Sunday, September 23, 2012

'Trane and the Critic

Coltrane caught cleaning his horn, possibly at the "Cathouse," Baroness Nica de Koenigswarter's home in Weehawken, possibly in 1958. From "Three Wishes" (2008)

Today is John Coltrane's 86th birthday anniversary, and I couldn't let it pass without posting an acknowledgement here on Gems. The day should be a national holiday, but of course that's not how this game plays out.

This offering is the now-famous interview that author and critic Frank Kofsky did with Coltrane in John's car at the railroad station near Dix Hills on Long Island, the town where Coltrane was living. Kofsky was working on his major opus, a Marxist polemic on jazz and politics called "Black Nationalism and the Revolution in Music." The book has its good moments, but for the most part it's pretty rough going. Suffice it to say that Kofsky was a product of the times and that his theories haven't aged all that well. 

When I was living in Connecticut back in the early '80s, I got to know an extraordinary horn player named Tom Guralnick. He was studying at Wesleyan University in Middletown, and was busy exploring the limits of creative music. One day he gave me a copy of a taped interview with John Coltrane – he knew I was a collector and thought I'd find it interesting. It was something he'd gotten it from his brother, author Peter Guralnick. I was intrigued to learn the interviewer was Frank Kofsky because I had Kofsky's book and had even tried to read it. The interview with Coltrane was a central part of it.

The actual taped interview turned out to be a testament to Coltrane's gentle spirit, the clarity of his vision and the purity of his intent. Poor Kofsky goes to great lengths to get Coltrane to condemn one group or another, to endorse Kofsky's radical vision of race and politics. But John steadfastly refuses to take the bait and speaks not out of malice or spite but from the heart with real wisdom and generosity. Inspirational!

This historic recording is available in several places on the web already, but I thought I'd post it here as well. This version clocks in at about 60 minutes, and it may be more complete than others out there.

So, happy birthday, John Coltrane! And I hope those Gems visitors who haven't ever heard it will find the interview to be the revelation it truly is.

The Kofsky Interview
John Coltrane

John Coltrane interviewed by Frank Kofsky for Kofsky’s book, “Black Nationalism and the Revolution in Music” (Pathfinder Press, 1970). Done in Coltrane’s car at the railroad station near Dix Hills, Long Island, NY, probably in the spring of 1966 (Kofsky had taken the train out from NYC to meet Coltrane near his home).

1. Interview, Part 1
2. Interview, Part 2


  1. Fascinating! Many thanks!

  2. I'm very excited to give this a listen. You made it sound fascinating. Thank you for another great share.

    1. Hope you're not disappointed, JC. There's a religion built around Coltrane and his music out in San Francisco, and this interview offers a pretty good explanation as why one might want to deify 'Trane ...