John Coltrane is one of the greatest artists in jazz, which makes him one of the greatest artists in music altogether. I love almost all of Coltrane's output, from his recordings as a sideman in the '50s (most notably playing with Miles Davis as well as Thelonious Monk), through the innovative music he made in the '60s with his own classic quartet and in collaboration with the likes of Duke Ellington and Johnny Hartman, to his final crowning achievement A Love Supreme. (Matter of fact, his brief period of abrasive, avant-garde experiments following A Love Supreme, cut short by his tragic death at only 40 years old, is the only Coltrane music I don't return to repeatedly. A Love Supreme and anything before 1965 is fair game.)
While drawing comics this week, I've been listening to two multi-disc box sets from my CD shelf, each an embarrassment of riches: a collection of some of Coltrane's early work as a sideman called Side Steps, and a collection of his early work as a band leader called Fearless Leader. All of this material is from sessions at the Prestige record label in the earliest part of Coltrane's career, before he created his most famous and groundbreaking music. And it's all well worth your time. The music is smooth and beautiful, and even this early you can hear Coltrane's confidence and "voice" coming through. I recommend both sets, though Fearless Leader is slightly better if you can only get your hands on one at a time.
There's also a Prestige set of the Miles Davis Quintet, also featuring Coltrane, also a rewarding listen, and also from before Davis and Coltrane did any of the records they're most famous for. But more on Davis another time.
Todd Alcott is a Hollywood screenwriter, indie filmmaker, experimental playwright, abstract painter, and most recently an online cartoonist. (He also gave me some helpful advice in his capacity as font expert when I was first designing the logo for my comic Flesh Machine.) Alcott writes smart and easy-to-comprehend analyses of screenwriting over at his website What Does the Protagonist Want?, named after the navigational phrase Jeffrey Katzenberg repeated mantra-like in story meetings. In the past week or so, Alcott's been writing on his site about the latest Coen brothers film, Hail, Caesar! (Easy, now; the exclamation point is part of the title. I'm not trying to yell at you over here. Why would I do that to you?)
A few days ago, I reread Alcott's essay on The Aviator, Martin Scorsese's 2004 biographical drama about Howard Hughes.
"I don’t think it’s too much of an exaggeration to say that only Martin Scorsese could make a movie about a billionaire industrialist playboy and have him come off as a shy, awkward, hard-working, underappreciated outsider."
The first time I read Alcott's Aviator piece was after seeing the film but probably before I'd quite articulated the idea of Scorsese's Hughes as an outsider, so I thought I'd share it with you here since last week I gave The Aviator as an example of Scorsese's outsider protagonists.
You may note I make no apology for bringing up Scorsese two newsletters in a row.
Robert Fripp is a virtuoso guitarist and the foundation of the prog-rock band King Crimson. I'm personally most familiar with his beautiful and fascinating pairings with Brian Eno and the ethereal guitarwork he gave David Bowie's "Heroes" album (another project blessed with Eno involvement).
I recently revisited Fripp's practical advice on artistic growth. It's specific to music but can easily be adapted to other crafts.
"We have an aim; we have instruction from someone who knows more than we do; we get out of bed; we practice; we work with better people; we go to the work; while we’re between engagements we continue practicing."
I have his whole essay over at my Mutineer Studio Facebook page. Fripp is an impressively self-disciplined and articulate professional artist. Sometimes it's the getting out of bed that's the hardest part.
And speaking of "Heroes", here's a video of producer Tony Visconti, probably Bowie's most frequent collaborator, doing a delightful bit of little Show and Tell with the different tracks on the title song. That recording of that song is one of the most electrifying I've ever heard, and certainly one of the best-produced, with dramatically different yet complimentary instrumentation all layered together to create a glorious cacophony of powerful sound.
My sci-fi webcomic Flesh Machine continues at MichaelAvolio.com, where the whole story thus far can be read for free. And if you like what I'm doing with Flesh Machine, you can share it with friends and support my comics work on the crowd-funding website Patreon. I'm in this for the long haul, and I welcome your company. Those of you who have already signed up via Patreon, your first pledges should be being processed this week. Thank you again!