Ravi Coltrane in Abu Dhabi: jazz star on following examples set by his pioneering parents

The saxophonist — who plays at NYU Abu Dhabi Arts Centre on Thursday — is the son of two of the genre's most influential names

Jazz is in the DNA of Ravi Coltrane and his parents remain celebrated artists of the genre. Photo Michael Weintrob
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Ravi Coltrane wonders if the music of his parents, the jazz greats John and Alice Coltrane, would resonate as deeply if released on streaming services today.

"When it comes to this kind of music, the material may be more challenging in that it does require repeated listening. The music will then open up like a bouquet, it blossoms and you are then connecting with it," he tells The National.

"It can be more challenging now for artists because music is becoming more disposable and people are not spending that time focusing on the work and because of that, they may feel that it doesn’t move them."

That said, the work of Coltrane’s pioneering saxophonist father and ethereal pianist mother continues to challenge and enchant artists and listeners — not to mention help shape the trajectory of popular music genres such as soul and R&B music.

Coltrane, 57, will showcase some of that depth during a concert at NYU Abu Dhabi Arts Centre on Thursday.

Don’t expect faithful renditions, however. Backed by his quartet, the works will be filtered through his own sensibilities as a Grammy-nominated recording artist and producer.

"There is so much there to the music between John and Alice when it comes to the musical compositions and the spirit they put in them. There is so much room that it allows the rest of us to explore it in our own ways," he says.

"I am not trying to emulate them. Instead, I embrace the music and express it in my own ways.”

Such an approach makes each show as revelatory for Coltrane as it is for his audiences.

"I don’t think tension is a bad word. It's something that happens when two strong forces hit each other and you are trying to find that balance between," he says.

"While my parent's music has influenced a lot of generations, it also had a profound influence within my life and I am trying to find a way where I can honour that and do it in a way that represents where I am today."

Born in New York, Coltrane is the second born of John and Alice’s three children and was not even 2 when his father died of liver cancer aged 40.

Despite his premature death, John left behind an expansive body of work that expanded the parameters and notions of jazz music.

"I never had the opportunity to witness John in that regard but my mother, of course, always kind of informed us of the kind of person he was on and off the stage," Coltrane says.

"She has given me enough of a limelight to follow in some of his footsteps."

It was his mother who was his greatest creative and personal influence.

A gifted pianist and band leader in her own right, Alice built a career as an early leader of spiritual jazz, a sub-genre characterised by its experimentalism and themes of transcendence.

After releasing more than a dozen albums, Alice moved away from secular music to recording devotional songs inspired by her Hindu faith.

It was through gentle coaxing from Coltrane that Alice eventually returned to jazz more than two decades later and released Tanslinear Light, a collaborative album produced by her son and released three years before her death in 2007.

"It is still my most important project I have been involved with and one of my proudest achievements," Coltrane says.

"Just to have worked with her and see her play so beautifully after such a long time was powerful.

“The music never left her and that showed in how she chose to express herself when playing. I listen to it every now and then and I still have that great feeling.”

Coltrane says he follows the examples set by his parents throughout his own career. This means each show and recording needs to leave an impact on the listener.

"It's about striving to have that sound and intention within the music that touches people someplace between the head and the heart," he says.

"It is that combination that made the work of John and Alice Coltrane move so many people and I think that will always be the case."

Ravi Coltrane performs at NYU Abu Dhabi's Arts Centre on Thursday. Showtime is 7.30pm. Tickets are Dh52.50 from nyuad-artscenter.org.

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Updated: October 06, 2022, 8:17 AM
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