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Coltrane: The Story of a Sound

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    Available in PDF - DJVU Format | Coltrane: The Story of a Sound.pdf | Language: ENGLISH
    Ben Ratliff(Author)

    Book details

No other jazz musician has proved so inspirational and so fascinating as Coltrane. Ben Ratliff, jazz critic for the New York Times, has written the first book to do justice to this great and controversial music pioneer. As well as an elegant narrative of Coltrane's life Ratliff does something incredibly valuable - he writes about the saxophonist's unique sound.

Ratliff's neat descriptive turn and alternately bold and temperate perspectives make this a provocative but highly readable work. --Jazz

3.4 (4500)
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Book details

  • PDF | 272 pages
  • Ben Ratliff(Author)
  • Faber & Faber; Main edition (3 Mar. 2011)
  • English
  • 9
  • Biography

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Review Text

  • By Amie's_Bar on 12 February 2008

    Ben Ratliff takes an intriguing approach to Coltrane in this book. The first half is a brief biographical sketch of Coltrane's career, while the second focuses on Coltrane's legacy in the years since his death. While this makes the book an interesting read, it also means that it falls in between two stools. Its biographical section is rather too short to compete with Lewis Porter's closely-researched biography, and the more critic-friendly interpretation section doesn't quite have the room that it demands.That said, the book does have much to offer. The biography of Coltrane isn't terribly focused on the details of his life, but rather places Coltrane's work within the context of the 1950s and 1960s, and Coltrane's drug addiction. The sections devoted to the evolving relationship with the 'classic' quartet work extremely well, and Ratliff deserves credit for placing A Love Supreme in its proper context, rather than singling it out for special analysis as some writers might be tempted to do. He is also keen to demystify Coltrane's post-Love Supreme style, and resists the temptation to laud it for its honesty. Instead, Ratliff notes that this work was a product of Coltrane's relentless search for meaning in his music, and that it might not appeal to the casual listener, but is revealing of the problems that a major artist encounters when he seemingly has exhausted the possibilities of his art.Ratliff has little to say on the impact of Coltrane's divorce on his work. Similarly the problems that Coltrane experienced after losing his reed and his dental surgery are treated rather too lightly. While it cannot be argued that these incidents had as great an impact on Coltrane's work as, say, his stint with Monk or the interplay with Elvin Jones (both of which are -- correctly -- emphasised by Ratliff) they did have a large impact on the development of his work and his craft.The legacy section seems to work less well. A number of the chapters dwell on relatively minor points relating to the uses and abuses of Coltrane in the decades since his death. While Chapter Ten (on the political meaning of Coltrane and free jazz) is amongst the finest pieces of its ilk and is perhaps worth the price of the book alone, Ratliff's final chapter (on the gradual canonisation of Coltrane's work and the rise of the academic study of jazz) falls apart towards the end. That most of the last ten pages are devoted to an interview between Ratliff and a young saxophonist (whose name escapes me) rather than a solid conclusion suggests that Ratliff ran out of things to say.Part of me thinks that these problems are intimately bound to the book's structure. Ratliff seems unsure whether he wanted to write a biography or a piece of criticism. His answer it would seem was to write a bit of both. And of course, this means that it is a bit of neither as well. This book certainly doesn't surpass Porter's study, but that was probably not its aim. It succeeds in placing Coltrane fully within his context as a musician, and resists the temptation to depict Coltrane as either a black nationalist who played politics with his saxophone or as a mystical saint whose work is beyond criticism. If it was a Coltrane album, I'd probably say it was one of Coltrane's lesser Prestige records: a solid, respectable piece that perhaps doesn't hit the heights that it is capable of; worthy of attention and certainly listenable but not comparable to the finest the artist or the art has to offer.

  • By disturbedchinchilla on 31 December 2007

    There have already been several books on John Coltrane's life and musical legacy, but Ben Ratliff's is by far the most level-headed, accessible and insightful.Coltrane will always be an inescapable enigma in modern jazz - a creative giant, arguably Miles Davis' greatest foil, and an artist who's late period work posed questions that still haven't been answered today. Certainly, his influence can be found today in everything from European Improv (Evan Parker, Peter Brotzmann et al.) to the recent freak folk movement in America.Perhaps disquietingly, for someone who made such challenging music, Coltrane himself was something of a calm, still centre in the middle of a storm of his own creating. He was something of a dull, if genial interview subject and his life was marked more by an almost geeky pursuance of technical and theoretical knowledge than the scars of drug and alcohol abuse that feature heavily in many jazz biographies. Ratliff's book is centred on the idea that Coltrane let his music do the talking, and essentially, his book traces the evolution of the Coltrane "sound" and the political and aesthetic implications of what the great man left behind.Ratliff eschews the wide-eyed hyperbole that characterises many recent critical responses, using a measured approach to key performances and recordings throughout. Some of the writing is technical, but never in a way that excludes a reader with little technical knowledge (such a myself) . There's also an abundance of interview snippets from Coltrane's co-performers.

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