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John Coltrane Documentary To Show At Normal Theater

Hugo van Gelderen
Dutch National Archives

It’s been 50 years since John Coltrane died. How is it possible the just released documentary “Chasing Trane” from director John Scheinfeld is the first big screen telling of the jazz legend?

Promotional poster for "Chasing Trane."

“That’s an interesting question,” said Illinois Wesleyan University jazz program chair Glenn Wilson. “There have been several biographies of course. I’m not sure if they didn’t want to do a dramatization like the Miles Davis movie that came out recently. ‘Chasing Trane’ is more of a documentary.”

Like Coltrane, Wilson is a saxophonist and a veteran of the New York City jazz scene. He and his Bari have played in the big bands of Buddy Rich and Lionel Hampton. He’s also toured with the likes of Bruce Hornsby and has fronted his own jazz combos for decades in Ohio, Virginia, and Illinois.

"'Chasing Trane' is more of a commercial movie for people who don’t know jazz than a movie for jazz aficionados, which is going to be good in this case,” said Wilson.

How so?

“He had almost a mystic quality to him, especially toward the end and after he found religion and recorded ‘A Love Supreme.’ He was also very involved in the civil rights movement before he passed in 1967. In 1965 and ‘66, he became a centerpiece for musicians during the civil rights movement,” said Wilson.

“Further Jazz Inc.” is Wilson’s nonprofit that spearheaded last year’s Normal Theater showing of the documentary on the late Thomas Chapin, another mythical if less well known jazz saxophonist.

“We had such fun with the Chapin film and concert I thought that maybe we could do something like that again. So I received another Harmon Arts grant from the Town of Normal (to show ‘Chasing Trane’), which I’m very grateful for,” said Wilson.

The grant will help pay for the musicians to play following the Coltrane movie, as well as for future docs in succeeding months through December. A bio on trumpeter Lee Morgan is penciled in for October. Wilson said he has booked the University of Illinois Latin Jazz Ensemble to play following a possible November showing of the follow up to the 1999 film Buena Vista Social Club.

“Chasing Trane” shows Saturday, Sept. 9 at 7 p.m. at the Normal Theater in Uptown. It will be followed by concert of Coltrane’s music by Glenn Wilson’s Chasing Trane ensemble. Tickets are $7 for the general public, $5 for students.

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Jon Norton is the audio director at WGLT and WCBU. He also is host of All Things Considered every weekday.