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Ben Ratliff "Coltrane: The Story Of A Sound" (Picador)

Ratliff's stated goal in this book is to not focus as much on standard biography, but to chart the evolution of Coltrane's music. It's a short work, broken into two roughly 100 page segments, the first being a just-the-facts-ma'am recounting of the evolution of his music, and then the second part the story of how the music he created has influenced others.The book ends by charting Coltrane's influence amongst younger jazz players, who are a generation or two removed from direct influence. An interview with the saxophonist Marcus Strickland is particularly revealing, showing how Coltrane's music is viewed in today's jazz environment.

I enjoyed this book as a long-time fan of Coltrane. Ratliff is a clear and lively writer, who traces Coltrane's stylistic development in a lively and easily understood prose. Of course the reading is greatly enhanced if you have access to the work he discusses, so prepare for lots of good listening. There is enough discussion of critical reception and excerpts of interviews with Coltrane's colleagues to flesh out the musical story of a man not given to talking about himself much. This is not a straight biography, rather more of a popular work of critical assessment.


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