Miles and Coltrane: Blue(.) is a must-see show for jazz lovers and anyone who is curious about the two giants. Performed by Charlotte's On Q Productions, Miles and Coltrane is a dramatization of the personal and professional relationship between the legendary musicians who approached their muse from decidedly different places. According to the Blue's playwright, Concrete Generation, Davis was "driven by the darkness of his ego" while Coltrane powered by a belief that the "saxophone was a sacred voice."
Miles Davis was born into a well-to-do, middle-class family headed by his father, a dentist. "I come from a long line of exceptional cats, or uppity niggers, as the white people of East St. Louis called us, because we exceeded expectations for our demographic," says Davis (Sultan Omar El-Amin, who bears a striking resemblance to the iconic musician.) At age 13, his father, Doc, gave him a trumpet, although his mother wanted him to play the more respectable violin. After excelling in his high school band, Davis graduated and became a father before entering the Juilliard School. Within a year, he dropped out to join the jazz scene in New York City. By 1959, Davis had reached the top thanks his classic album, Kind of Blue.
John Coltrane was born and raised in Hamlet, N.C., into a family of musicians. He played the saxophone in high school and in Philadelphia before being drafted to play in the U.S. Navy Band during World War II. Coltrane's musical journey took him to be paired with Dizzy Gillespie and Davis, which brought about his most innovative work. Coltrane's religious upbringing is a constant theme in his work. "They wanted me to play pretty. I wanted to play like one of my granddaddy's sermons," Coltrane (Quentin Talley) says. Then, he turns to Davis and says, "It's annoying you play as pretty as you play."
The monologues for each character evolve into a dialogue. The intensity between the two men builds and ultimately climaxes with a live band playing Davis and Coltrane classics. El-Amin and Talley hit the money notes for their respective characters as they describe their love/hate relationship with heroin in a dual-monologue, bouncing back forth in rhythm, "Addiction is where the jazz comes from — holding the note as long as I can — and letting it go just before it gets too big. Addiction is love. This stuff is in my veins where the music used to be."
The spiritual connection to their music is not lost amidst their drug addiction. As the play's narrator explains, "For artists, this is how we pray, how we ask for forgiveness." El-Amin captures Davis' laid-back style, while also conveying his passion, his "understanding with God," that as long as he "stays loyal to the seed that He planted," his divine inspiration will overcome the dope. After all, "God is a horn player."
Set to Coltrane's own music, Talley's soliloquy brings the play to spiritual heights. He kneels down and prays, saying, "If you play hide 'n' go seek with the Creator, the only way to lose is to stop looking ... I kept on praying. You gave me enough space to play, to create, to try to become holy."
Despite a few technical mishaps with the lighting design, On Q's production is a mesmerizing testament to the transcendence of Davis' and Coltrane's music. Miles and Coltrane: Blue is like going to church — almost.