Blowing his own horn

Jazz saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, son of legendary John Coltrane, will perform at Zappa with his quintet.

Ravi Coltrane (photo credit: Courtesy)
Ravi Coltrane
(photo credit: Courtesy)
The history of Hollywood and all areas of the arts is laden with the progeny of iconic figures who have to carve their own niche despite their prodigious pedigree.
The names of mother and daughter singers/actresses Judy Garland and Liza Minnelli and father and son Donald and Kiefer Sutherland spring to mind in the context of “the children of” who have also made it, but it certainly is not always the case. It can, of course, help if you choose a different sector of the market to work in, but Ravi Coltrane not only makes his bread in the same artistic discipline as his famed father but also uses the same vehicles of expression.
The 47-year-old jazz saxophonist Ravi Coltrane will be in Israel with his quintet later this month for one concert at the Zappa Club in Tel Aviv (April 23) and another at the Herzliya branch (April 24). He is coming here on the back of the release of his latest CD, Spirit Fiction, which came out on the Blue Note label last year. It is Coltrane’s sixth release as leader, following a long apprenticeship as sideman with all manner of stellar-led outfits.
Most jazz fans identify the name Coltrane more readily with Ravi’s iconic father, John, who was one of the trailblazers of the avant-garde jazz movement in the first half of the 1960s. John, too, was a saxophonist.
Far from trying to avoid his father’s giant shadow, Coltrane Jr. says he feels blessed to have had such a multitalented dad – even though his father died when Ravi was two – and that he is a constant source of inspiration.
“As a saxophonist, my dad’s music is one of the greatest sources you could have,” he declares. “If you play the tenor saxophone, it is impossible to ignore the weight of his work. What he achieved was miraculous. I feel fortunate in a lot of ways, being his son and part of the family. It is very hard to articulate what it feels like for me, but just being able to embrace that music, to listen to and study John Coltrane’s music for the majority of my life is wonderful. And that is not just because I am John’s son; it is because I am a lover of music.”
There was also the not insignificant presence of Ravi’s mother, Alice Coltrane, who was an acclaimed jazz pianist, organist, harpist and composer.
Coltrane has also had plenty of support as he climbed his way up the musical ladder, playing with such jazz luminaries as his father’s pianist McCoy Tyner, saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders, pianist Herbie Hancock and saxophonist Dave Liebman, with whom Coltrane played at the 2007 Red Sea Jazz Festival.
One particular source of assistance has been 60-year-old jazz saxophonist Joe Lovano, who plays on and co-produced Spirit Fiction and also featured in the 2005 gig in Eilat.
“I have been hanging out with Joe since the 1980s. He has always been a kind of mentor and a hero for so many of us younger musicians here.
Playing with Joe has offered me another avenue for interaction. I played with Joe about six months before the Spirit Fiction sessions, and I thought it would be a good idea to have him with me in the studio, to keep the ship moving.”
Coltrane has been around as a bona fide leader for some time now.
He put out his debut album, Moving Pictures, in 1997. It wouldn’t be quite right to say it has taken him all this time to find his own voice, but the new album conveys a greater sense of openness than his previous work.
That, says the reedman, was not necessarily premeditated.
“You don’t always plan things entirely; you know you choose some songs or other songs or that this tempo will be covered or that groove will be covered while you’re doing the recording. But later you sit down and you work out the sequence and look at which pieces work together. I guess the pieces on Spirit Fiction are more open, and they resonated more and go together better.”
In addition to the open feel, Spirit Fiction also exudes a sense of comfort among the players. In fact, the CD was made with two separate lineups, not all of whom will be coming to Israel for the shows. Of the four instrumentalists who will be accompanying Coltrane in Tel Aviv and Herzliya, only trumpeter Ralph Alessi and bassist Drew Gress were among the Spirit Fiction recording team members, with pianist David Virelles and drummer Eric McPherson featuring in the Israeli gigs.
Coltrane says that factor was an important ingredient of the recording work – he has known and played with Alessi and pianist Geri Allen, who plays on Spirit Fiction, for many years – but it doesn’t make the initial stage of the creative process any easier.
“There are some people who can sit on a subway and come out with a whole symphony, but I am definitely not one of those. It takes me a long time until I feel a composition is done. I am always working on improving, but I have a tendency to try not to write in a particular style. I aspire to have my writing on a very high level; but if it’s not, that’s okay. I can say I don’t have to do this and let’s play some covers. My ego is not so fragile that I have to play my own music.”The Ravi Coltrane quintet will play at the Zappa Club in Tel Aviv on April 23 and at the Herzliya Zappa Club on April 24. Doors open at 8:15 p.m. and the shows starts at 10 p.m. at both venues. For tickets and more information: (03) 762-666, *9080 and