Cole’s biography of this influential jazz giant has many things going for it, even though Coltrane’s poetry, which pops up throughout the book, is not one of them. The author writes from the perspective of a music professor, and as such provides the clearest musical portrait offered on Trane to date (short of Andrew White’s books of transcribed Coltrane solos). Fortunately, Cole does not get so bogged down in the technical arena as to make this book unappealing to the non-musician reader. In fact, John Coltrane stands out in its effort to illuminate the science of jazz improvisation for the non-playing reader in plain English. Cole’s appreciation for Trane’s later (free music) period steers the book in a more “spiritual” direction—something most other students of this subject don’t do. This is a mixed blessing. The more traditional triumphs of Trane’s canon (“Giant Steps,” “Moment’s Notice”) come off as somewhat belittled for their “Western” (non-African) harmonic content, whereas Ascension and other later records are held up as the “real” work. What stands as the most significant of Trane is work is a matter for each listener to take up with his or her own ears, and should not be printed as gospel. And Cole’s thoughtless, off-handed critiques of such players as Bill Evans and Billy Higgins should never have been printed, period. Yet, in John Coltrane the reader is given much to contemplate, and Cole’s interviews with other musicians do much to reveal the concerns of a musician in the heat of the moment.
Publisher: Da Capo
Paperback: 272 pages