Featuring the friends, family and famous fans of John Coltrane (read: Bill Clinton and John Densmore of The Doors fame), the documentary Chasing Trane follows the celebrated jazz man from "country bumpkin" to full-on legend.

From humble beginnings blossoms a friendship with fellow saxophonist Benny Golson, through whose interviews we learn that Trane himself was a quiet but soulful man translating painful experiences into music. Coltrane was raised in a Methodist household during the Jim Crow era, and his music often drew upon church gospels and explored themes of race and perseverance in the face of discrimination. Aside from using music for political and personal expression, the man was a pioneer, pushing jazz forward into uncharted territory. He dared to challenge contemporary "jazz," experimenting with tone, rhythm, and instrumentation, even at the risk of alienating listeners.

It was, however, this unbridled confidence and creativity that earned him a place of idolatry in so many jazz lovers' hearts. Critically acclaimed director John Scheinfeld (The US vs. John Lennon) pulls no stops. Unafraid to explore the more painful sides of Coltrane's story, Scheinfeld presents an authentic image of a deeply talented but troubled musician struggling with heroin addiction. But despite his shortcomings, those close to Trane acknowledge his unrelenting kindness: Even when high or drunk, Trane was the same gentle man. The result is a more humanized and personal portrait of one of the jazz world's biggest stars, just as entertaining as it is touching.

While Scheinfeld does engage the audience, the amount of information Chasing Trane conveys can be overwhelming. Of course, with a career as diverse as Coltrane's, it's hard to keep things short and sweet, but in sweetness this film is not lacking. Through playful and enthusiastic interviews, the film has the perfect blend of humor and sentimentality. Inspiring, fun and thoughtful, Chasing Trane will stay with you long after the music ends.


+ The smooth, soulful voice of Denzel Washington as John Coltrane
- It's a bit dense for the causal jazz fan


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Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary
Directed by Scheinfeld
With Denzel Washington, Common and Carlos Santana
Center for Contemporary Arts,
99 min