Monday, April 28, 2008
Coltrane: The Story of a Sound
(Farrar, Straus and Giroux), by Ben Ratliff
John Coltrane took jazz as far as it ever reached before his death in 1967. He remains a touchstone for young musicians and the subject of many books. The latest, by New York Times jazz critic Ben Ratliff, is true to its name. The Story of a Sound isn’t a compendium of anecdotes about the saxophonist’s life, but a thoughtful chronicle of his beginnings in 1940s bebop through his journey into the sonic unknown. Ratliff balances sharp critical insight on the tip of prose so beautifully descriptive, it’s almost music in its own right. He is also strong on cultural context. In Coltrane’s day, jazz was mysterious, countercultural, even scary, not merely the niche market of nowadays.