photo manipulation by nacrowe
i spent a year in JAPAN teaching secondary ENGLISH at a BRITISH curriculum international school. it was an intense experience, partly because i was being schooled on the IB SYSTEM as i was teaching it. i had been abroad for years at that point, but JAPAN was the first time i truly felt isolated. not isolated out of want or need for something material, but socially it was pretty brutal. when i left a year later for MYANMAR it wasn't a difficult departure.
when decompressing after my work day in my apartment at night i would often sit idly and meditate, sometimes listening to JAZZ. for me COLTRANE, as well as THELONIOUS MONK, were my preferred co-conspirators. you just put it on and you were elevated to a plane above consciousness. it helped me because being alone in a foreign country you are cognizant of being watched and judged and especially being a teacher, you are hyper-aware of how you communicate. that thinking part of my brain was hard to shut off. from my personal experience, COLTRANE is intertwined with my experiences experiencing JAPAN.
until i watched the recent documentary CHASING TRANE (CREW NECK, 2016), i was wholly unaware of his reverence for JAPAN and their suffering, as well as the fact that his final tour was there as well. for me that seems fitting just because his music transmits a deep well of experience and emotion underneath a cool exterior that is inviting yet alien. you feel as if he is a shaman transporting you to a new level of consciousness. very similar to my exploration of zen meditation at the time.
the documentary itself is a fairly dry, yet faithful and loving ode to the JAZZ musician by his immediate family, friends and colleagues including SONNY ROLLINS, JIMMY HEATH, REGGIE WORKMAN, BENNY GOLSON and admirers like CARLOS SANTANA, CORNELL WEST, BILL CLINTON. his voice is played by celebrated actor DENZEL WASHINGTON.
a big theme is the spiritual nature of his music which is rooted in his formative experiences in NORTH CAROLINA where he was the grandson of two ministers. despite the fact that by age 12 most of the older generation (including his father) had all unexpectedly and tragically passed over a 2 year period, he carried on with an inner strength and resilience that followed him his whole life. helped him kick heroin and keep his focus on music and being a good father and husband. an incredible observation made in the film was his ability to utilize vocal phrasing patterns in his soloing, most notably in ALABAMA released after the BIRMINGHAM bombings in the late 60s which were partly based on MARTIN LUTHER KING's rhetorical stylings. traveling to NAGASAKI for a concert he was similarly glued to his flute in an attempt to transpose the rhythm of JAPAN for his later composition "PEACE ON EARTH."
it is always a pleasant surprise when life and art dovetail. now the connection between COLTRANE and JAPAN is set in my mind.
listen to the man's music. that's all i can advocate. it transcends speech, thought and hits to the core of life itself.