THE WIRE – REVIEW

THE WIRE issue 337 march 2012 

“Jazz is so often left to the grey hand of collegiate musicologists to write its histories and biographies, that in theory the graphic “novel”, with its aptitude for portraying subjectivity and psychodrama, and its provisorial, extemporized aesthetics, ought to be well suited to telling the life of a figure such as John Coltrane. Paolo Parisi’s loose draughtsmanship feels improvisational enough to carry the weight, and his narrative jumps across time to flutter past brief vignettes from the short span of Coltrane’s life, from recording sessions at Rudy Van Gelder’s Hackensack studios ago the momentous conquest of Mount “Ascension”. Parisi captures Coltrane’s serious-mindedness well- “Are you the one that never smiles?” asks his first wife Naima, meeting him in a club in 1955. He draws the young boy John as a vulnerable soul sheltering from the world by hunching over his sax, an image that recurs as the adult Coltrane surrounds himself in a protective canopy of musical notes on stage. Via quotes from the last interview he gave (to jazz critic Frank Kofsky in 1966), Coltrane’s interest in the mystic vibration of sound forms as perpetual motif, although the cosmic reverberations of what he was aiming at remain relatively unexplored. Similarly, there’s barely any examination of Coltrane’s personal relationships with the musicians of the his core developmental period- ie the McCoy Tyner/Elvin Jones/Jimmy Garrison outfit- and no mention at all of Jones’s replacementt by Rashied Ali in 1966, because Jones didn’t want to play as free as the leader was demanding. Instead there’s emphasis placed on the saxophonist’s relationship with the Black Power movement and his support of ailing fellow musician Eric Dolphy. Parisi doesn’t shrink from the violent and narcotic contexts that surrounded the 1950s jazz economy, and he touchingly Coltrane’s romance with Alice McLeod, the pianist who shyly approached him backstage at Birdland in 1963 and later renewed the acquaintance, becoming his wife and eventual keeper of his spiritual flame, as well as an incredible musician in her own right. Above all, the book didn’t need to be so clever in its liberties with chronology. Of all people, Coltrane’s development followed a steady, yet relentlessly progressive curve, and Parisi’s cut-up, time-shuffling approach works against the subject matter. But this short book feels like an affectionate tribute, despite the caveats.” Rob Young