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Book Reviews

John Coltrane: His Life and Music

By Published: February 24, 2004
The book takes us from Coltrane's ancestry (Porter has a great interest in genealogies and family history), through his childhood in North Carolina and the major losses of his father and several other family members, to his adolescence and emerging interest in music and the saxophone, to his move to Philadelphia and his young peer group, including Benny Golson, his early band gigs, and his WWII stint in the Navy, where he made several fledgeling recordings which still exist! Then we see Trane's coming of age as a musician, and his seminal affiliations with Thelonius Monk and Miles Davis. With the formulation of his own legendary group with McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, and Elvin Jones, Trane's career soared, and he reached new heights of creativity and popularity. But somehow, sustained achievement within a "straight ahead" groove wasn't enough for him, and he ventured into new musical territory which in some cases alienated his most ardent fans. At the height of both his popularity and controversy, he became ill with liver cancer, and died about two months before his 41st birthday. Porter interweaves a nice tapestry of Coltrane's life with one of the deepest explorations of a musical heritage that you will ever find in the jazz literature. The depth and extent of the musical analysis is one of the salient features of the book, and more than equals the rigor of the historical research.

Porter's John Coltrane: His Life and Music is bound to be one of the great classics of jazz biography. Readers looking for an "easy read" will perhaps not find it here, but, regardless of whether they are avid listeners or seasoned musicians, they will be greatly enriched by this rigorous and insightful book.

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