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The Ties No Longer Bind Trane's Sax-Playing Son

July 13, 1997|Don Heckman

Of all the players who have followed in John Coltrane's footsteps, the most directly connected is Ravi Coltrane, also a saxophonist. The son of Coltrane and his wife, Alice Coltrane--a well-known pianist and frequent musical collaborator with her husband--Ravi was not quite 2 years old when his father died.

The younger Coltrane, named after the Indian classical sitarist and composer Ravi Shankar, bears a striking resemblance to his father. Both the resemblance and the surname have made it far more perplexing for him to deal with his father's music than it has been for the innumerable other saxophonists who have not hesitated--as Ravi Coltrane has--to directly model their playing on the work of the legendary Trane.

"I grew up my whole early life just being Ravi, living in an environment in which almost nobody had heard of John Coltrane," he says, referring to his upbringing in Woodland Hills. "So I didn't have any pretensions about who I was. But as soon as I started playing, it changed. When I got to music school [at CalArts in Valencia], I was suddenly Coltrane's son--which was something I'd never had to deal with in my entire life."

It was a difficult transition for him to make, coming to maturity as a young player at a time when his father was the preeminent influence upon the instrument he had chosen for himself.

"It was strange," he says. "I could sit there and praise his music--'John Coltrane, wow, Trane, this is it.' Then on the other side, I would think, 'Man, this guy's my father.' It's nothing that I verbalize or that I really even think about on the surface level, but it's always there, affecting me."

But Ravi Coltrane, appropriately, with a determination characteristic of his father, went out and paid some dues, working with Elvin Jones (his father's former drummer), Geri Allen, Kenny Barron and others, playing in a style that has gradually come to both reflect and transform his father's music.

"In the beginning," he says, "I was asked to do albums of Coltrane tunes. But it would seem like such a blatantly obvious thing to do. And for a long time I didn't want to put out a record on my own, at all, because I was being offered deals before I thought I had something of my own to say."

In early 1998, however, Coltrane will take a major step beyond his father's shadow when he makes his first recording under his own name for BMG Records. And, on July 31 and Aug. 1-2, he will perform with the Gerry Gibbs Quintet at the Club Brasserie in West Hollywood.

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