From train to Trane, with love

Johannesburg - The life of American saxophonist and composer John Coltrane, affectionately nicknamed Trane, was celebrated on board South Africa’s luxurious Blue Train, which travelled from Pretoria to Cape Town this weekend.

South African jazz icons such as Don Laka were roped in to celebrate his legacy on the five-star hotel on wheels, with the country’s crème de la crème in the entertainment industry also gracing the occasion.

Coltrane died 50 years ago of liver cancer on July 17 1967, aged 40.

One of his most successful hits, released in 1958, was Blue Train – hence the event on South Africa’s iconic train.

US music and media producer Spencer Proffer hit upon the idea to partner with the Blue Train to launch the South African premiere of a documentary, titled Chasing Trane, about the legendary jazz muso.

Local businessman Papi Molotsane was a co-executive producer.

Besides telling Coltrane’s life story, the documentary examines the sociocultural effect of his music on the world and is narrated by acclaimed actor Denzel Washington.

It also features former US president Bill Clinton, rapper Common, Carlos Santana and Wynton Marsalis, as well as members of Coltrane’s family and many of the musicians, still living, who performed with Trane.

The luxurious two-day Blue Train journey was only part of Proffer’s plan. He also wanted to “celebrate the diversity of jazz currently emanating from South Africa while expanding the footprint of our documentary film”.

Accordingly, a handful of some of the country’s most renowned jazz musicians were on board.

Pianist Don Laka performed Coltrane’s original compositions at key destinations, such as the beautiful Delaire Graff Estate winery in Stellenbosch.

Laka said: “I was excited because I have always been a Coltrane fan. Funnily enough, in 2006, I composed an album dedicated to Coltrane.”

He said there were more milestones ahead in celebration of the jazz legend’s legacy and singled out the song Blue Train’s 60th anniversary next year.

Laka, too, will turn 60 in 2018.

Also on board the train was saxophonist McCoy Mrubata, who joined famed US saxophonist Ronnie Laws and his sister, singer Eloise Laws, as well as singer Lita Gaithers Owens in a fabulous music jam.

Businessman Romeo Kumalo and his wife, media personality Basetsana, were on board, along with actress Terry Pheto and producer Lebo M.

Renowned designer Ole Ledimo, the founder of House of Ole, showcased African fashion designs inspired by Coltrane’s lifestyle.

“Music and fashion go together. I will be narrating his story through fashion,” Ledimo said, adding that the train experience served to showcase how jazz meets fashion.

Proffer was all praises for the Blue Train, calling it “the most beautiful train in Africa”.

He said screening the film in this unusual way would expose South Africa in a good way internationally.

“I am very proud and grateful to have put it all together. I didn’t know that there was a Blue Train in South Africa,” Proffer said.

On finding out about it some months ago, he was inspired to use it as a, ahem, platform, to launch the documentary here.

Proffer said the time was long overdue for Coltrane’s music to be celebrated all over the world.

Vincent Monyake, manager at the Blue Train, said the Stellenbosch private concert was arranged for his guests as a cherry on top.

On offer, along with the music, were good food, great wine and fantastic views.

On the train, his guests were treated to unsurpassed luxury travel, five-star accommodation and fine cuisine, accompanied by the best wines sourced from the best South African vineyards.

They also had a personalised butler service as the train made its way through breathtaking views of the countryside.

“This is history in the making. We are celebrating an icon in a jazz music genre,” said Monyake.