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Coltrane: The Story of a Sound

As Ben Ratliff recounts in his brilliant, economical book, “Coltrane: The Story of a Sound,” the famed jazz artist nearly squandered a big break, as a player in Miles Davis‘ band. Coltrane was precocious then, even the willful Davis knew that. But he was also a drug addict, disheveled and unreliable, and so he was soon excommunicated.

It would be an inauspicious start to a remarkable 10-year stretch, one that Ratliff artfully recounts in crisp, judicious prose. Coltrane retreated, briefly, finding sobriety and then a fruitful partnership with jazz pianist Thelonious Monk. By the time he reunited with Davis, he was well on his way to crafting an iconic, signature sound.

A longtime jazz critic for The New York Times, Ratliff has written a sharp biography not so much of Coltrane, but of his music. As one might expect with such a premise, there is ample grist for jazz wonks. But that is not to say this work should be limited to music theory majors, either.

“Coltrane” is a book of two parts. The first is a detailed and compelling look at how, more or less, Coltrane became Coltrane. Ratliff is swift but thorough, taking the reader from Coltrane’s musical beginnings, when he played furtively with whites from a segregated Navy band, to his ascension into musical lore.

There are precious insights here, particularly into Coltrane’s habits and what made him tick. He was, we learn, a voracious reader with disparate influences. A man who overcame heroine addiction and one who comfortably connected Einstein’s Theory of Relativity to music in conversation. Yahoo News

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