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Book Review: Spirit Seeker: John Coltranes Musical Journey


Mom says you ask too many questions.

But seriously, how else will you ever learn anything? You have to ask to know, right? And most of the time, one question leads to another and pretty soon, you’ve spent the afternoon asking why and how and what.

You’re a curious kid, just like a lot of other kids in the world, now and past. And in the new book “Spirit Seeker: John Coltrane’s Musical Journey” by Gary Golio, paintings by Rudy Gutierrez (c.2012, Clarion Books, $17.99 / $18.99 Canada, 48 pages), you’ll read about one boy’s questioning and the answers he found.

It was Sunday morning, and 12-year-old John Coltrane sat in church, listening to music and his grandfather’s sermon. The Rev. Blair had a fiery voice and John paid attention to everything the reverend said. When the reverend spoke about the power of the Spirit, John heard and never forgot.

Overall, John had a pretty sweet life. He lived with his parents, grandparents, Aunt Bettie and cousin Mary on a long, paved street that was perfect for roller-skating and games. John’s father was a tailor and a musician, and John learned to love music.

But when tragedy came to his house and John’s grandfather and father both died within weeks of one another, John became scared. His mother reminded him to read his Bible and have faith, but things got really tough, really fast.

John turned to music for comfort, first on the radio and then with an alto saxophone. In high school, he practiced every chance he got. He wanted to be as good as the best musicians of the day: Duke Ellington, Johnny Hodges, Lester Young. Even after he got a job to make ends meet, John practiced until he was good enough to play with local Philadelphia bands. Still, he was lonely.

He wondered if God was out there. He wanted answers. He started drinking and doing drugs.

But then, many of the men John admired pulled him back to reality. They lent him books that gave him a new outlook on things. They gave him support and they helped him find answers and bring a “heavenly mix of sound” to his fans from his saxophone … and from his soul.

If you go to your local bookstore or library, you’ll probably find “Spirit Seeker” on the shelf with other picture books for 3-to-6-year-olds. It surely looks like it might be a book for younger children–but it’s not.

No, author Golio’s biography of John Coltrane is very definitely meant for older kids; its words are deeper and its sentiments will make littler ones squirm with impatience. Golio digs pretty far into Coltrane’s rise, fall, and rise again, which is inspirational . . .  just not for the under-5 set.

That doesn’t mean that this book is bad; quite to the contrary, this is a great biography and the artwork by Gutierrez is absolutely fantastic. Just be aware of your audience when you reach for this book: music-minded kids ages 9-and-up and adult fans of Coltrane will love “Spirit Seeker.” No question.