Ravi Coltrane was but 2 years old when his father, tenor saxophonist John Coltrane, one of the greatest (and most controversial) figures in jazz history, passed away in 1967. Raised by his mother, the late pianist and harpist Alice Coltrane, Ravi grew up in a music-immersed household of which jazz was only a part. "Early on, I listened to a lot of R&B, soul music, popular music of the day: James Brown, Stevie Wonder, Sly Stone, Motown music, [and] Earth, Wind and Fire," Coltrane affirms in a quote on his management's Web site. "I had to reach my late teens and go through profound family changes before [jazz] became a dominant force in my life."
Like any good jazz musician, Coltrane began by absorbing the traditional lessons while developing his own voice. He didn't directly feel the power of his legacy until he was 19, when he seriously immersed himself in his father's recordings. Yet the effect on the young musician was not to play like his father, but rather to hear music in a different way.
In 1986, Coltrane entered the California Institute of the Arts to pursue music, with focus on the tenor saxophone. By 1991, he dived into the deep end of the jazz life, playing in the band of master drummer Elvin Jones, a former longtime member of his father's famous Quartet (along with pianist McCoy Tyner and bassist Jimmy Garrison). By '92 he'd relocated to the jazz mecca of New York City, playing with pianist Joanne Brackeen, cornetist Graham Haynes (son of drummer Roy), and alto saxophonist Steve Coleman. The two gents were his introduction to Brooklyn's M-Base collective, a loose confederation of younger players who, risking excommunication by jazz snobs, envisioned a melding of funk and fusion with free jazz.
The sound of Coltrane's horn is wholly his own. Compared to John Coltrane, Ravi's sound is huskier, more mercurial, closer to Joe Henderson (husky phrasing) or Johnny Griffin (Thelonious Monk–like linearity). And like many younger musicians, Ravi took business matters into his own hands, forming the label RKM Music with his wife, Kathleen, and saxophonist Michael McGinnis. RKM has released discs by New York's wave of younger, eclectic jazz players (Graham Haynes, guitarist David Gilmore) and singer/songwriters (Debbie Deane).
Ravi's most recent platter is by the Saxophone Summit, Seraphic Light, an incredible session co-led by tenor titans Joe Lovano, Dave Liebman (a '70s Miles Davis alum), and Coltrane. Far from being a you-solo-then-I-solo-etc. sax jam, Light is a passionate, thoughtfully arranged tribute to recently fallen peer Michael Brecker.
He carries the name of a legitimate icon, but Ravi Coltrane is far too busy with his own career to worry about anyone's expectations. He's a husband, a father (two sons), co-head of a record label, and the leader of a stable band since 2002. A name is one thing, but a true legacy is quite another, and Ravi Coltrane has the talent, vision, and determination to beget a legacy of his own.