Ravi Coltrane: His Own Man, His Own Thing
"At that point, I started to hear it differently. It started to have a different affect on me. The reason I went to iteverything just sort of stopped. What happened is I really started to connect with the music in a way that I hadn't in my whole life. I got stuck. I stopped listening to most of the music I was listening to at the timePrince and all kinds of music at that age. I got way into jazz music. I started finding other musicians to listen to and stuff. Sonny Rollins and more Charlie Parker. I just got obsessed with it.
The transformation was more than just musical. It pointed Ravi into the direction that his life has now taken, full steam ahead.
"I didn't realty see it then, but I saw it years later. There was a huge hole in my life. A huge empty space. I needed something. I really needed something and it turned out to be that music. It put me back in motion again."
Coltrane told his mother he'd like to give music school a chancesomething she had never pushed on himand he enrolled at the California Institute of the Arts. "I enrolled to see if music was something I wanted to do or even could do," he said. "It was a total experiment. There was no design. I didn't stand up and say, 'today I will be a musician." It was not like that. My mother never laid that on me my whole life, which was very cool. She never told me, "You have to do this," or "you have to do that."
Ravi expanded his list of sax influences to people like Sonny Rollins, but as he went through school, he was daunted by the heavy aura of the great jazzmen he was investigating. He had doubts about going on, trying to tread in the footsteps of those musical giants. A recording from Wynton Marsalis changed things.
"I got a record called Black Codes From the Underground and I saw all these young black men playing these instruments and it really sounded great. That was a moment when I thought, "Maybe I can do this. Maybe it's possible for people to do this." So I was a big fan of Branford's in school and I started to make little trips to New York. I was meeting people, and people were turning me on to other musicians. I got into Ralph Moore, the tenor player. There was a time I only wanted to sound like Ralph Moore. When you're young, you can idolize different people for different reasons in different ways. I would follow guys around and go to their gigs. It was a fun period for me."
He started doing a few gigs around home. It even got his mother excited, who landed a few gigs with her on keyboards and Ravi on sax, dates Coltrane labels as "premature" in the scheme of things.
"But almost everything I did was kind of premature. People were apt to want to give me a break or give me a chance. "Oh, let's hear this Coltrane guy." Way before I was ever really ready. So every situation for me was like trying to play catch up," he said. Including his big break, the two-year gig with the titan Elvin Jones, the driving rhythmic force behind the classic John Coltrane Quartet that turned everybody out in the 1960s and continues to do so today. Ravi was unsure about the ramifications of having a Jones-Coltrane connection and how people might view. He was also unsure he was up to the task, musically.
Jones saw the same thing, but still wanted Ravi.
"He's a tremendous musician. He was embarrassed not to be recognized for his own talent," said Jones . "He thought people would just cater to him because he was the son of John Coltrane. I had to get him out of that way of thinking. I said, 'You can't control what somebody else thinks. You can control what you think. What you do is because you want to do it. And it's you doing it. Nobody else could play that but you. That mouthpiece is in your mouth not somebody else's. You're the one that has to exert the breath control.' So he sort of came around and got so he could enjoy himself."