In a scene from the new John Coltrane documentary Chasing Trane, Doors drummer John Densmore recalls attending an awe-inspiring yet divisive performance by the late jazz legend. “I would say that half the audience left before it was over,” Densmore recalls. “They just didn’t know they were witnessing something ahead of its time. Something spiritual but cathartic and tumultuous.”
The clip comes from a portion of the film that deals with Coltrane’s often-controversial later years, which found him exploring a more abrasive, freeform sound. “Coltrane thought it was cleansing and uplifting,” says Coltrane biographer Lewis Porter in the clip. “But … what they heard was shrieking.”
Written and directed by John Scheinfeld (The U.S. vs. John Lennon; Who Is Harry Nilsson, and Why Is Everybody Talkin’ About Him?), Chasing Trane tells the story of the saxophone great through rare and unreleased video and photographs, as well as extensive interviews with Coltrane collaborators, admirers and family members. In addition to Densmore, those featured in the film include Common, Carlos Santana, Sonny Rollins, Kamasi Washington, Bill Clinton and Dr. Cornel West, as well as Coltrane’s children Ravi and Oran. Fully authorized by the Coltrane estate, Chasing Trane also includes music from throughout the saxophonist’s career. Denzel Washington provides narration drawn from Coltrane interviews.
“I have no fear about my music being too way out,” says Washington in the clip above, speaking Coltrane’s words. “My goals remain the same, and that is to uplift people as much as I can.”
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Chasing Trane premiered at the 2016 Telluride International Film Festival. The film opens at New York’s IFC Center on Friday and at L.A.’s Landmark on April 21st. Screenings throughout North America follow this spring and summer.