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Chasing Trane documentary captures spirit of John Coltrane

It’s the reverence.

That’s one of the lasting impressions from John Scheinfeld’s documentary on John Coltrane, the reverence people have for the legendary jazz saxophonist. In Chasing Trane, most of the interviewees — including family members, musicians, journalists and former U.S. president Bill Clinton — speak in awe and sometimes hushed tones about Coltrane’s musicianship as well as his spirituality. You can practically see the pedestal.

What is it about Coltrane’s music that inspires such reverence? Was there a 20th-century musician who more embodied the combination of musicality and spirituality? Maybe not — not many musicians have had a church started in their name. At one point in Chasing Trane, guitarist Carlos Santana says Coltrane’s sound “rearranges molecular structures.”

That’s heady stuff, but Chasing Trane isn’t a heady doc. Through the eyes of others, Scheinfeld personalizes the man behind the mythological music. (The quotes from Coltrane are voiced by Denzel Washington.) In one endearing anecdote, stepdaughter Antonia Andrews describes how Coltrane walked home from a gig during a snowstorm to help save money to buy her new shoes.