Spirit Seeker: John Coltrane's Musical Journey

illus. by Rudy Gutierrez. 48p. bibliog. discography. further reading. websites. Clarion. 2012. RTE $17.99. ISBN 978-0-547-23994-1.
RedReviewStarGr 4–6—A well-conceived marriage of art and text breathes life and passion into this picture biography. Swirling strokes of vibrant colors give the book an almost cinematic quality, animating Coltrane's passionate journey from a joyous, nurturing early childhood with a loving extended family to the despair of losing too many loved ones in a short time. The music that had always been a part of the family's life and a strong involvement in the church sustained him as he struggled to find his way. As he grew older, his musical talent developed and led him to a career that became legendary, performing with greats like Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk. But the demons of loss and despair always haunted him. While a traveling professional musician, he began drinking, and when things became overwhelming, he succumbed to drugs. He looked for guidance in philosophy and world religions. Eventually, through intense determination inspired by the help of his second wife, Alice Coltrane, herself a musician, he managed to leave drugs behind. Coltrane's musical accomplishments and short career proved intensely significant in the history and development of jazz and bebop. Though technically a two-dimensional format, this unique selection has a kinetic and animate quality that envelops readers and honors the vibrancy of Coltrane's place in music. An afterword, author's note, and artist's note augment the book's perspective. A list of varied resources, both print, audio, and a website, offer additional opportunities for further examination.—Renee Steinberg, formerly at Fieldstone Middle School, Montvale, NJ
There have been other picture books about gifted jazz musician and composer John Coltrane that have focused on his music or his childhood, but this one dares to take on the complexity of Coltrane’s entire life. Born into a caring extended family that encouraged him to pursue his talent for music, by adolescence Coltrane had already suffered more than his fair share of tragedy. The deaths of four close family members within a single year filled him with a sense of melancholy and a desire to search for meaning. His love of music pulled him into local clubs and music halls, where he also found solace in drugs and alcohol; he struggled with addiction for most of his short life. When he kicked his drug habit, he turned to religion as a spiritual quest. Remarkably, Golio integrates these aspects of Coltrane’s life into a picture-book biography that also successfully describes his music and what made it distinctive. The lengthy text is best suited for older children and even young teens. The sophisticated illustrations show human faces with a nearly photographic realism, while the lines depicting the background scenes are intentionally distorted and ultimately abstracted into swirling shapes. Thus the art ingeniously gets across the intangibles in Coltrane’s story as Golio tells it: his pain, his drug-addled mind, his spirituality, and his music. kathleen t. horning

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