Animating the Archive: John Coltrane On Giant Steps and Being A Force For Good

I think music is an instrument. It can create the initial thought pattern that can create a change, you see, in the thinking of the people. – John Coltrane

John Coltrane (animated gif) Source: Blank on Blank
John Coltrane (animated gif) Source: Blank on Blank

I don’t know what rock I’ve been under, but this morning I was introduced to what the present and future looks like for transmedia storytelling, digital historiography and digital archives–at least through the medium of animation while watching the PBS digital series Blank on Blank for the first time.

I’m a jazz (and Coltrane) fan and one of their recent episodes features selections from Frank Kofsky’s November 1966 interview with jazz legend John Coltrane from the Pacifica Radio Archives. In this episode Coltrane discusses his art aesthetic, the meaning of music in the human experience, Malcolm X, and his spiritual approach. One of my favorite moments was listening to Coltrane reflect on why he decided to start playing the soprano saxophone instead of the tenor. In the interview he tells Kofsky:

I didn’t want admit this damn thing because I said well the tenor’s my horn, this is my baby but the soprano, there’s still something there, just the voice of it that I can’t… It’s just really beautiful. I really like it.”

Coltrane popularized the use of the soprano saxophone in jazz, but I think this episode does well in capturing, without overemphasis, one of Coltrane’s most definitive moments–his revelation of love through pure hearing and feeling in sound. This rare interview took place less than a year before his death.

Blank on Blank is a signature series by Quoted Studios, in collaboration with PBS Digital Studios, that curates and transforms rare or unheard vintage interviews with cultural icons into animated video shorts. Together, they have delivered innovative digital content through archival interviews from American icons like Buckminster Fuller, Carol Burnett, Janis Joplin and others, including notable African Americans icons: Tupac Shakur, Michael Jackson, Maya Angelou, and Barry White to name a few.

Check out the full episode with John Coltrane below. For the full animated transcript click here.

Quoted Studios is a nonprofit dedicated to preserving and sharing stories by American journalists and “finding creative ways to transform historical oral histories with cultural icons into modern digital content.”

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