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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars John Coltrane: Jazz, Racism and Resistence: the Extended Ver
Where does genius come from? Is great art timeless and independent of the era in which it was produced? These are the questions Martin Smith addresses in this wonderful book about the legendary saxophonist John Coltrane. Coltrane was one of the titans of Twentieth Century Jazz. Long after his death his rich musical legacy continues to astonish and inspire. This book...
Published on 28 July 2005 by Aleksander Sasha Simic

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9 of 16 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Fundamentally Dishonest Book
Published by the Socialist Workers Party, this book tries with all of it's rather feeble might to squeeze John Coltrane into a poltical niche that won't fit.
...the author all but ignores the spiritual beliefs that inspired Coltrane's greatest work. Instead a few incidents from his life are used to illustrate the authors pre-established agenda - an agenda which has...
Published on 3 April 2002 by Andy Wilson


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8 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars John Coltrane: Jazz, Racism and Resistence: the Extended Ver, 28 July 2005
By 
Aleksander Sasha Simic (London, United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
Where does genius come from? Is great art timeless and independent of the era in which it was produced? These are the questions Martin Smith addresses in this wonderful book about the legendary saxophonist John Coltrane. Coltrane was one of the titans of Twentieth Century Jazz. Long after his death his rich musical legacy continues to astonish and inspire. This book convincingly argues that the man and his music can't be understood independently of the period in which it was produced.
Coltrane was born in 1926 into an America rancid with racism and discrimination. While blacks in the south lived under the terror of the Klan, mob lynching and the apartheid of the 'Jim Crow' Laws which segregated every area of society, blacks in the north suffered under less visible, but no less vile, institutionalized racism which ensured worse housing, wages and educational opportunities for them. John Coltrane discovered and developed his talent in this society but in December 1959, a black worker called Rosa Parks refused to give up her bus seat to a white passenger. This act of defiance to racism sparked a decades-long struggle for civil rights and social justice which touched all areas of American society. John Coltrane was always pushing the barriers of what was possible in his music and was constantly innovative but, Smith argues, his most creative, dynamic and lasting work was produced against the background of the civil rights movement.
By this Smith doesn't suggest that there is a clear and easily identifiable relationship between social movements and artistic production. Smith cites all sorts of elements which fused to produce John Coltrane's music, not least of which was the sheer hard work Coltrane put into rehearsing and developing his gift. But his music was clearly shaped by the oppression he was born into and the sympathy he felt for those challenging it. Coltrane never saw himself as a 'militant' in a formal sense, though he frequently played benefits concerts for Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement. He was too much of an artist to fall into the trap of sterile 'agitprop'. But for all that his music expressed the hope and horror which the struggle encountered. In one of the most moving and painful parts of the book, Smith describes Coltrane's response to the murder of 4 terribly young black girls, killed when their church was bombed by racists in September, 1963. He produced 'Alabama', a work which both mourned the loss of these children but also was a rallying cry to continue the fight against racism.
John Coltrane died in July 1967 at the ridiculously young age of 40. He's not here to endorse or challenge Smiths argument. So has Smith got it right? I think so. Coltrane himself argued:
"My music is the spiritual expression of what I am - my faith, my knowledge, my being ... When you begin to see the possibilities of music, you desire to do something really good for people, to help humanity free itself from its hang-ups ... I want to speak to their souls."
If you love Jazz, you should buy this book. If you're interested in John Coltrane it's indispensable. I can't recommend it highly enough.
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11 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A joy to read, 3 Sep 2003
By 
Paul Smith (london United Kingdom) - See all my reviews
If you are looking for a book that looks at the relationship between John Coltrane and the Civil Rights Movement that exploded in the US in the late 1950s, then look no further.
Packed full of exciting stories, anecdotes and facts,this book zips along at a fast pace.
It charts John Coltrane's rise from Miles Davis side-kick to leader of the "Free Jazz" Movement and along the way looks at Martin Luther King, Malcolm X and the other key figures of the movement. This book pulls no punches!
The book also contains interviews with two of Coltrane's band members - Elvin Jones and McCoy Tyner.
Book recommendations from Courtney Pine, Pandit G (Asian Dub Foundation)and the historian Eric Hobsbawm should be enough to grab anyones attention.
John Coltrane (Jazz, Racism and Restitance) is a joy to read.
Paul Smith
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A fundamentally dishonest review, 8 Jun 2007
Other books talk about Coltrane's spiritual beliefs. This book does not pretend to be a complete autobiography, but is a short introduction placing Coltrane in his sociohistorical and political context.

More people read short books. There is nothing wrong with short books (I recall one called the Communist Manifesto which has proved quite popular) so long as they are reasonably priced. Unless you are some kind of intellectual snob.

I missed the bits of the book where, supposedly, Martin Smith argues that jazz is inherently anti-racist and that white men can't play it. Please provide quotes.

Actually, the worst thing about this straightforward book is that it is appallingly (un-)proofread.
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9 of 16 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Fundamentally Dishonest Book, 3 April 2002
This review is from: John Coltrane: Jazz, Racism and Resistance (Revolutionary Portraits) (Paperback)
Published by the Socialist Workers Party, this book tries with all of it's rather feeble might to squeeze John Coltrane into a poltical niche that won't fit.
...the author all but ignores the spiritual beliefs that inspired Coltrane's greatest work. Instead a few incidents from his life are used to illustrate the authors pre-established agenda - an agenda which has nothing to do with the facts of John Coltrane's life. The main points argued for include the laughable notion that jazz is inherently anti-racist, that worthwhile music is always somehow tied to political struggle, the 'white men can't play the blues' and similar wheezing, feeble myths.
Worse than that, whole chunks of this already very thin book ignore Coltrane altogether in order to tell a simplified, 'Janet and John' version of the history of political struggle in the America of the 1960's, and the struggle for civil rights in particular.
The author uses Coltrane as a handy peg on which to hang his political beliefs. In all, it is hard to imagine a work being less informative about it's subject. This book insults the memory of a great man. The people who published it should be ashamed of themselves not for their political beliefs - which they are entitled to, and many of which I share - but for their casual disregard for the real opinions and beliefs of a wonderful man whose awesome music will surely be listened to as long as people care for music at all.
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2 of 5 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great introduction to John Coltrane's life, 30 Sep 2002
By 
Mark Stancer (London, England) - See all my reviews
This review is from: John Coltrane: Jazz, Racism and Resistance (Revolutionary Portraits) (Paperback)
I think this is a fascinating little book on the life and times of John Coltrane. Jazz has always had its critics and experts who seek to exicise it from its popular roots, sanitise it and make it culturally respectable.
This book does not. Unlike most works on jazz I have read, Smith puts Coltrane's music in its historical context. Like all art forms it shows that the music comes out opposition, defiance and cultural brilliance.
This book is a powerful starting point for anyone fascinated by or tempted towards the beauty and rebellion of jazz.
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11 of 27 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars A Fundamentally Dishonest Book, 17 Oct 2003
Published by the Socialist Workers Party, this book tries with all of it's feeble might to squeeze John Coltrane into a poltical niche that won't fit.
The author all but ignores the spiritual beliefs that inspired Coltrane. Instead a few incidents from his life are used to illustrate the authors pre-established agenda - an agenda which has nothing to do with the facts of John Coltrane's life. The main points argued for include the laughable notion that jazz is inherently anti-racist, that worthwhile music is always somehow tied to political struggle, the 'white men can't play the blues' and similar wheezing, feeble myths.
Worse than that, whole chunks of this already very thin book ignore Coltrane altogether in order to tell a simplified, 'Janet and John' version of the history of political struggle in the America of the 1960's, and the struggle for civil rights in particular.
The author uses Coltrane as a handy peg on which to hang his political beliefs. In all, it is hard to imagine a work being less informative about it's subject. This book insults the memory of a great man. The people who published it should be ashamed of themselves not for their political beliefs - which they are entitled to, and many of which I share - but for their casual disregard for the real opinions and beliefs of a wonderful man whose awesome music will surely be listened to as long as people care for music at all.
If you want to read about Coltrane there are many fine books about him. This is certainly not one of them. Or, as a friend of mine put it after reading this book... "worse than piles."
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