All that jazz, and then some

2010-08-24 00:00

WITH a name like Ravi and Coltrane­ as his last name, it was written in the stars that Alice and John Coltrane’s son would end up a musician, at worst. As things have turned out, not only is he a musician­, but he is one of his generation’s best soprano saxophonists and a leading light in international jazz.

Ravi, named after the sitar legend­ Ravi Shankar, is expected in South Africa for one of the biggest jazz gigs on the continent, the Standard Bank Joy of Jazz in Johannesburg­ over the weekend.

Equally inevitable is the question of how he lives with the legacy. “It’s funny that everybody who asks me the question prefaces in exactly that manner. No matter how many times.

“My father’s music is important to me. For most of my life, whether I recognised it or not, it has always been there. I listen to it as a saxophone player. I listen to John Coltrane­’s music to be inspired, to be informed. I love that music,” says Ravi — there could be only one Coltrane in jazz.

One thing that a name cannot buy an artist though is honesty to their chosen art form. Ravi is true to the sounds that defined the early African-American experience in a United States at the beginning of the last century and inspired musicians­ of all stripes all over the world.

Making a full cycle, American musicians were themselves influenced by the sounds from elsewhere.

“I cannot imagine what John’s music would have been like had he not heard African, Caribbean or eastern music,” says Ravi.

“I am inspired by the beauty of this music. It is like connecting with a higher sense, a higher awareness.

“Music as we all know, can shape the course of life itself. I have heard people say that they listened to Love Supreme and they never saw things the same way again. I have heard people say that the sound of a saxophone changed a man’s life. That is the power of music,” says the sax maestro.

Ravi, well-known for his refusal to buy into the “jazz is dying” cacophony­, believes that the strength of modern jazz comes equally from his generation of artists harnessing the legacy left to them by earlier greats while bringing their own interpretation and a broader world view and sound to their range.

Innovation has made way for reflection, reckons Ravi.

“Change and exploration are not key words anymore. Guys are playing as if it was the fifties. It [the music] is more reflective. These days most players are revered for sounding like someone from the past.

“The music of the forties to the sixties was the most modern music I have heard. I am not trying to copy that music, but I want it to influence me in 2010. The great musicians of the past did not become great by trying to sound like someone else. Nobody says that Miles Davis was great because he sounded like Roy Elridge or Dizzy Gillespie.”

This is why Ravi echews formulaic music whose starting point is what people will like rather than what the artist is feeling. “Real and genuine music and art must be based on honesty. What appears on the outside must be based on what is happening inside the artist.”

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