Thursday, September 23, 2010


Today is John Coltrane’s birthday —

we mythologize and love our heroes
and propagate their images,
quantum leaps of evolution —

The best musicians, writers, artists for me are the ones who, either steadily over time but perhaps in radical bursts, change their style or approach, each work in part an attempt to surpass the previous. If you’re just going to be content to repeat the same old thing over and over, what’s the point.

For me, Coltrane exemplifies the artist who strives to surpass himself. It was no accident that one of his albums was titled Giant Steps. Call it arrogance, or call it the truth. In actuality, Coltrane from what I can tell was greatly humbled before the gift of his own talent, and felt it was his duty to explore it to the furthest extent possible. Sometimes that meant disappointing or exasperating fans, but for those who were willing or able to go along with him....

Coltrane, in this regard, has an analogue in Joyce — each of his works was a radical advance on what came before — each great in its own right, but compare the style of Dubliners to Finnegans Wake. Compare Blue Train to A Love Supreme to Live in Seattle — each great, but representative of the time and of the artist at a particular stage in his development. The only constant is change, and in that regard the art reflects life.

There are some who see staying the same as some kind of virtue, wanting to remain the same as long as possible, who therefore look to the past and wish to live in the past as a refuge. While I think there must always be some kind of core sense of who one is which is carried forward (and yes there are also great artists who do one thing all the time and do it really well, such as the Ramones or Charles Bukowski), the inability to evolve to me means a kind of death.

Death means things are fixed finally in time and that there are no more possibilities, no hope of the future. Coltrane is dead, but what he and his art represent — life and its concomitant change, the possibility of striking away what is stale and stultifying and taking up new and further explorations, the progression of the same artist only in a different form —

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Coltrane is certainly the Joyce of Jazz. Thanks for reminding us. Liam M.