinter said:
Surely a Coltrane has a vastly deeper and richer story; but unless the player personally goes on record about it, it can't be discovered. Some genius writer might find a way to recover or recreate it convincingly, but if anyone's ever tried that, I don't know about it.
Without wishing to appear trite in any way, I wonder if that "story" is simply the recordings that the artist leaves behind? "Coltrane's Sound": listen to the music. That's all we have and that's as close as we can get..
 

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Well Coltrane started playing music around the time when both his parents died, and he was only 12 years old. Maybe music became an outlet for his pain and frustration he felt at an early age.
 

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I have not read the book, but I've enjoyed reading a lively discussion on another board. If you check it out, note that two of the contributors to the discussion are themselves highly regarded jazz writers/critics/producers, Larry Kart and Chris (Christiern) Albertson.

(Warning: "adult" language is rampant in the discussion)
 

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chitownjazz said:
Does he discuss the evolution of the "Coltrane sound?" The Prestige-era tone was dramatically different from that on his last recordings.
He discusses it to some extent, though not to my satisfaction -- nor I think to the satisfaction of any sax player. But then, I suppose he might want to reach a somewhat broader audience. . . .:D

He DOES give Earl Bostic his due. I like that.
 
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