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At Home With The Coltranes, Listening To Stravinsky

Jul 19, 2012
Originally published on July 20, 2012 8:45 pm

Today, All Things Considered continues its Mom and Dad's Record Collection series with a musician who is a heir of American musical royalty. Saxophonist and composer Ravi Coltrane is the son of jazz icon John Coltrane, and his mother, Alice Coltrane, was a renowned jazz pianist and composer in her own right.

His father died when he was very young. And while Ravi Coltrane now plays jazz, it was his mother's love for a very different kind of music that provided the childhood soundtrack for him and his siblings.

"I remember my mother playing lots of symphonic music," he tells NPR's Robert Siegel. "Specifically, my mom was a great admirer of Igor Stravinsky. Her favorite pieces were The Rite of Spring and, more so, the Firebird Suite."

Coltrane says he enjoyed listening to Stravinsky as a kid, even though it wasn't anything like the other music he grew up with.

"It was very different than the music that we were accustomed to hearing as young kids growing up in the mid- to late '60s, you know, R&B music," he says. "My mother's from Detroit so [she played] a lot of Motown-influenced music and, of course, my mother being Alice Coltrane, she was very active in recording and performing during that time. We heard music constantly, but there was something about The Firebird that really spoke to us."

Coltrane says his and his siblings' favorite part of The Firebird was its finale.

"The very end of the piece begins in this very tranquil way and builds into this overture, this very simple theme," he says. "We used to dance around to it like we were on the stage. It is a ballet, The Firebird, so I guess we were channeling that idea."

Ravi Coltrane says he never lost that passion for Stravinsky's music — and that it intensified when he rediscovered his mother's old vinyl.

"It was only recently that I found the recording that my mom used to play, the actual album," he says. "It's the Columbia Symphony Orchestra version that Stravinsky conducts himself. I was used to some other versions of the piece, but hearing that version again, it really brought me back to Dix Hills, Long Island, late '60s. Just the sound of that recording and obviously the effect that Stravinsky, the composer conducting his own work, had on the piece — it still had the same power."

Copyright 2014 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

This summer, we're exploring our parents' music and the impact it made on us. We've heard from writers, musicians, even a politician; about one song, introduced by a parent, that left a lasting impression.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIEGEL: Today, we meet a musician who was born to American musical royalty.

RAVI COLTRANE: My name is Ravi Coltrane. I'm a tenor saxophonist and composer.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIEGEL: Ravi Coltrane is the son of jazz icon John Coltrane. And his mother, Alice Coltrane, was a renowned jazz pianist and composer. His father died when he was very young. And while Ravi Coltrane now plays jazz, it was his mother's love for a different kind of music that produced a childhood soundtrack for him and his siblings.

COLTRANE: I remember my mother playing lots of symphonic music. Specifically, my mom was a great admirer of Igor Stravinsky's music.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

COLTRANE: Her favorite pieces were "The Rite of Spring" and - more so - "The Firebird Suite."

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

COLTRANE: We used to dance around to it, you know, like we were on a stage.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

COLTRANE: It is a ballet - "The Firebird" - so we were sort of channeling that idea.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIEGEL: So you heard it a lot?

COLTRANE: Yes, we did.

(LAUGHTER)

SIEGEL: And it's fairly sophisticated music for a young child to be hearing. Did you - could you relate to it? Did it make an impression on you?

COLTRANE: It did. You know, there was something very compelling about it. You know, it was, you know, very different than the music that we were accustomed to hearing as young kids, growing up in the mid-, late-'60s - you know, R&B music; and my mother is from Detroit, so a lot of Motown-influenced music. And of course, my mother being Alice Coltrane, her, you know, she was very active in recording and performing during that time. So, you know, we heard music constantly. But there was something about "The Firebird" that really spoke to us.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIEGEL: Can you recall a specific moment when you remember hearing Stravinsky - or a specific part of "The Firebird," for that matter?

COLTRANE: Yeah. We loved the finale. You know, (hums) ba-da-da-de-da...

(SOUNDBITE OF HUMMING)

COLTRANE: The very end of the piece begins in this very tranquil way. And then it builds into this very dramatic overture, this very simple theme. But yeah, something very dramatic and very powerful, that always sort of engages - as young kids.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIEGEL: These days, do you ever go back and listen to Stravinsky just for enjoyment?

COLTRANE: Yes, I do. Yes, I do. I'm very fortunate and - lucky to have that kind of continuity, I guess, with my musical past. You know, a lot of that music is still very, very important for me. It was only recent that I found the recording that my mom used to play - the actual album. And it's the Columbia Symphony Orchestra version that Stravinsky conducts himself. Hearing that version again, it really brought me back to Dix Hills, Long Island - you know, late '60s; just the sound of that recording and, obviously, the effect that the composer conducting his own work, you know, had on the piece. It still had the same power.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

COLTRANE: I still have that "Firebird" cover and I - actually, I have it up in my studio. I didn't want - I was going to put it in a frame, but I just have it sitting up - you know, near some other little artifacts. So when I'm not listening to the music, I can look at the cover, and it's basically - it's almost like the same thing for me.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIEGEL: Well, Ravi Coltrane, thanks a lot for talking with us.

COLTRANE: I appreciate it so much. Thank you. Thank you very much.

SIEGEL: Saxophonist and composer Ravi Coltrane, talking about Igor Stravinsky's "Firebird Suite" as part of our series "Mom and Dad's Record Collection." His mother, Alice Coltrane, introduced that music to him.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SIEGEL: We leave you with some contemporary Coltrane from Ravi's new album, "Spirit Fiction." And you can write to us your stories about one song introduced to you by a parent. Write to us at npr.org, and put "parents' music" in your subject line.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.