Holy spirit of the saxophone

The John Coltrane Memorial Concert and Ben Ratliff’s Coltrane: The Story of a Sound
By JON GARELICK  |  September 12, 2007

LOVE SUPREME: For Ratliff and Brown, Coltrane’s sound has a moral dimension that supersedes technique.

Here’s what’s happening and where to find it in the John Coltrane Memorial Concert week; more details at www.jcmc.neu.edu.

AARDVARK JAZZ ORCHESTRA | “Coltrane Facets,” with guest Jerry Leake, tablas and percussion | Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard | 7 Cambridge Center, Kendall Square, Cambridge | September 16 at 7:30 pm | 617.452.3205

“NEC TRIBUTE TO THE 30 YEAR JCMC LEGACY” | Featuring Your Neighborhood Saxophone Quartet, Rakalam Bob Moses, Cecil McBee, George Garzone, and Jerry Bergonzi | New England Conservatory, Brown Hall, 30 Gainsborough St, Boston | September 17 at 8 pm | 617.585.1122

“THE SOUL OF COLTRANE” | Discussion with Bill Bamfield and Armsted Christian, performances by students and faculty | Berklee College of Music, David Friend Recital Hall, Genko Uchida Building, 921 Boylston St, Boston | September 18 at 7- 9 pm | 617.266.1400 x2957

“HISTORY OF THE JOHN COLTRANE MEMORIAL CONCERT” | Northeastern University, John D. O’Bryant African American Institute, 40 Leon St, Boston | September 19 | 11:45 am–1:15 pm | 617.373.3143

“LISTENING TO TRANE” | Panel discussion with Ingrid Monson | Harvard University Music Building, Classroom 2, North Yard, Cambridge | September 20: 7-9 pm | 617.496.6013

BILL PIERCE QUARTET WITH MULGREW MILLER | Fundraiser for JCMC Educational Outreach Program | Northeastern University, Blackman Theatre, 360 Huntington Ave, Boston | September 21 at 8 pm | 617.373.4700


John Coltrane died 40 years ago this past July at the age of 40 of liver cancer. His influence on jazz is incalculable. Some have argued that there might be no college-level jazz education if it weren’t for Coltrane — his methodology, his obsession with theory, provided a way into his language, and as a professional musician Coltrane was a model of sobriety and serious dedication to craft, a man who cleaned up his act, worked hard, and progressed from journeyman-like proficiency to mastery. But there’s something else, too. In his new book Coltrane: The Story of a Sound (Farrar, Straus and Giroux), New York Times critic Ben Ratliff reports on seeing 15 young saxophonists at the Thelonious Monk Institute’s International Saxophone Competition a few years ago. “Coltrane was everywhere in their playing that weekend,” Ratliff writes. “If these saxophonists wanted to imply sophistication, depth, stamina, fervor, tenderness, they used Coltrane’s language.”

Ratliff is after more than Coltrane’s technique — he’s after the elements that transcend technique, and even jazz, elements that have left Coltrane the dominant figure — still — on the jazz landscape. That’s why his book is the story of a “sound”: the totality of Coltrane’s expression, not just his playing or his compositions, but his craft and his methodology, his ensemble conception, and finally his spirituality.

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