Documentaries about artistic geniuses are surprisingly hard; watching people sit around and try to tell you why their work is great too often overwhelms focus on the work itself. John Scheinfeld’s portrait of jazz saxophonist/composter/pioneer John Coltrane does indeed include plenty of talking heads—ranging from musicians who worked with Coltrane to scholars, biographers and fans (including Bill Clinton!)—while exploring his life from childhood in Jim Crow-era North Carolina through his career and tragic death from cancer when he was just 40 years old. But the wisdom comes in Scheinfeld’s structure, which begins at a pivotal moment during Coltrane’s drug addiction, then circles back before revealing how his cold-turkey recovery marked the spiritual awakening that eventually gave rise to A Love Supreme. He’s also smart enough to include lots of uninterrupted music, offering just enough context for a particular piece’s thematic inspiration or revolutionary approach before shutting up and listening. Though a few interview subjects are indulged too much in their grand pronouncements—looking at you, Cornel West—Chasing Trane offers a worthy model for telling a story about the evolution of brilliance.
Director: John Scheinfeld
Writer: John Scheinfeld
Producer: Spencer Proffer, John Beug, Scott Pascucci and Dave Harding
Cast: Denzel Washington, Bill Clinton, Common, John Densmore, Benny Golson, Wynton Marsalis, Kamasi Washington, Carlos Santana, Sonny Rollins and Ashley Kahn