If genealogy is linked to musical talent saxophonist Ravi Coltrane has the DNA makeup of greatness. His inherent love for music is as natural as the blood running through his veins. Coltrane’s parents were both legendary figures in jazz: saxophonist John and pianist, organist and harpist Alice Coltrane. Now a father and mentor himself, Coltrane is working to preserve and advance the legacy of jazz.
Despite his family’s deep musical roots, Coltrane says the decision to become a musician wasn’t premeditated, or even desired. “It was never planned for me, early on, that I was going to be a musician,” he says. “I wanted to be everything else besides a musician when I was young. I did play the clarinet all through junior high and high school, and loved R&B, classical and film scores, but I wasn’t listening to much jazz; I just enjoyed music. I started studying jazz music just as an experiment really, to see if it was something that I could do. It took a little bit of growing and living before I started to realize the power and the importance of music.”
During one of his life’s most challenging seasons Coltrane stopped playing altogether. “I took a break after high school after my older brother, John Jr., was killed in an automobile accident in 1982. He was a year older than me, and it was a big shock to all of us, of course. I put the clarinet down, and I just took a break from music, and kind of a break from everything, really. I was about 18 or 19 years old when I slowly started coming back to music.”
Coltrane’s passion for jazz began to grow in 1986. He was mentored by and performed with some elite jazz artists including Charlie Haden, Jack DeJohnette and Jeff “Tain” Watts. “I feel very fortunate, lucky and honored to have those musical associations,” Coltrane says.
“Because of who may parents were, there were a lot of people who I felt a closeness to, and being around them not only brought out the musician in me, but also helped shape my path in many ways.”
Coltrane’s life is marked by both tribulation and jubilation, and his most recent studio project, Blending Times, references those experiences, specifically the death of his mother. The depth and vulnerability of the work reveals how tragedy and triumph can yield transition and growth. “The time that this record was made and the events going on in my life were kind of a blend of the past and present,” says Coltrane. “The record was recorded over a two or three year span, and during the middle of this, my mother passed away. While I was trying to put the record together, I realized that there were two very different sides of the album, the pieces recorded before she died, and the tracks created after. It was like a new world for me, losing my mother. I was now living in a world that was very different than what I’d known before. In the end, it had an effect on the music, and not just in a overly sentimental way, but just a shift in the way that nothing is the same anymore.”
Coltrane was just two when his father died. Now a proud father of two sons — William, age 12, and Aaron, 5 — he feels he already recognizes the blooming musical talents of both. “I’ve always felt that my sons had gifts from early on, but of course, everyone will say that about their kids,” he says with a laugh. “When you see your kids, you see yourself and all these connections to your lineage and history. William started playing the piano when he was about five or six, but he also is an avid reader. Aaron loves to paint and asked for a drum set at three years old. I think my kids can be the greatest musicians to ever live, however, the music is here if they want to go to it, but we aren’t going to force that on them.”
As a mentor, Coltrane believes strongly in the concept of paying it forward by cultivating the talents of up and coming artists. In order for jazz to sustain its importance and to grow in relevancy in modern day music, he feels the jazz community must embrace the progression that the youth offers. For the upcoming Houston show, Coltrane is bringing a young group of musicians as part of his band. “As someone who’s been measured his whole life by the generation before him, I understand the importance of giving young players the opportunity to play,” says Coltrane. “I’ll be bringing an interesting band of young artists to town, and we’ll be debuting some new material. I’m very excited to be playing with this young group of players. It’s going to be a great show and a lot of fun.”
--Kimberly Crowder is a freelance writer.
Ravi Coltrane Quintet
8 p.m. Friday
Wortham Theater Center