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Interviews

Ravi Coltrane: His Own Man, His Own Thing

By Published: October 8, 2003
All this is happening at a time when recording industry is facing tough times, because sales have dipped in all genres. The Internet, and people's ability to download music for free, is being attributed as one of the key factors. But there are forces in the general area of creative music—a currently down cycle—that are also at work, making it particularly hard for jazz musicians. Coltrane is keenly aware of this.

'there are definitely cycles that have affected different areas of the music. The music itself: what trend is popular for musicians to play" And obviously the industry: Is there interest in jazz that decade" So those trends are always moving along. And now we have the Internet and the whole breakdown of the system. So it's a lot of stuff coming into play and it's hard to say what the end result is going to be. I believe that the majors [recording labels] are just going to have to change, accept the Internet and really change. They can't fight it. They"re gong out and arresting college kids now. I don't really think that's a great way to make amends with these people who stopped buying records. It's not going to do the job.

"You can buy Kind of Blue for $9—so if you want to buy my record, it's going to cost you $18.99, that's kind of ridiculous. For someone at a record company to think that makes any kind of sense today, he's out of his mind. you're not going to do it that way. And they know it. People aren't buying records at all. You need to give them a little bit of incentive by not charging so much. I think we"re past that. They"re kind of clinging on to whatever they can get. If they can sell a record at $18.99, even if they can only sell 1,000 records at $18.99, they"ll do it, as opposed to maybe selling 4,000 or 5,000 at $12.99," he said.

So struggles will continue in the music business, but Coltrane is staying busy in the profession he chose later than a lot of his peers and his elders. It wasn't until age 18 or 19 that Coltrane decided he wanted to try and pursue music. And even then, there were doubts.

Even though he is the son of two jazz musicians, Ravi never knew his father, who died at the age of 40 from a liver ailment. Ravi was only 2. He grew up listening to the sounds of the 1970s and 80s music: James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Earth, Wind & Fire. Even his first brush with Charlie Parker was off a Chaka Khan record where they had sampled an alto solo.

'that was the first time I heard Charlie Parker, which is definitely a bizarre place to hear it. But it freaked me out. That one little break. I played it over and over. It sounded so wild. I did start to listen to a little bit of those recordings. My mother had gotten a really nice box set of Dial and Savoy sessions, LPs. I was listening to a lot of that and really liking it. I felt fond of different types of music. I was into film scores, John Williams film scores, the New World Symphony and all this kind of stuff. But kind of secretive, because the music I was listening to with my friends was much, much different," he said.

"My father's music, I always remembered hearing, but it wasn't anything I began actively listening to for quite some time. I was much older when I was seeking it out, desiring it and really wondering about it."

His mother was a classically-trained pianist and would play that type of music on her piano and the stereo, exposing Ravi to Dvorak, Stravinsky and Rachmaninov, "And I liked that music. I secretly liked it. I couldn't really tell a lot of my friends," he said.

"With jazz music, my mother was still playing professionally and her music was changing, going through many different things I the 70s. So I heard that side of what she was doing. The musician's life. Her integrating all these different things in her music. She'd show up and there would be a tamboura sitting in our living room and that would be there for a while. Things were always being thrown into the mix," he recalled.

Ravi was playing clarinet in high school, but jazz music was just something cool, not anything he viewed serious. Then, after the tragedy that claimed his brother's life, things changed. "For about four or five years, I just stopped doing everything. Stopped playing the clarinet. I wasn't really doing anything. Just trying to adjust and come back to center. We all just went off a little bit. The whole family dynamic changed radically. It was around that time I started thinking about, "what am I going to do""

His love of film and film scores had him considering film school as he worked a variety of odd jobs—supermarkets, a pizza place, movie theaters. It was around 1985 or 1986 that he started to feel the pull from John Coltrane. Gentle, at first. Curiosity. A quest for a bit more knowledge. But it led to a transformation.


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