How has there never been a comprehensive documentary about John Coltrane before now? One of the giants of jazz, the saxophonist collaborated with the best in the business — including Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk and Miles Davis. From his solo LP debut in 1957 to his death 10 years later at age 40, he recorded some of the most inspired, breathtaking music the genre has ever produced.
John Scheinfeld’s “Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary” ought to appeal to longtime fans as well as neophytes. For the former, the doc is filled with rare performance clips, alongside insightful interviews with family, colleagues and famous fans.
For newcomers, “Chasing Trane” gives a good overview of the man’s biography and influence. The movie tracks the development of his compositions, from the achingly beautiful pop riffs of the ‘50s to the improvisatory avant-garde prayers of the ‘60s.
Scheinfeld doesn’t move strictly chronologically, which can be confusing. And aside from some animated interludes, he doesn’t do much to match his visual style to the genius of Coltrane’s sound.
But when artists and writers like Common and Cornel West talk through the roots and meaning of the song “Alabama” and the album “A Love Supreme,” it’s a valuable musical education. And when “Chasing Trane” serves up mesmerizing footage of Coltrane lost in the middle of a long solo, the film communicates something beyond words.
‘Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary’
Running time: 1 hour, 39 minutes
Playing: Landmark, West L.A.; Laemmle Playhouse 7, Pasadena