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Ben Ratliff who is here with us today was that the great American musical and I would say it was about 300 or so more people there from bottom floor to the top all enjoying Coltrane John Coltrane and Ben through a series of about five audio clips and one I never heard before and a clip from the jazz casual Ralph Gleason TV show back in way back when where that was a fun show to watch too. So Ben is Ben is here with us today and he is here to talk about his brand new book called 'Coltrane'. And there is got the book has got some wonderful reviews, I would like to read one for you right now. Ben Ratliff's Coltrane is an extraordinary vivid account of the creative process both of that of the artist and that of the people whose works respond to his Ratliff is such a terrific writer that he can make musical points clear even to readers who know nothing about theory. His book will be passed from hand to hand and there are tons of reviews on that book to and I am sure you guys want to have some wonderful questions for Ben. Ben is a jazz critic at the New York Times and he is been there since 1996. He lives in Manhattan with his wife and their two sons. He also another book called out called 'The New York Times Essential Llibrary: Jazz and it was published in 2002 so I want you to please give a warm welcome for Ben Ratliff. Thank you. Thanks for coming. No musical examples today. I just want to read a bit from introduction and a bit from later in the book. The thing that I always have to say first is that this is not a biography, and I hope that somebody at some point will write a a really proper and long biography that gets in to all the details of Coltrane, his childhood in North Carolina. You know, his friends, his relationships, where he lived etc. This book is more a critique book, and it's more written out of desire to know something for myself. When I join the when I started writing for the New York Times in the mid nineties I part of the job is going out in in hearing live music and reviewing it, so three or four nights a week I go and hear music in clubs, and I kept having the sense that a large part of the music I was hearing on a given night on a given stage owed a lot to a certain part of John Coltrane's music, and it became a challenge to express this in a new way time after time. By the 40th review where you trying to say you know, this music wouldn't exist if not for John Coltrane I am trying to pin point exactly what part of Coltrane and his music comes from. It becomes boring and sort of disputing and you want to understand well you know, we know this, we know how much Coltrane has flooded jazz culture, but why did that happen and how come you know, now 40 years after this man died, what's the what's the problem? I mean can't other can't other things take his place, can he just sort of fade in to the background of general influences. So the book is a is a response to that question and it also kind of deals with the question of who was he the last major figure and if so why? And it is written in two parts the first part just tries to make sense of all his music from the very beginning of that one he was not a very able musician, and playing in a navy band and there was some private recordings made and it goes from there all the way to the end of life when he made his final recordings in 1967. And it sort of tries to connect it connect it all and show you how everything was forecasted in Coltrane's music. Nothing really came out of the blue. And then the second half of the book is sort of like biography of his impact on Jazz and tries to make sense of what he meant and what he did to jazz and jazz culture right from the time the beginning of the time when he had any influence at all until now. And the thing that I kept bumping up against in writing this book was that Coltrane you know, after he while he was living for a time but he but especially after he died became sort of a myth and an ideal and he became an ideal in two different ways that almost seem contradictory or mutually exclusive. One is the ideal of the kind of academically oriented student you know, like the like the king student, the king practicer, the guy who could spend more time than anybody else studying harmony theory books. And practicing his own little lyrics and patters and was fascinated by harmony as math. That kind of you know, the the highest point of sort of academic achievement in jazz and then on the other hand he is been understood as the ideal of the cathartic musician, you know, the improviser who says everything that he that he feels and expresses in ways that don't reduce perfectly to bar lines or traditional structure. It's the both, you know, both ideals are at the same guy. And I found that very strange and it became a kind of question that he opened and never really closed. You know, how can this be and how do those two ideals in music, how can they be reconciled. So let me let me read a little bit from the introduction. Coltrane was a man of unusual stamina, phlegmatic temperament and still at charisma who found ecstasy in his labor but other wise was difficult to excite, John Wayne, Garry Copper, Lou Garrick, John Henry, a yankee woodsmen. An American humor published in 1931, Constance York periphrases the legend of their early 1800's the Yankee woodsmen thus. I am a regular tornado, tough as hickory and long winded as a Nor'wester I can strike a blow like a falling tree and every lick makes a gap in the crowd that lets in an acre of sunshine. May be even Coltrane was the coolest spirit filled archetype of West African Congo culture. At the end, when his public pronouncements swerved away from music and settled on god as he variously put it he aspired to be a saint or at least to become a forceful real good. One notices the map finish on the zeal the sense that his ecstasy is impenetrable, unquestionable, iron bound. In some sense, he hadn't changed much. He had just increased the seriousness that was already abundant within him. But now the seriousness worked in the service of blanketing religious ecstasy rather than the hard bidden mannerisms of the post pop jazz language. Still he did provide links for you nothing in Coltrane's world comes out of the blue. Despite the thinness of expectation he wasn't a good interviewer and came off sounding disappointingly mundane for it would be saint. He recorded and performed so much in the last years of his life that we can trace foreshadowing's arrivals and departures. The path toward the sublime which is the point of the first half of this book really starts in 1958, the year Coltrane rejoined Miles Davis after taking a year and a half off. Before joining the Davis group again he had been planning with Thelonious Monk, subjecting himself to new challenges of chords and melody and tempo. He had quit using heroine and quit drinking. What he made in 1958, was victory music, rocky music, it's quite unlike the music of Dexter Gordon and Charlie Parker his two major early influences. Straight no chaser, from February 8th 1958 and Dial Africa from June 1958 showed this Coltrane. He has discovered how to concentrate, how to reconcile speed with melody and how to exult in the way that a preacher learns to exult, both his maternal grandfather in whose house he grew up and his paternal grandfather were ministers and the African Methodist, a physical Zion church. In an interview with August Bloom Coltrane described his maternal grandfather's religiosity as militant. One of the general listener's major misperceptions of jazz is that when improvisers work at their best, they pluck ideas out of the sky channeling heaven. No, even if they are least inhibited, Coltrane's solos still show the stamina that comes of hard solitary practicing. It is immensely worked out music, you can pick out dozens of devices in his solos that he was reusing and would continue to reuse. For Coltrane much have what have come before 1958 was language of faltering of finding his way. Young jazz players were and are interested in this because they falter themselves. But the larger public had less use for it. it was when he got over himself and he struggled to find his sound, when he took himself seriously, as both of commercial proposition and a force for real good but he didn't allow himself to falter any longer that his sound open widest and his music began to make sense on a large scale. Any artist, writer, painter, film maker, dancer can hide for a long time in the wilds of his own language, never rising above the vegetation. Any successful style is a spell whose first victim is the wizard, the critic Clive James has written. Still people come to deify and attach themselves to the utterances grateful to have heard one first hand. They generally don't need to know if the oracle has magic-ed himself. Coltrane got beyond the language of the utterances, he was stable and trustworthy. He said, he doubted himself even as he kept playing more forcefully and originally. He said people refresh and he caused aesthetic change. Many people from Wynton Marsalis to the most disengaged jazz fan you know can tell you a story about how John Coltrane altered their lives or at least their way of looking at art strengthen their resolve, made them see the jazz isn't an exercise book or a father's record collection or music as a closed off thing in itself. I want to read a part from the second half of the book where as I said I am going through his impact and how he was thought about, how he was received, how he was interpreted and this bit comes from toward the end of his life when his music wasn't just technically impressive anymore, but it had it had taken on it had become more simple and taken on almost focus elements and the power of his group was such that routinely people would describe performances by the Coltrane quartet as a sort of tension building until there was an explosion and it wasn't quite like anything in jazz had happened before. It wasn't like Charlie Parker, it wasn't like Count Basie. It was a whole new feeling in the music, whole new sound that dislodged the whole new emotional response. And his music began to be understood as something much greater than just music. He began to be seen as sort of almost a philosopher or kind of a trustworthy guide and the claims, this was when the myth of occasion of Coltrane started and the claims on behalf of his music were so high that for certain enthusiasts who included much as fans but critics you know, and other musicians - certain enthusiasts of Coltrane's music really felt that he could no wrong after a point because it wasn't really about his music anymore. It wasn't really about a certain recording or a certain concert. It was the general idea of the thing that was so impressive to these people. So here is a couple I quoted from a couple of reviews to illustrate what I am saying here. One comes from Down Beat magazine which was the sort of main jazz magazine. And still is from the spring of 1966. So it is a part of our view of the record "Ascension", the first sentence is "this is possibly the most powerful human sound ever recorded." This is a critic you know, there is another one from another magazine that begins also 1966 it's a review of a different recording called live at village vanguard again, its first sentence is "this recording just might be the greatest work of art ever produced in this country" and it goes on to say. "I sometimes suspect that criticism of the conventional type has been also less by this new music which is why I have become so reluctant to write reviews in a strategically musical frame of reference it seems to me that what this men and women are showing us is that heights to which the human spirit can soar when selfish egotism is subordinated to the goal of a common good. Hence by implication they are statements pose a critique of capitalist society which puts a reemphasis on causativeness and disregard for the welfare of ones fellowman." This is a review of the jazz record. Here is another and this is a from a a from a writer named George D Michael who initially who liked Coltrane who liked Coltrane's early music and wrote some sort of important articles about him, and then he was hesitant about the free and wilder and more chaotic direction this music has taken was taking. This is sort of this is a record review that kind of document is conversion, its in 1965 issue of DownBeat it's a review of a record called "Meditations," he talks about how he went to a Coltrane show recently and he says "the blast of sound almost bowled me over and repelled me, I hated what they were playing those drums and bells and tambourines, with all the clatter I couldn't hear Jimmy Garrison's bass and sometimes couldn't hear Coltrane or Pharoah Sanders even though I was seated six feet away. I decided to go home but had a couple of beers instead, intermission John came over and sat down, what he was trying to do in these music. Just trying to get it out he said making a scooping motion with his hands away from his chest. Well what is all this I said pointing at the band stand? He didn't know for sure things were not right with the music yet he said, but he wants to get in to rhythm more and this is what this is what my lead into it. The next set I heard it, experienced it, not what John talked about so much as what I was grappling with, why I was repelled, why I wanted to run? I do not pretend to understand this music. I doubt of anyone including those playing it really understands it in the sense that they want to understands say the music of Bach or Billie Holiday. I feel this music or rather I said it opens up a part of myself that normally its tightly closed and seldom recognized feelings, emotions, thoughts well up from the opened door and seal my consciousness." So this so this is the language of American Transcendentalism, and its being very thickly applied to understanding Coltrane's music at this point. So after quoting a bunch of reviews lets put this ideas in concentrated form this is their essence Coltrane loud and dance late period music cannot be separated from the path toward racial tolerance and absolute world wide human equality. It is not really meant to be recorded such abnormities can't be frozen and sold measured units if the recordings are transcended in spite of themselves. Resistance or in tolerance towards this music is a kind of sclerosis to open one cell to it its to admit honesty and greater feeling understanding it is empirical western foolishness the will to understand is just more sclerosis. Bach and Billie Holiday may enter our emotions of prescript levels but this music requires new inventions of self understanding of self is important but to try to use explanatory language about how the music achieves such power is childish. The music separates itself from jazz of the past if it is Israel funded all to reduce it to jazz by its call for freedom from oppression by extension to long for the jaws of the past its still long for oppression, by extension to long for the jazz of the past is to long for oppression. No art can hold up under the weight of these hopes. They mystify and sanctify the art beyond possibility and do damage to all that lies and put into to it. Giving Coltrane such thunderous credence to automatically minimize the work of others around him. Coltrane was connected in so many ways but nearly all the greatest jazz of the period could elder figures like Duke Ellington and Johnny Hartman would bright and brilliant heartthrob like cannibal adolescent or hard silvers with a line of compositionally ambitious music for standard jazz on samples needed inside in mainstream or outside and abstract represented by Andrew Hillier and Booker Little. But it seemed that they are really Titanic claims of importance could only be attached to one person. In claming the music was beyond language and understanding writing like this used its own specific language, its is the language of 19th century romaniticism and it tended to be used vestigialy mostly about three things deities, psychedelic drugs, and music. Some believe that Coltrane may have seen the end of his life approaching even from some distance. This is what way in shorter things. he believes that anyone who practice does obsessively as Coltrane did when shorter spend time around him in the late 1950s must have had a premonition that he wasn't long for the world. He must have known something about his condition he said like I got to do this fast but in the late 50s by most accounts Coltrane appeared to be in the prime of his life couldn't he have been really obsessive, he had to have people think he was obsessive shorter maintained he didn't just all of a sudden arrive at a lot of supreme gloried of the creator, gloried of this and that, he was working, he was purifying himself. Even if you disagree with shorter his ideas and influence by the Buddhist philosophy which holds that everything you accomplish in life you take you after death and in your next life like a report card, you maybe unknowingly subscribing to the romantic theory deeply embedded in secular western culture that an artists late works are his most important but they are the artists most transcendent summations, that they contain the artists deepest cinemas, this was the very 19th century notion and its implications from music were grasp partially by music publishers and biographer who are eager to promote of you the late Chopin late Shubert and late Beethoven as mystical ordinances. This notion had a philosophical agenda as well serving as a reply to the 18th century artistic theory of enlightenment which held that an artists greatest achievement is to uphold his formal excellence as long as possible without letting it decay or mutate. But lets suppose that for reasons of health or otherwise Coltrane in 1965 was entering his late style, one would expect nothing less of humble mindful Coltrane then a music that some how reflects the mute character of death. the feeling of a body that its seen a preview at the end that can no longer be reached intensely animated from within facing the greatest challenges that music on the outside becomes more and more un-scalable, un-hearable, in intelligible. The maturity of the late works theater Theodor Adorno wrote at the late Beethoven does not resemble the kind one finds in fruit they are not around but further even ravaged devoid of sweetness bitter and spiny, they do not surrender themselves to mere dictation, that's sounds for Coltrane too and it has the weight of a universally applicable theory. Accepted it doesn't apply universally, the Kooning's paintings for example it was simpler and more aerated it will be tidy if Coltrane progressed in a straight line from lightness to dark with no doubling back. But that's not quite the case even at late period piece like [0:24:36] ____ the three and a half minute track from the record "Expression" at the reign of one of his earlier ballet, it was a composition beyond just a short notice that had that romantic contemplative effect, the surface of controls, strength and tenderness. The saxophonist Roland Alexander who had non Coltrane since the mid 50s, he called thelast time he saw Coltrane play one afternoon at over a 20 studio in Harlem, and his description runs counter to most of us have heard from Coltrane's last days. Coltrane sounded like he was playing a velvet saxophone he said, when he was playing a ballad the sound was like velvet. By comparison the live [0:25:23] ____ from the all the 20 concerts Coltrane's last recorded statement quickly grew wild and scuffed and went on for 25 minutes there were echoes of his old harmonic motion and he is playing but that was mechanical the part of his brain. No one are to accuse the all attending the concert of being honest that makes it seem pathetic as of a great artists final resource was just the truth, its arts sot the picture is more complicated it glows from within, it rotates furiously, it is a blade come close to it and it throws you off. You can read it as an active resistant that this would contradict most of what Coltrane talked about when he took the opportunity to speak the media or you can get in line and read it as an active inclusion of drawing everything closer to him those huge repeated sweeping downward scales in the track offering from expression. And again in Jupiter from in a staler space can sound like someone frantically powerfully gathering something scooping it upbringing it closer either interpretation is finally reductive and probably faulty, mainly an artists final work wont objectively sum up anything. It is however likely to be fuller of subjectivity than ever before, its full of the life force that's all, that's enough, that's what it needs to be, if its truly good and powerful it deserves to engender a 1000 misunderstandings. The idea of the last work acting as a summary or capstone is a sweet and hopeful construct but life doesn't add up for the living.