Don Schlitten

John Coltrane Comes Back To Life In New 'Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary'

Director John Scheinfeld spoke with VIBE about the musical genius that was John Coltrane, and what the Migos generation can learn from the jazz legend.

For some, jazz simply doesn't make much sense. Yes, it's easy to respect the skill of anyone who can play an instrument, but the art form goes far beyond that. Jazz doesn't and will not abide by any rules. It's a gorgeous sonic amalgamation of so many things—some beautiful, some not—which in turn became a language for those who believed words were too puny to communicate all their feelings, and so jazz was the native tongue. For artists like Miles Davis, Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk, they "wrote" and expressed their emotions with their respective instruments: Davis, the trumpet; Parker, the alto sax and Monk, the keys. Yet as seasoned and as sophisticated as all those jazz greats were, none were as spiritual or as unconcerned with commercial appeal as John Coltrane.

Cancer, the retched and cruel disease that doesn't spare nor care about the tears left in its wake, took up residence in Coltrane's liver and took him from us when he was just 41. And while Coltrane left fans with giant compositions of excellent work, Blue Trane, A Love Supreme, Giant Steps, we can't help but wonder what new realm, or journey would Coltrane have taken jazz had he been given more time?

Filmmaker John Scheinfeld spent 18 months researching Coltrane to create his latest work Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary. Doing more than simply interviewing former bandmates, children and current luminaries in the field, Scheinfeld—who is a self-described optimistic—also nabbed Denzel Washington as he was filming Fences to act as a voice for Coltrane, Dr. Cornel West to bridge together the African-American experience and how it seeped into the music, and former President Bill Clinton who at one point gave serious thought to being a musician but decided not to because he later learned he was no Coltrane.

Scheinfeld spoke to VIBE about the musical genius that was John Coltrane, and what the Migos generation can learn from the jazz legend.

VIBE: Why Coltrane? Why create a documentary about him? And don’t say because he’s one of jazz’s greatest artists.
John Schenifield:
One of our producers, Spencer Proffer had come to me and said, "How would you like to make a film about John Coltrane?" and I said, "Oh let me do a little bit of research." I mean, I knew Coltrane. Like many people, I was introduced to him through "My Favorite Things" and I heard that recording and thought, well this is really nice. I knew a little bit about him, but I will confess to you that I’m not an obsessed fan.

Even now? Even after having created the documentary, you’re still not an obsessed fan?
Oh, I am now. Having spent 18 months with the man, I am now a huge fan. But I wasn’t when I began and I think in many ways, that was a good thing because it allowed me to see the big picture of his personal and professional journey without getting stuck in the weeds like many obsessed fans do. But I will tell you, what was interesting for me was we’re all familiar with the now cliché story of artist comes from nowhere, has great talent, has great success, makes a lot of money, abuses substances, and dies young. What fascinated me was that Coltrane is the antithesis of this. He had his challenges early on in his life, but it was when he confronted those challenges and got clean from his addictions that he ascended, that he became the icon that we know now. And to me, that is a very uplifting and inspiring story of a guy that did things the right way and I think with the darkness that is sweeping over our land at the moment, that kind of uplifting and inspiring story is very much needed.

In the film you were able to get Denzel Washington and former President Bill Clinton to narrate. How much time did you have with President Clinton?
I got lucky with Bill Clinton. Obviously we all know he plays the saxophone but I had seen in the last two weeks of David Letterman being on the air the president was on, and he told a story of how at age 10 he picked up the saxophone and he was obsessed with it through high school. He seriously thought about becoming a professional musician, but he said, ‘I realized I was no John Coltrane.’ So I looked to my wife and said, there’s a story here. So we found a way to get to his chief of staff and she said, ‘I think the president will find much joy in doing this.’ Unfortunately, it took us 10 months to get him because he’s quite busy with his own activities and as you all recall, his wife kept him occupied during the campaign quite a bit. I live in Los Angeles and I hopped on a plane and went to New York. We went to his office and we were told that we would have no more than 15 minutes with the president. So we set up and he was 45 minutes late. And he arrives and introduces himself to all the crew members, shakes everybody’s hand, and he is as charismatic in person as we’ve all heard. He was gracious. He was eloquent, and as people will see when they come to watch Chasing Trane, he is knowledgeable and passionate about Coltrane, and I think really elevates the entire picture.

Was it hard to get Denzel on board?
Not as difficult as I would have expected. I’ll tell you the story. In his lifetime, Coltrane did no television interviews and only did a handful of radio interviews, and the sound on those recordings was not good enough for me to use. But I wanted Coltrane to have a vital presence in the film beyond just the performance clips. So fortunately, he had done many print interviews. I wanted a movie star to read those words to really bring Coltrane to life. I didn't know it at the time, but I learned that casting director Vicky Thomas was also casting Fences for Denzel. I said will you help me? And she said, oh yeah, love your documentaries. One Saturday I get a text from her, says: Denzel’s in. Needs to talk to you and then she says here’s his phone number. He never answers right away, but he’ll get your message, and he’ll call you back. I said great. So I call him and Denzel picks up on the first ring. "I like the idea, love Coltrane, but I got to see the film." I said okay. So we sent a secure link to him for a rough cut of where it was at that time. And five days go by. I don’t hear a word, so I’m convinced he hates it and I’m never going to hear from him. On the fifth day, the phone rings, and the first words out of his moth are not hello, not it’s Denzel, not how are you doing? The first words out of his mouth are: "It’s beautiful brother."

Have you ever heard of a group called Migos?
No, I don’t know them.

Okay, Well they're are dominating the charts in what is called rap, trap music. What can the Migos generations or this generation learn from Coltrane?
That’s an excellent question. The key to understanding Coltrane from my point of view is that he is timeless. He is not only timeless but he does not usually fit into any one genre or anyone pigeon hole. Just when you think you figure him out, he came out with an album that where he was trying some entirely new and different. So here’s an artist who was constantly pushing the envelope, constantly exploring his art and his talent. And he did so without concern for the effect it might have on his career, his commercial prospects. He was following his art. And I think that is an inspiration for artists of any generation.

You said it took you 18 months to put this film together. In your research, what was Coltrane’s biggest flaw?
You know, there’s several ways to answer that. I think the biggest flaw that he displayed in his life was early on when he moved away from his spiritual center and became a heroine addict. And it got in the way of his creativity, his sense of responsibility and inhibited his progress as a musician. But I’ll tell you another one. To me, it’s just amusing; it’s not a significant flaw, but in trying to get to know him as a person, I asked everyone that knew him. I said, describe to me his sense of humor and tell me a story that’s a really great example of that sense of humor. And I will say, to me it was really fascinating. No one could come up with a story.

As I’m sure you’re aware, there have been very prominent deaths of young African American men and women, Trayvon Martin, Mike Brown, the list goes on. In the film, I was introduced to a song Coltrane created called “Alabama” in response to the church bombing four little girls. If Coltrane were alive today, do you think the Black Lives Matter Movement or the deaths of these unarmed black men and women would inspire him to create another “Alabama?”
From my perspective, Coltrane was a very sensitive, thoughtful artist. With the composition “Alabama,” he was responding to something that affected him very deeply. As his step daughter Antonia says in the film, he was very aware how black Americans were treated, particularly in the South where he grew up in North Carolina. It was something that obviously helped shape his personality, but as Antonia said, he more often than not, chose not to say anything publicly, but rather would incorporate it into his music. So there’s no way to say exactly of course what he might have thought or how he might have responded, but I think when you look at that tragedy in Birmingham, that it inspired this sensitive and thoughtful genius to write a magnificent composition like “Alabama.” And one would think that certain events that have happened over the last couple of years with regard to Black Americans, might easily have inspired him to come up with something in a very similar vein. Having said that, I think that one must look at Coltrane’s career and realize that he was constantly going in different directions, whether that might have brought him to a more overtly political stance, there’s really no way to know. But yes, I believe we can look at “Alabama” and its genesis and say that clearly he did respond to what was happening in the outside world and may very well have continued to do so had he lived.

Alright, last question. It’s kind of a cliché question, but it is what it is. Who do you like better: Coltrane or Miles Davis? You can’t say both.
Coltrane by far. Coltrane, not only having spent so much time with him and knowing his music now much more than I did before, his music just speaks to me in ways that Miles doesn’t always. There are certain albums of Miles’ that I love. I love Kind of Blue. I love Quiet Nights. There’s so many albums of Mile’s, particularly the early period, but he never spoke to my heart the way that Coltrane does. So an unreserved response to your question is John Coltrane by far.

Chasing Trane: The John Coltrane Documentary hits New York theaters today.

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Tekashi 6ix9ine Identifies Cardi B And Jim Jones As Nine Trey Members And More Takeaways (Day 3)

Daniel "Tekashi 6ix9ine" Hernandez's witness testimony continues to shock the masses. On Thursday (Sept. 19), the rapper took the stand again to elaborate on his kidnapping as well as interviews he gave about his broken relationship with members of the Nine Trey gang.

Interviews by Angie Martinez and Power 105.1's The Breakfast Club were analyzed due to the rapper's subtle jabs towards his former manager Shotti and defendant Anthony "Harv" Ellison. 6ix9ine's social media personality was also broken down as he explained the definitions of trolling and dry snitching.

But perhaps the most questionable part of his testimony arrived when he name-dropped Cardi B and Jim Jones as members of the Nine Trey Gangster Bloods.

Below are some of the biggest takeaways from today.


Day 3 1. Tekashi Claims Cardi B And Jim Jones Are Members Of Nine Trey Gang

Hernandez provided context to a wiretapped conversation between alleged Nine Trey godfather Jamel "Mel Murda" Jones and rapper Jim Jones. Complex notes a leaked 'individual-1' transcription revealed who appeared to be Jim Jones. During Mel Murder and Jim Jones conversation, the two discussed Hernandez's status as a Nine Trey member.

"He not a gang member no more," Jones reportedly said. "He was never a gang member. They going to have to violate shorty because shorty is on some bullshit." Hernandez went on to identify Jones as a "retired" rapper and a member of the Nine Trey.

Prosecutors play phone call between Nine Trey godfather Mel Murda and rapper Jim Jones. Tekashi says Jones is in Nine Trey.Jones: "He not a gang member no more. He was never a gang member. They going to have to violate shorty because shorty is on some bull--it."

— Stephen Brown (@PPVSRB) September 19, 2019

When it comes to Cardi B, the rapper named the Bronx native as a Nine Trey member. He was also strangely asked if he copies Cardi's alleged blueprint of aligning herself with gang members in her early music videos. "I knew who she was. I didn’t pay attention,” he said. In a statement to Billboard, Atlantic Records denied 6ix9ine's claims that she was a member of the Nine Trey Gangsta Bloods. 

In a now-deleted tweet on her official Twitter account, Cardi B responded to the allegation writing clarifying her affiliation, “You just said it yourself…Brim not 9 Trey. I never been 9 trey or associated with them.”

2. Tekashi Defines The Term "Dry Snitching"

In a quick back and forth with AUSA Micheal Longyear, the rapper gave an odd definition of dry snitching. He also made it clear that he was open to becoming a witness to reduce his prison sentence.

Q: Who is Jim Jones?#6ix9ine: He's a retired rapper.Q: Is he a member of Nine Trey?A: Yes.

— Inner City Press (@innercitypress) September 19, 2019

3. Tekashi Was Willing To Pay Hitmen $50,000 To Take Out Friend Who Kidnapped Him

Shortly after he was kidnapped by Harv, the rapper went on Angie Martinez to slam those in his camp. Without saying names, Hernandez promised he would seek revenge on those behind the kidnapping. The court was then showed footage of the incident which was recorded in the car of Jorge Rivera who was already a cooperating witness in the case. Hernandez reportedly confirmed he wanted to pay a hitman $50,000 on Harv after the kidnapping.

4. He Believed He Was "Too Famous" To Hold Gun Used In Assault Against Rap-A-Lot Artist"

The alleged robbery of Rap-A-Lot artist was brought up once again when Hernandez confirmed that he recorded the incident. A weapon allegedly used in the incident was tossed to Hernandez by his former manager Shotti. When asked why he refused to hold the gun the rapper said, "I'm too famous to get out the car with a gun." As previously reported, the rapper was kicked out of the car after the incident in Times Square and was forced to take the subway back to Brooklyn with the gun.

5. Tekashi May Be Released As Early As 2020

Cross-exam Q: If you get time served you'd get out at the beginning of next year, correct?#6ix9ine: Correct.

— Inner City Press (@innercitypress) September 19, 2019

There's that.

6. Footage Exists Of Tekashi Pretending He Was Dead

Harv's lawyer Deveraux: Do you recall publishing a video pretending you were dead?#6ix9ine: Can you show me? For now, a private viewing.

— Inner City Press (@innercitypress) September 19, 2019

Before wrapping up, the court briefly touched on his trolling ways. From setting up beefs to strange notions like faking his death, the videos were viewed privately.

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Tekashi is seen in Los Angeles, CA on November 8, 2018.
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Nine Trey Trial: 4 Takeaways From Tekashi 6ix9ine's Testimony (Day 2)

The second day of Daniel "Tekashi 6ix9ine" Hernandez's witness testimony provided insight into the handlings of several incidents surrounding the rapper including the attempted shootings of rappers Casanova, Chief Keef and former labelmate, Trippie Redd.

As Complex reported Wednesday (Sept. 18), Judge Paul Engelmayer noted the leak of the rapper's testimony that hit YouTube by way of VladTV. Shortly after, Hernandez explained how the Trey Nine gang began to fall apart–or split into four groups–leaving him to take sides. In the end, Hernandez was robbed and kidnapped by his own manager as video footage revealed. The rapper explained how his initial deal turned into extortion as he provided over $80,000 to the gang.

See more details from the trial below. Hernandez will take the stand again Thursday (Sept. 21).

Day 2 1. Tekashi Arranged A Hit On Chief Keef For $20,000

The hit against Keef was widely reported last year but Hernandez provided clarity to the incident. The rapper admitted to arranging a hit on the Chicago rapper after a dispute over "my friend Cuban," a reference to rapper Cuban Doll. Although Hernandez planned to provide the gunman with $20,000 he paid him $10,000 since the hitman fired one shot and subsequently missed.

2. 6ix9ine Credits Anthony “Harv” Ellison For Barclays Center Shooting 


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A post shared by Tr3y (@tr3yway_ent) on Sep 6, 2019 at 3:11pm PDT

Hernandez's brief beef with fellow Brooklyn rapper Casanova sprouted from Cas' diss song, "Set Trippin.'" After hearing it, Hernandez said he was ready to "run down" on the rapper. Seqo Billy tipped him off about Cas' alliance to the Bloods set, the Apes and how they would more than likely retaliate if Cas is harmed.

“There’s a kite out saying if any apes happen to cross ya path to fire on you or anybody around you… smarten up,” Seqo wrote in a group chat presented in court. Ellison allegedly replied, “Apes can fire on this dick… They don’t want to war with Billy’s [Nine Trey]." From there, several shootings took place in Brooklyn with one inside the Barclays Center.

3. Tekashi's Beef With Rap-A-Lot Crew Caused Bigger Fallout With Trey Nine 

Hernandez went on to detail the very complicated story behind his beef with Rap-A-Lot records. The debacle started when Tekashi and the Treyway crew didn't "check-in" with Jas Prince before taking the stage at Texas' South by Southwest in March 2018. The incident was further muffled since Trey Nine members like Ellison and Billy Ato were beefing with Hernandez and Shotti at the time. In the end, Hernadez never performed. His crew would later go on to rob and attack an artist from Rap-A-Lot in New York a month later.

4. Footage of the Robbery/Fight Was Filmed By Hernandez aka 6ix9ine

As he and Shotti fled the scene, Shotti kicked the rapper out the car forcing him to take the train to Brooklyn with a gun in his possession. All of the incidents led up to the kidnapping scenario which Herdanaez claimed was in no way staged.

“I’m pleading with Harv,” Hernandez said. “I’m telling him, ‘Don’t shoot. I gave you everything. I put money in your pocket.’ I told him that I was tired of being extorted.” The robbery/kidnapping was filmed by Ellison but also recorded by Hernadez's driver Jorge Rivera who was already a cooperating witness in the case.

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Gary Gershof

Jeremy O. Harris Is Prepared To Make You Uncomfortable With 'Slave Play'

September is a tricky time in New York City. Some days the ninth month can be charming with its cool breeze and clear skies, you forget Old Man Winter is three months away. Other days, September is deceitfully chilly dropping 10 or 15 degrees after sunset. You hug yourself to create warmth and to also block shame for not knowing summer has packed its bags. On the fifth day of September in New York’s East Village, the weather, however, is kind. Clouds like stretched cotton balls float through the sky, while the sun peeks through adding just enough heat without being arresting. It was, like Bill Withers described, a lovely day.

The beauty of the weather was only matched by Jeremy O.Harris’ bold yet inviting presence. Wearing head-to-toe Telfar Clemens, the Yale School of Drama playwright mingled with friends, castmates and the press inside the penthouse suite of The Standard. Holding the last puffs of a loosie and a black purse, O’Harris and I make eye contact. He smiles. I wave and a second later he's pulled into another round of congratulations, cheek kisses, and praise.

Such is the life of an award-winning playwright.

Harris’ production Slave Play earned chatter while at the New York Theater Workshop and has since made its way to Broadway, making the 30-year-old the youngest playwright of color to accomplish the feat. Yet before the mecca to the world's theatrical stage, Slave Play merited quite the hubbub and scathing critiques for its plot. Set on the MacGregor plantation in the antebellum south, three interracial couples work through their relationship woes made present by their sexual disconnect.

And that’s all that will be said about Slave Play. The rest must be witnessed to be understood or at least examined. Harris knows the play will make many uncomfortable and he's okay with that. The Virginia native stands at a towering 6-foot-5 and has always known his mere presence was off-putting to some. Add his Afro to the mix and Harris, a black queer man with hair that defies gravity, is too much to digest. Thankfully, he doesn't care.

He walks over to the terrace and we both lean in for a hug but stop prematurely and settle on a professional yet distant handshake.

“Are you a hugger?” I ask.

“Yes,” he smiles.

Relief. Huggers finally able to hug.

O’Harris is pressed for time so we only chat for 15 minutes but we gag over both being Geminis, talk about white discomfort, why, of all names to give a play, was Slave Play the best choice and whether or not white America can fully love black people.


VIBE: When creating Slave Play was white discomfort ever a thought?

Jeremy O. Harris: I had this moment with someone the other day and we were talking about the importance of mirrors and seeing each other inside the mirrors of the set. Well, the reason the idea came about was because at Yale the theater was in a three-quarter thrust and the second year project is one of the smallest projects to do. The audience, I think, is 70 people every night. It wasn’t a huge audience, maybe 90, I don’t know.

Anyway, it’s a three-quarter thrust. I went to Yale at a historic time. There were more people of color there than at any other time. The craziest thing about the show for me was while watching, I saw all the people of color checking in with one another throughout the play and them having these moments of revelation together and looking at white people like, "Why are you laughing then?"

I make people uncomfortable. I make people who are straight uncomfortable. I feel like everything I do, I do loudly by accident.

What’s your sign? I’m a Gemini.

Oh my God! I’m a Gemini. When’s your birthday? June 2nd.

I'm June 17. (Laughs) I think being a Gemini is also part of why I live loudly. I don’t shy away from who I am. My hair has always been big. People might eroticize my hair or fetishize my hair but they’re still uncomfortable by it because their hair can’t do this. Also, because I went to predominately white institutions as a child, I learned quickly that my intellect made people uncomfortable.

Were you usually the smartest one in the room? Yeah, or at least the teacher would say that. I think part of the problem with growing up in the south is everything is so racialized, even compliments. It would be "he’s smarter than the white kids and the black kids."

Did you have any other names for the play besides Slave Play? For me, titles are what make a play and the minute I thought of this play was the minute I was thinking about all of the different slave films. The first thing I thought about was on Twitter there was this whole discussion about 12 Years of Slave with people saying, "Why do we always have to be in a slave movie?" and then I thought, "Oh, a slave movie. There are so many slave plays...Oh, Slave Play!

There’s a litany of narratives that can come from that and a litany of histories that come from that. I was like, "Let me try and make something that was the end all be all of these histories" for at least me. It doesn’t have to be the end all be all for the next writer who wants to interrogate these similar ideas and similar histories, but it gets to be my one foray into this question.

I saw Slave Play off-Broadway and it was a lot to take in. However, I think the play isn’t so much about interracial relationships as it is white people’s relationship with black people. Am I correct?

I think you are. I’ve never written a play that’s going to be about one thing.

Because you aren’t one thing.

Exactly. One of my professors said the problem with a lot of American writers is that they write plays that function like similies. This is like this, whereas in the U.K. and Europe and a lot of places I love, those places function like metaphors. I wanted to have a play that functioned as a metaphor. So it’s not like, "Being in an interracial couple is like..." It’s "An interracial couple is" and it becomes a container for a lot of different histories and a lot of different confluences of conflict which I think are important.

Relationships can become an amazing space of interrogation for a lot of our interpersonal relationships, our historical relationships and our thematic, deeply guarded emotional truths that we haven’t worked out on a macro, but we can work them out on this microcosm of a relationship in a way like white-American politics and black-American politics are also in this weird symbiotic relationship.

Do you think white America can ever fully love black people?

I think love is something that’s beyond words. I think its something we have to only know in action in the same way that I don’t know if black America will or should ever love white America, do you know what I mean? How do you love something that’s harmed you so deeply?

Super facts.

But then again, if we’re using relationships as metaphors, [then] we’ve seen people try and make sense of that love in a lot of different ways. You see black America’s relationship to capitalism, which is something that benefits whiteness more than it could ever benefit us, yet there is this sort of weird romance that happens in so much of our music. So much of our literature and so much of our art, with the idea of capitalism even with its own interrogation and criticisms. But there is this weird push and pull. It’s similar to someone who’s in this battered relationship with an ex-lover.

I read you didn’t expect to receive so much criticism from the black community. How did that make you feel? 

It made me feel sad and reflective in a lot of ways. I wanted to make theater for a certain audience and, for me, the best vehicle for making theater for that audience was the Internet. I was like, "How can I flood the Internet with these ideas about what my plays are so I can maybe get a new audience into the theater with more excitement?" And that worked in a certain way. What I didn’t take into account was that I basically asked everyone to learn how to ride a horse bareback without ever learning the fundamentals of riding a horse.

People were interrogating the ideas on the Internet of what this play might be without an understanding of how the theater functions, and so I think that made them feel very displaced from what this play was, and when you feel displaced from something you have to react to it. I don’t blame anyone for their reactions to the title or the images they saw. Some of those images aren’t images I would’ve ever wanted people to interrogate without the context of the theater. In hindsight, I now know, like, "Okay, cool." I do this experiment and I saw some of the false positives of it and I saw the actual positives of it and now I can move on and keep building and repair the relationship. I get to now watch it with more careful eyes.

What questions do you hope white people ask themselves?

I think the whole play is about: how can people listen in a way that’s not shallow but deeply? I think at this moment a lot of white theater audiences believe they’re listening deeply to the black artists that are having this moment right now. But I think when you read the words they write about it, and the quickness with which they have an opinion about it, you recognize they’re not listening deeply. So quickly they’re telling us what they think we said and it’s like, "No, take a second, and let us speak on it." Take a step back.

Slave Play is playing at the John Golden Theater. Get your tickets here.

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