Ratliff, the jazz critic for the New York Times, isn't interested in simply retelling the biographical facts of John Coltrane's life. Instead, he analyzes how the saxophone player came to be regarded as the last major figure in the evolution of jazz, tracing both the evolution of his playing style and the critical reception to it. The first half of this study concentrates on Coltrane's career, from his early days as a semianonymous sideman to his final, increasingly experimental recordings, while the second half explores the growth of Coltrane's legacy after his death. Ratliff has a keen sense of Coltrane's constantly changing sound, highlighting the collaborative nature of jazz by discussing the bands he played in as both sideman and leader.
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