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David Amram on John Coltrane and Albert Einstein

Not long ago, I mentioned John Coltrane’s youthful interest in SF and pulp zines. But he was apparently also quite interested in science itself, something I’d suspected but don’t remember seeing confirmed as clearly as in this anecdote from David Amram, a French horn-playing jazz man who knew Trane in New York in the 1950s, and ran into him just outside a club, where Amram had just finished playing a set with Charlie Mingus. Coltrane was eating  a slice of pie, and:

[Trane] said, “How are you?” I [Amram] said, “Everything’s fine.” And then he said to me, “What do you think about Einstein’s theory of relativity?”

I don’t think he was so interested in what I knew about it; I think he wanted to share what he knew about it. I drew a blank, and he went into this incredible discourse about the symmetry of the solar system, talking about black holes in space, and constellations, and the whole structure of the solar system, and how Einstein was able to reduce all that complexity into something very simple.

Then he explained to me that he was trying to do something like that in music, something that came from natural sources, the traditions of the blues and jazz. But that there was a whole different way of looking at what was natural in music.

(Coltrane: The Story of a Sound, by Ben Ratliff, pg. 26.)

Have I mentioned that I’ve finally got that short story about time travel and John Coltrane’s music up and running again? After a year, off and on, beating my head against a wall (yes, a glimmering wall across time) I finally figured out why it wasn’t working. And now, it’s going like a rocket in one of those pulps Trane read as a kid. Only thing is, it’s somehow shooting not for the moon, but for another galaxy. I’d like to say I’m manning the controls, but the rocket seems to be running its own program, and I’m not sure how hackable it is…

Oh, and the Ratliff book is a smooth but interesting read, and as well written as anything I’ve seen on Trane, perhaps better than a lot I’ve seen in some ways. More about that later…

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