Golio and Gutierrez go to School for American Popular Music

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A new book tells the life story of John Coltrane in as few words as possible. The name of the work is “Spirit Seekers: John Coltrane’s Musical Journey” by New York Times bestseller, Gary Golio, author of such psychedelic titles as “Jimi: Sounds Like a Rainbow (A Story of the Young Jimi Hendrix)” and “When Bob Met Woody (The Story of the Young Bob Dylan)”; the bracing paint illustrations for “Spirit Seekers” were done by Rudy Gutierrez who also designed the cover of Carlos Santana’s “Shaman” record.

In “Spirit Seekers,” Coltrane is an accessible and deeply human hero of jazz music. The third-person narrative, told in a decidedly didactic yet gentle tone begins in High Point, North Carolina in 1938, when John Coltrane was a 12-year-old boy.


“A warm light filled the small church. It was Sunday morning. John smiled as his mother pressed the organ keys, calling choir voices to soar through the air above his head. A part of him was soaring too.”
(Golio)

The book seamlessly glides through an unassuming beginning, in which John grows from a church-going, music-loving boy in North Carolina, where he lives with his “mama”, “papa”, Reverend Blair, Grandma, Aunt Bettie and Cousin Mary; to a middle section in which John moves to Philadelphia (with Aunt Bettie and Cousin Mary) to pursue life as a jazz musician. While the book does omit many of the details and legends of Trane’s life, author Gary Golio does not fail to mention Charlie Parker’s creative influence on Coltrane.


“He put Bird’s picture on the wall of his room and tried to catch the man’s spirit in his horn.”
(Golio)

Gutierrez’s paint illustrations splash all over the pages, with the simple text neatly placed in the center. Gutierrez’s painting is rhythmic and cerebral like John Coltrane’s music, underhandedly abstract with a subtle African nuance. The middle section of the story tells of John’s struggle with alcohol and drugs. Golio tells of how Miles Davis fired John for falling asleep on stage while under the influence of an unspoken opiate, however Golio decides not to mention how Davis famously suggested Coltrane try switching from alto to tenor saxophone.

The end section of the book brightens up as John rediscovers himself spiritually as a recovering addict. Golio's prose portrays him as a scholar and theologian. Of course the book ends in triumph, detailing the creation of “Giant Steps” and "A Love Supreme", John Coltrane musical masterpieces, without making any mention of the musicians on the records and those relationships. The book is a success, mostly for its clean and precise prose and breathtaking illustrations. The mention of drug use warrants a discretion for parents.

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Scott Krane