Richie’s Picks: SPIRIT SEEKER: JOHN COLT RANE’S MUSICAL JOURNEY
Richie’s Picks: SPIRIT SEEKER: JOHN COLTRANE’S MUSICAL JOURNEY by Gary Golio and Rudy Gutierrez, ill., Clarion, October 2012, 48p., ISBN: 978-0-547-23994-1
“After joining the high school band, John took his horn everywhere. Music made him happy, and it seemed like what he was meant to do with his life.
“As he listened to Johnny Hodges – a musician in Duke Ellington’s band with a sound soft as velvet – John felt the sax become more a part of him. He loved the clicking of the keys, the feel of the mouthpiece between his lips and teeth, the shine of the brass, and the way it sat on his chest, close to his heart.
“As he practiced for hours in the music room, his clear, warm notes floated through the school.
“Shy and quiet, he let the horn become his voice.”
I’m sitting here, immersed in “Blue Trane,” which I’m playing on YouTube.
I’ve always been moved by the sounds that flow from saxophones. Back as a child in the mid-sixties, when we had the opportunity at school to begin learning an instrument, saxophone was the only one in which I had an interest. Unfortunately, someone told my mother that it would have a detrimental impact upon my bite and so my request to rent that instrument and learn to play was denied. (It was one of those very rare instances in which I felt that one of my mother’s decisions was misguided.)
A decade later, when I graduated high school and went away to college, my parents relocated to the East End of Long Island. It was there, during the following summer, that I met Arthur Webb, a high school kid with a passion for jazz and an extensive collection of John Coltrane LPs. It was thanks to lots of nights spent with Arthur and those LPs that I have a permanent place in my heart for John Coltrane.
“I urged the other band members to listen closely to the music of John Coltrane, especially his classic quartet, in which the band would take fairly simple structures ('My Favorite Things', for example) and extend them far beyond their original length with fantastical variations, frequently based on only one chord.”
Phil Lesh, from his autobiography, SEARCHING FOR THE SOUND: MY LIFE WITH THE GRATEFUL DEAD. (Many online biographies of Jerry Garcia list Coltrane as one of Jerry’s greatest personal and musical influences.)
For years now, I have been teaching a class on picture books for older readers. SPIRIT SEEKER, a masterful picture book into which author Gary Golio weaves sophisticated concepts about such issues as death, spirituality, and drug addiction is a truly outstanding example of such books.
Illustrator Rudy Gutierrez does his own weaving, his illustrations flowing across pages as he visualizes the music, the joy, the sadness, the spirituality, and the struggling to soar that permeated the musician’s life. There are images of the musicians Coltrane listened to as a youngster and played with as an adult; images depicting the Jim Crow world in which he lived; and powerfully uplifting images of the musician who emerged from the depths of addiction.
If you don’t have some Coltrane CDs at hand, take advantage of the technology. Bring up YouTube and listen to Miles and Coltrane doing “Bye Bye Blackbird” at the ’58 Newport Jazz Festival. Listen to the title track from Coltrane’s “Giant Steps,” or to his rendition of “Greensleeves.”
Nearly half a century after Coltrane’s demise at a young age, there are really good reasons why our children need this notable book about this seminal musician.
Richie Partington, MLIS
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