The album Love Supreme is undoubtedly John Coltrane’s crown achievement and Paolo Parisi used its four piece suite structure as a foundation for his graphic novel biography, Coltrane.
It tells the story of one of the greatest Jazz musicians of all time starting from his humble beginnings – a deprived childhood spent among the cotton fields of North Carolina and then launching his career as a session musician in Philadelphia, until eventually meeting and teaming up with Miles Davis. Glimpses of Coltrane’s musical history alternate with scenes from his personal life: meeting his first wife Naima, the subsequent divorce, meeting his second wife Alice McLeod (not exactly in this order), his battle with addiction, and the birth of his children. All this is peppered with quotes from interviews and articles set against the backdrop of a good chunk of 20th century American history; segregation, civil rights movement, Malcolm X, Ku Klux Klan (notably their bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church as John Coltrane dedicated a song to its victims).
Coltrane was not the one to stick to rules. He constantly broke them, pushed the boundaries and challenged his own creativity. Parisi bows to that by mimicking jazz music and converting it into a graphic novel. He abandons a pure chronological order in favour of using the division Coltrane invented for Love Supreme. As a result the book is divided into four parts which mirror the four parts of Love Supreme, i.e. ‘Acknowledgement’, ‘Resolution’, ‘Pursuance’, and ‘Psalm’. Parisi did his best to put jazz rhythm on the pages, and if you tune in you will hear syncopation, improvisation, crescendo and decrescendo.
If you know nothing about jazz and John Coltrane, this book probably wouldn’t be the best introduction. It relies too much on the reader’s understanding of jazz idiosyncrasies. However, if you are already a fan, Coltrane offers a pleasant journey through time and sound.