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.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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June 2024