This has been a rich year for jazz-related documentaries. That happy trend continues with Chasing Trane, a tribute to John Coltrane by filmmaker John Scheinfeld, whose previous credits include The U.S. vs. John Lennon and Who is Harry Nilsson (And Why is Everybody Talkin’ About Him). Denzel Washington reads the words of Coltrane himself, adapted mostly from album liner notes, while family members, colleagues, and a host of admirers sing the musician’s praises (pun intended). When those admirers include such eloquent speakers as Wynton Marsalis, Dr. Cornel West, and President Bill Clinton the results go beyond mere “talking heads.” Any documentary is fortunate to have contributors of this caliber; this one soars on the wings of their words.
Coltrane’s children provide some insight into the man away from the bandstand, their poignant memories illustrated and augmented by rare and candid home-movie footage.
And while other recent jazz films I’ve reviewed like I Called Him Morgan and Sound of Redemption offer ample evidence of their subjects’ talent, this one goes one giant step further by emphasizing Coltrane’s impact and his ongoing influence. Fellow musicians like Benny Golson (a lifelong friend), Sonny Rollins, McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Heath, Wayne Shorter, and contemporary figures including Common, John Densmore, and Carlos Santana address the way Coltrane kept moving forward, drawing on both his innate gift and his spirituality to create music that has stood the test of time.
Chasing Trane opened in New York City last week and gets a theatrical release in Los Angeles beginning today, with more to come. Anyone who cares about this 20th century titan should consider it essential viewing. You can learn more HERE.