by Randy Cordova - Jul. 25, 2012
The Republic | azcentral.com
You might say Ravi Coltrane was destined for music.
His dad was iconic sax player John Coltrane, mom was jazz pianist Alice Coltrane. And the 46-year-old musician was named for sitar player Ravi Shankar, a friend of the family.
That kind of musical legacy could stifle a person’s creativity, but Shankar’s career has blossomed. The sax player has a catalog of successful albums, including this year’s “Spirit Fiction,” which was recorded with two bands.
Coltrane, who will perform at the Musical Instrument Museum on Sunday, recently discussed his career and his famous heritage.
Question: Why use two groups on one album?
Answer: One is a quartet that’s the touring group I’ve mostly been with since 2003. The other is a quintet that’s sort of the band that recorded my second album (2000′s “From the Round Box”). I thought it would be nice to get that band back together. The material from both groups had some interesting sorts of contrasts with each other.
Q: What’s the essential difference?
A: The quartet has played for years and years together. There’s a great advantage you have when you’re part of a collective like that. We don’t have to discuss things much. We can take the bare bones of an idea and use that to shape the material. It just has a tighter kind of sound. We know each other’s language.
Q: That makes it sound like it’s better than the quintet.
A: (Laughing) No, no. The quintet is sort of looser, a little bit rawer, a little bit wilder. I’ve known all the musicians in the quintet for ages. There’s just sort of a connection as friends and musical associates. The quintet didn’t even really rehearse before the recording. Instead of doing a traditional rehearsal at a rehearsal room, we played one gig at a bar. We were literally kind of feeling each other out onstage.
Q: Because music and jazz is so collaborative, are you the boss or part of a unit?
A: (Laughing) Well, as much as I’d love to believe I’m the boss, not really. The leader is going to set the agenda, and the band is responsible for seeing things through. I have a pretty good idea of what I want do in the studio, and we slowly kind of find our way. You have to have a lot trust in the players you’re working with, and that’s completely the case with both these groups. It frees you up from having to be the boss and do everything.
Q: Without an agenda, how are you able to make a show that entertains audiences and isn’t simply a bunch of musicians jamming onstage?
A: (Laughing) Well, hopefully, it’s kind of like the band is taking a journey, and you’re going on the journey yourself. The whole idea is not to practice onstage or not care where it goes, but to try to discover something in the moment. If you do the same thing night after night, it gets dull in a way people can recognize. People come up to me after some gigs and say, “Was that the first time you did that thing?” Most of the time, the answer is yes.
Q: Like your father, you play tenor and soprano sax. Was there any trepidation about taking up the instruments your dad played?
A: No, because I wasn’t thinking about music as a career. You kind of get focused on your own little groove and what interests you, and all of the little things in the periphery you sort of miss. Once you get there, though, it’s “Oh, great. All these people expect this.” But growing up, I just loved music. I played clarinet all through middle school and high school and was in the marching band.
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