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Larry Kart

Ratliff's "Coltrane"

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Muhal told me, "I don't do interviews." He made an exception to promote the concert, though.

In other words, he does do interviews. But I'm not complaining! It's a good thing. Long live Muhal!

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Sad!

Who the @#$% edits books nowadays?

No one.

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Ratliff...

He's the "Ratliffiest."

Reminds me of the "Eyebeam" strip.

Edited by BruceH

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That's a distinctive interpretation.

Mistakes make comprehending the larger point of the work more difficult and chip away the statue of credibility until things are mishapen beyond recognition.

Larry Ochs has a considered opinion on late Trane, and when he wants to can channel the spirit of Archie Shepp in the 1960's. He's the only other artist besides Coltrane to tackle "Ascension," twice, and this second time showing were the legacy of late Trane is in this decade. . . .

Yes, at a certain point mistakes can make comprehending the larger point of the book impossible. But Joyce's Ulysses is riddled with mistakes. Does that make it worthless? No. Would I question the judgment of someone who read it and started to talk to me about errata? You betcha. The book clearly suggests better things to talk about than trivia. You need not like the book, but errata are not top of the list of things to mention regarding it.

Unless, of course, you are uncomfortable with talking about what the book wants to talk about. In which case pedantically enumerating errors is a fine distraction. (I used to notice this tendency among certain post-modern thinkers. Whenever someone would point out something untenable or contradictory in their thinking, they'd immediately focus on some trivial factual error or unimportant but unwarranted assumption in the criticism. This was greatly preferable to entertaining doubts about their own assumptions.)

There is a degree to which the fetishization of the trivial (what some might call the substantial) begins to overwhelm not just Ratliff's book, but the music itself. If you told Coltrane that his music was bound to be collected in much the same way as baseball cards are, and that his music would be talked about more or less in the same way that athletic performances are (who was in the lineup?, what position did they play?, who had the big solo performances?, who scored the drugs?) and that any attempt to evaluate his work from a philosophical, historic or aesthetic standpoint would be dismissed as "intellectual bullshit" I think he'd be rather dismayed.

Books are written into contexts--pretty rich contexts, in Ratliff's case. The single greatest negative consequence of Ratliff calling Hartman a tenor will be his own embarrassment. Or perhaps the opportunity for self-congratulation he's provided for certain folks.

I suppose one doesn't have to think about the intellectual bullshit if one doesn't want to, but I think a musician like Coltrane was playing for listeners of a philosophizing bent rather than for those of a philatelist bent.

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That may seem like nit-picking, but when you wish to be regarded as an authority in a field, it behooves you to not make such mistakes--especially so when a simple search could have avoided it. In a review of his book, "Black Talk," I once pointed out that Ben Sidran had made many inexcusable errors, such as mistaking a tenor sax for an alto. Nit-pick? Perhaps, but it is not something I would have pointed out had the author been a sausage maker with a fondness for jazz.

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"Would I question the judgment of someone who read it and started to talk to me about errata?"

In my estimation the work Larry Ochs has done in developing the later period of John Coltrane's music, specifically "Ascension," is more germaine to the book's thesis of how John Coltrane's music has continued to be important these many years than Ratliff's inclusion and discussion of Iggy Pop. If you want to call that errata or fetishization of the trivial that's your red wagon.

During our interview I mentioned several fundemental principles of jazz which I feel he misrepresented or that I had a different point of view on. When the transcription of the interview comes out you'll see. He, basically, agreed with the arguments I brought up. For instance, his assertions "there is very little form in jazz after Coltrane"; or that the view of jazz as an ever changing expression is a "hippie myth"; or that the "cult of the solo began with Lester Young." These are not errata. What was errata was calling Tab Smith a tenor player, or missing Joe Williams early records on Savoy with a band leader Ratliff said made few record of much impact. Those two things I didn't bring up for the reasons you mentioned, but these others are points holding up the book's proported intent. It isn't if I agree or disagree with what he's putting across in the book, but how well that is done. I don't care how many times Iggy Pop listened to John Coltrane he didn't, as far as I can tell from his masochistic stage presence, internalize the salvation radiating from the core of Coltrane's music, no doubt because other influences were far more important to Iggy's music. Same can't be said of Ochs.

Edited by Lazaro Vega

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Kinda cute to see Clem throwing a few crumbs Lazaro's way.

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Wu Tang Clan's cool. Why not? I don't listen to much rap. Just don't follow it. Your rec on Naz was worthwhile in as much as he appeared on this Miles Davis re-mix project and sounded like he knew what he was doing, which is something that crossed the path as opposed to getting out a map and gone exploring. Right now Fred Anderson's appearance with the Territory Band has my attention, as well as two new records by Dave Rempis, Ben Webster's first recording in Europe (playing those Bird tunes with Stan Tracy), and William Parker's Little Huey playing tribute to Percy Heath. Being immersed in jazz and improvised music is why. If there were people close by in my life listening to this genre with enthusiasm and disernment I might be more up on it. As it is there's a radio station out of Muskegon, Michigan, that I hear and groove with sometimes, though they don't announce the music they're playing.

Clem -- celebrity. You have to come to terms with celebrity, or at least marketable people. The writers, musicians, film-makers, bloggers who you hold in highest intellectual regard can have some light shown on their brilliance if you sneek a sip of that gawd awful meade to your intended target's kook aid. The Nation just did a little piece on how web sites dedicated to a more just criminal justice system, for instance, were linked, on their front page, to Paris Hilton. Paris's little tiff with the law drew a lot of attention to their cause and they jumped on that to draw more people into how deeply unjust the system is. It sucks, but this is us, U.S. And you had better fire up the computer tonight at 7 so you can hear your three hour request show. We finished up the funder with a $25,000 day Friday, and for the first time in a fall on-air funder topped $90,000. In this State, at this time, it speaks to a need we're filling.

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But Joyce's Ulysses is riddled with mistakes. Does that make it worthless? No.

what the fuck are you talking about? it's a pretty competitive field lately but Rat, but it's pretty clear you are thee single most inane .5-wit here; couple that with the least sense of self-awareness & like... wow. (& congratulations-- a new paradigm!)

let's compare a push lawnmower & a homemade bottle of Guinean ginger beer next, or maybe this bottle of Astroglide

[blah blah blah in the usual manner]

OK: I'll give you a little help: error does not necessarily evacuate a text of meaning and value. Admittedly, we're talking about two kinds of error: textual errors and factual errors, but if you like we can start talking about great historians and their factual errors and why one still can read Tacitus (or many other good interpretive historians), say, knowing damn well he's misrepresenting things, and still get something valuable out of it.

Lazaro: Did the "cult of the solo" begin with Lester Young? Well, something started with Lester Young, something quite important to an entire generation of musicians. "Cult of the solo" may be the wrong moniker. I don't see this as being colossally important--what's important is what was it about Lester Young that got under the skin of so many jazz musicians in the 1940s & 50s? I'm fairly sure it didn't stop at music.

The form argument--yes, that's sloppy, but I think we all know what he's getting at, though this is a rather stupid misstatement.

The "hippie myth" thing: isn't it? Not a myth that is the sole property of hippies, but a myth nonetheless. And just the sort of neo-romantic kinds thing we'd associate with certain influential streams of 60s thought.

As is the easy slippage into inarguable, new-agey quasi-religion: "internalize the salvation radiating from the core of Coltrane's music."

If you asked me Iggy Pop/Coltrane sounds like an interesting avenue of inquiry. Coltrane's legacy is not, after all, just that of a musician or a channeler of salvating radiation, but perhaps most importantly, that of a celebrity.

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Doug Ramsey, y'all, Doug Ramsey!

GIVE IT UP!!!

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Lazaro: Did the "cult of the solo" begin with Lester Young? Well, something started with Lester Young, something quite important to an entire generation of musicians. "Cult of the solo" may be the wrong moniker. I don't see this as being colossally important--what's important is what was it about Lester Young that got under the skin of so many jazz musicians in the 1940s & 50s? I'm fairly sure it didn't stop at music.

Pres was/is one of the important sounds/approaches in jazz who deeply influenced Dexter's early work, and early Trane. Yet when you're writing about jazz and mention the development of the solo out of the collective the figure to sight is Louis Armstrong. And the New Orleans pioneers of jazz are the musicians who made pushing one's individualism forward from the group, of changing one's inherited musical part in the group, a strong and important aspect of the music's evolution. That's the a.b.c. of it. To have such experimentation excized from early jazz and dismissed as the hippy myth of change for changes sake that swirled up around Coltrane misses the Fate Marable, so to speak. In conversation Ratliff agreed. Of course there were hippies who herded towards Trane, yet the music's evolution occured because of Buddy Bolden's individual approach that forced a change in the given: in ragtime, in written music, in acceptable sonorites, in standard rhythms. That seems more akin to an artistic truth than the neo-romantic utopian ecstacies that welled up in the 60's. The way Ben writes it, which I haven't read for a few weeks now, puts that idea in jazz in the 1960's, which he then pretty much dismisses as a generational blip, when in fact it was fully part of the earlier dynamic era that set this music in motion. That isn't trivia.

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The "hippie myth" thing: isn't it? Not a myth that is the sole property of hippies, but a myth nonetheless. And just the sort of neo-romantic kinds thing we'd associate with certain influential streams of 60s thought.

As is the easy slippage into inarguable, new-agey quasi-religion: "internalize the salvation radiating from the core of Coltrane's music."

If you asked me Iggy Pop/Coltrane sounds like an interesting avenue of inquiry. Coltrane's legacy is not, after all, just that of a musician or a channeler of salvating radiation, but perhaps most importantly, that of a celebrity.

Well, he's searching for God. As I put it in my Circling Om article:

...[it's] a spiritual search. My image of Coltrane is of a voyager over strange lands to some far away goal he senses but barely feels. There is a yearning in his tone which speaks of his deep longing for meaning.

You can go way back for devotional stuff in music. I mean to Gregorian chant, or Islamic incantation or any amount of ritual music, probably from the dawn of time. Even to non-religious people (e.g. me) some Church music is quite sublime. With all your debunking stuff ("easy slippage", "inarguable, new-agey quasi-religion", "Coltrane's legacy is ...that of a celebrity."), you seem uneasy with that.

A lot of 60s avant garde jazz has a spiritual element - and Ellington.

Simon Weil

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it's funny about the Coltrane and rock and roll thing - I wasn't exactly "there" but I was growing up and listening like crazy to rock and roll in the later 1960s, going to the Fillmore and Central Park to hear the Dead (first concert, 1967) seeing Zappa at Columbia U in 1968, and reading all I could, and even with Bloomfield's East/West, George Harrison, and all the rock press on psychedelia et all, Coltrane's name barely, if ever, came up - Ravi Shankar was the one talked about, long meditations on Indian scales via him and not Trane - to me a lot of the "Trane-was-the-big-influence" on rock and rollers like Bloomfield and the Jefferson Airplane etc etc sounds revisionist and not reflective of the local reality - and after Miles played at the Fillmore (a strange concert for which I attended the Saturday night show; Miles dressed like a piece of carpet and Laura Nyro opened with one of the most bizarre and narcissistic exhibitions I have ever seen in my life) HE much more than Trane became a focus of rockers looking to jazz for help - now this does not really include people like Davy Graham, who may have looked more that way, but I was living and listening on this side of the ocean -

Edited by AllenLowe

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Allen's recollections re the importance of Coltrane to the rockers are the same as mine. I interviewed numerous rock groups and individuals in the late Sixties and throughout the Seventies. They occasionally brought up Miles, but not Coltrane, and I should add that they knew I came from the jazz rather than the pop media. I agree, this Trane-made-me-do-it thing is revisionism based, I guess, upon wishful thinking (or does that apply to all revisionism?).

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I'm glad you can affirm this, Chris, as I was pretty young at the time and so I worry about my memory playing tricks - it's doubly reassuring because a few years back I got a rather scathing "peer" review of my (still unpublished) rock and roll history from an anonymous reader at U of Illinois, who took me to task for not emphasizing Coltrane's influence on 1960s rock and roll (the reviewer, by the way, as I later learned, was likely Burton Peretti; as I told my wife, having him reject my book was like being turned down for a human rights award by Adolf Hitler) -

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Since Allen mentioned Mike Bloomfield I must say Mike was very much a Coltrane fan in the mid '60s. Had conversations/arguments with him about the music. He did hate Ascension - called it "formless junk" until I sat him down and made him listen.

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I have mixed feelings about reading Ratliff's Coltrane book after reading the comments.

I do take exception to the number of mistakes that have crept into most jazz books these days. Don't authors have enough

pride in their work to ask a fellow writer who knows the subject fairly well to look over the galleys? I do feel that when you start counting mistakes, the book needs more work and at times, lacks credibility. Doug Ramsey's Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond is one of the few that was closely checked prior to publication.

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The late Henry Pleasants found an embarrassing mistake in the first edition of my Bessie Smith biography. I gave the route followed by the funeral cortége when Bessie was buried. I found it in a contemporary newspaper and I should have checked it. Had I done so, I might not have lived to finish the book: it led straight into the Schuylkill River.

I corrected that mistake in the revised edition.

With so many mistakes, it would appear that Ratliff has to rewrite his Trane tome--but let's hope he moves on to something else. :)

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well, maybe she was buried at sea -

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http://www.nytimes.com/2007/10/28/books/re...amp;oref=slogin

October 28, 2007

Music Issue

Favorite Things

By PANKAJ MISHRA

COLTRANE

The Story of a Sound.

By Ben Ratliff.

250 pp. Farrar, Straus & Giroux. $24.

I regret Coltrane’s death,” the English poet Philip Larkin wrote in 1967, “as I regret the death of any man, but I can’t conceal the fact that it leaves in jazz a vast, blessed silence.” In his last years, John Coltrane, who began his career with a Navy band, had moved through modal improvising to what the New York Times music critic Ben Ratliff, in this engaging study of the jazz saxophonist’s artistic influence, calls the “music of meditation and chant.” Coltrane would often discard the principle of harmony in order to produce a trancelike effect on his audience; his later compositions recall the scalar complexity of North Indian classical music more than anything in the Western tradition. But they didn’t impress Larkin, who reviewed jazz records from 1961 to 1971 for The Daily Telegraph and could barely tolerate even Coltrane’s most accessible late music, like the devotional suite “A Love Supreme.”

Entranced in his youth by Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman and Fats Waller, Larkin believed jazz had lost its ability to give pleasure by going “modern” — a word that, for him, usually signaled extreme pretentiousness and boredom. Jazz performers, he asserted, had no business embracing (as Coltrane did) Indian, African and Latin music. Grumpily counter-countercultural as the 1960s progressed — he didn’t have much time for Bob Dylan either — Larkin became convinced that everything that had gone wrong with jazz reached its grim apotheosis with Coltrane, who offered “squeals, squeaks, Bronx cheers and throttled slate-pencil noises for serious consideration.” Collecting his jazz reviews in 1970, Larkin asserted that “it was with Coltrane that jazz started to be ugly on purpose.”

One can only wonder what Larkin would have made of the African Orthodox Church of St. John Coltrane, established the next year in San Francisco. Coltrane’s last years (during which he pursued new musical styles with the intensity and purity of an ascetic) and his early death (in 1967, when he was only 40) ensured his canonization. Still, it’s surprising to learn that Coltrane, as Ratliff claims, “has been more widely imitated in jazz over the last 50 years than any other figure” and that his recordings, “particularly from 1961 to 1964,” sound “like the thing we know as modern jazz, just the way that Stravinsky sounds like the thing we know as modern classical music.”

How did this happen? Afflicted with the modernist longing to make it new, Coltrane read widely, from Aristotle to Krishnamurti, and borrowed from ancient Indian ragas as well as Western atonal music. But he was reticent about analyzing his own work. His occasional attempts to explain it were tinged with the self-regard and sententiousness commonplace among many artists in the 1950s and ’60s who, like Coltrane, almost lost themselves to drugs and alcohol before finding religion. Ratliff patiently explicates Coltrane’s legend, writing in short, aphoristic bursts, often as elliptically as his subject played tenor saxophone, but never less than lucidly.

Coltrane’s reputation, which traveled as far as Carlos Santana and Iggy Pop, turns out to be easier to explain than his intentions and motivations. He played both tenor and soprano saxophone with a highly individual big-toned sound; he was always likely to exert as much influence on later generations as Coleman Hawkins and Lester Young had on him. Then, too, his improvisational style, which often allowed him to endlessly play predetermined chord sequences, was a boon to less talented performers. As Ratliff points out, in one of his book’s many clearsighted moments, “lots of musicians” could adopt Coltrane’s modal playing, especially in a minor pentatonic scale, and “sound good.”

Ratliff succeeds in rescuing Coltrane from adherents who disregard his strenuous work ethic (even his endless and apparently aimless solos were carefully rehearsed) but adopt the easiest bits of his legacy — the yowling and shrieking. And he’s gently skeptical about Coltrane’s ambition to turn jazz into a bridge to the divine. (It seems clear that program music, however sincerely motivated, can mean anything to the listener when Ratliff quotes the lead singer of the Byrds saying he was interested in “the angry barking” of Coltrane’s saxophone playing.)

Ratliff is too young to fall for the strident 1960s interpretation that Coltrane’s more maniacal music reflected black rage and frustration. Instead, he suggests, intelligently and persuasively, that Coltrane had, among other attributes, a “mystic’s keen sensitivity for the sublime, which runs like a secret river under American culture.” “Coltrane,” Ratliff writes, “was acutely self-possessed in his identity as an artist, at a time when a lot of celebrated American art had become seen as a kind of sanctuary, an escape from military conspiracies, war and television.”

Certainly Coltrane was serenely indifferent to the easier commercial and political temptations of the 1960s. It was after acquiring a mainstream audience with “My Favorite Things,” a big radio hit in 1961, that he expanded his experiments with modal music, which he then interrupted to record some beautifully melodic ballads. Anyone committed to confronting a white middle-class audience with the musical equivalent of Bobby Seale’s speeches wouldn’t have recorded “Lush Life” with Johnny Hartman or so wonderfully and definitively reconfigured “In a Sentimental Mood” with Duke Ellington.

Tracing Coltrane’s tentative first steps, the early refuge in standards, the religious conversion, the casting around in other cultures and languages, the change of instruments and the final preference for pure incantation, Ratliff’s book seems to describe an odyssey that’s primarily spiritual rather than aesthetic or political. In this light, Coltrane’s last recordings, which make few concessions to a conventional audience, now appear to be a final push for inner freedom, a flight from the dwindling possibilities of jazz itself.

Ratliff outlines only faintly the broader context of what seemed, by the mid-’60s, to be a private and eccentric journey. Jazz, a minority interest even during the heyday of swing, suffered in the postwar period from the rapid disappearance of its social setting, a diminishment only heightened by the flight of the young to rock music, a brash new rival that, paradoxically, also derived from American blues.

Jazz’s turn to the avant-garde and the exoticisms of the 1960s now seems as inevitable as the rise of atonal classical music after the breakup of the stable societies of 19th-century Europe. Of course, jazz, which emerged from post-Reconstruction black America, wasn’t like any other art. Its primary promise — which attracted Larkin, among millions of others — was to entertain a paying audience, and its avant-garde could only flourish in the bourgeois security of what Ratliff calls “the jazz curriculum, the postwar black-studies curriculum and the punk-rock curriculum.” Coltrane, Ratliff writes, “was moving a little too fast for most of his audience.” It could also be said that Coltrane was trying to escape the impasse of antiquarianism in which so much of jazz finds itself today, or that he was working out, in his most inward quests, the melancholy logic of obsolescence.

Pankaj Mishra is the author, most recently, of “Temptations of the West: How to Be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet and Beyond.”

Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company

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So Ratliff dismissed the "black rage" scenario and bought into the "sper spirituality" story. I sense that he and Mishra belong to the same hang-it-on-a-peg mindset.

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The "hippie myth" thing: isn't it? Not a myth that is the sole property of hippies, but a myth nonetheless. And just the sort of neo-romantic kinds thing we'd associate with certain influential streams of 60s thought.

As is the easy slippage into inarguable, new-agey quasi-religion: "internalize the salvation radiating from the core of Coltrane's music."

If you asked me Iggy Pop/Coltrane sounds like an interesting avenue of inquiry. Coltrane's legacy is not, after all, just that of a musician or a channeler of salvating radiation, but perhaps most importantly, that of a celebrity.

Well, he's searching for God. As I put it in my Circling Om article:

...[it's] a spiritual search. My image of Coltrane is of a voyager over strange lands to some far away goal he senses but barely feels. There is a yearning in his tone which speaks of his deep longing for meaning.

You can go way back for devotional stuff in music. I mean to Gregorian chant, or Islamic incantation or any amount of ritual music, probably from the dawn of time. Even to non-religious people (e.g. me) some Church music is quite sublime. With all your debunking stuff ("easy slippage", "inarguable, new-agey quasi-religion", "Coltrane's legacy is ...that of a celebrity."), you seem uneasy with that.

A lot of 60s avant garde jazz has a spiritual element - and Ellington.

Simon Weil

You're right, I'm . . . averse to appeals to spirituality in the discussion of art (or politics or philosophy). I'm NOT hostile to the idea of the sublime, though. Often, though I think the spirituality arguments tend to load up ideas of the sublime with the arguer's specifics of choice, whereas I think of the sublime as something ultimately neurological. That doesn't make it unimportant, just it has nothing to do with anything that exists outside of us, but rather with something we pretty much all have internally. And it may be that that something is ONLY really important because it is common.

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. . . yet the music's evolution occured because of Buddy Bolden's individual approach that forced a change in the given: in ragtime, in written music, in acceptable sonorites, in standard rhythms. That seems more akin to an artistic truth than the neo-romantic utopian ecstacies that welled up in the 60's. The way Ben writes it, which I haven't read for a few weeks now, puts that idea in jazz in the 1960's, which he then pretty much dismisses as a generational blip, when in fact it was fully part of the earlier dynamic era that set this music in motion. That isn't trivia.

Ratliff isn't saying that innovation itself was a product of the 1960s, but rather the ideology that innovation was a sine qua non of jazz. Whereas earlier generations may have recognized innovation as an important part of jazz's legacy, whether or not it would always be innovative was more of an open question.

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Allen's recollections re the importance of Coltrane to the rockers are the same as mine. I interviewed numerous rock groups and individuals in the late Sixties and throughout the Seventies. They occasionally brought up Miles, but not Coltrane, and I should add that they knew I came from the jazz rather than the pop media. I agree, this Trane-made-me-do-it thing is revisionism based, I guess, upon wishful thinking (or does that apply to all revisionism?).

Experientially, I have to disagree with this. I came to jazz because I saw 'A Love Supreme' in a browser at my college library my first semester (fall '72) and recognized Coltrane as having been credited by the Byrds and Jefferson Airplane as a major influence on them (they were two of my favorite groups). That made me want to pick up the album and check it out, and that jump-started it all for me. I had no previous exposure to jazz that I had connected with whatsoever, no Miles Davis or anything. I would have probably gotten my information from Rolling Stone or one of the other national publications, like Creem or Crawdaddy, or from Lillian Roxon's Rock Encyclopedia, or from Robert Christgau or someone in the Village Voice. I used to read all that stuff at the library, soaking up information.

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Were you ever able to hear that alleged influence? Are you sure it wasn't Coltrane's much hyped "spirituality" that influenced them?

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