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Saxophonist Ravi Coltrane is the son of jazz icons John and Alice Coltrane. His new album Spirit Fiction was released June 19. (Courtesy of the artist)

At Home With The Coltranes, Listening To Stravinsky

by NPR Staff
Jul 19, 2012 (All Things Considered)

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Alice Coltrane used to play this recording of Igor Stravinsky's Firebird Suite in the Long Island home she shared with John Coltrane. It now sits in her son Ravi Coltrane's studio.

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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."

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