Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary Makes Its Houston Premiere

A still from Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary
A still from Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary Photo courtesy of Abramorama
Jazz dorks will take anything and everything at this point, considering that some legends have either been gone for too long or they’re peacing out from the planet left and right.

Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary, the latest film about woodwind god John Coltrane, who died in 1967 at age 40, makes its Houston premiere this weekend. Peter Lucas, curator of the Jazz on Film series at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, says that Coltrane nerds as well as newcomers should find equal interest in the 2016 motion picture, the first documentary about the North Carolina-born jazz musician in more than ten years.

“We’ve been void of a good Coltrane documentary for a while now,” says Lucas. “It’s good for the lovers of Coltrane as well as the newbies…because we get to hear Coltrane’s influence on people outside of the jazz world.”

While some critics aren’t thrilled that celebrities such as Bill Clinton, Cornel West, Common and Carlos Santana provide a good chunk of the Coltrane fan boy worship, Lucas sees this as a fresh take on the musician. Don’t worry, freaks — Coltrane collaborators such as McCoy Tyner and Wayne Shorter are in there bowing down to the saxophone iconoclast.

click to enlarge A still from Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary - PHOTO OURTESY OF ABRAMORAMA
A still from Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary
Photo ourtesy of Abramorama
The straight-ahead documentary focuses on Coltrane’s entire life (and not just his musical accomplishments and the tone of his horn) and includes new information about his childhood in rural North Carolina and his time as an enlisted officer in the United States Navy, in which he served from 1945 to 1946.

“He’s coming from the South and he’s in the Navy, basically trying to do his best Coleman Hawkins and Charlie Parker,” says Lucas. “There’s a recording of him in the Navy and it’s not good. He was kicked out of as many bands as he was in.” But, as Lucas notes, he eventually found his voice and becomes one of the greatest artists ever.

At 99 minutes, the film, directed by John Scheinfeld (The U.S. vs. John Lennon), exceeds the run times of previous Coltrane documentaries The World According to John Coltrane (1990), The Church of Saint Coltrane (1996) and Trane Tracks: The Legacy of John Coltrane (2005).

Denzel Washington narrates Scheinfeld’s film via Coltrane’s personal notes that were made available by the Coltrane estate. “In that way, it’s a nice rounding out of his life. I’m a huge fan of Coltrane, but I previously hadn’t put it all together until watching this film,” says Lucas.

Chasing Trane is the coda on the fifth annual Jazz on Film series at MFAH, Lucas’s wildly popular motion picture event. He’s noticed a lot of different types of people among the packed houses, including the serious jazz fan, who at this point in jazz history “aren’t coming to these films for revelation but rather for celebration,” he says.

Chasing Trane screens at 7 p.m. Saturday, June 24, and 5 p.m. Sunday, June 25, at MFAH, 1001 Bissonnet.  For more information, call 713-639-7300 or visit $7 to $9.
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Steve Jansen is a contributing writer for the Houston Press.
Contact: Steve Jansen