By Dave Pehling

NOTE: Thursday evening, SFJAZZ was set to begin a four-night run of five concerts featuring Ravi Coltrane November 4-7. Unfortunately, SFJAZZ has been forced to cancel the engagement following COVID protocol and potential exposure. The organization will make a future announcement regarding any rescheduled dates.

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SAN FRANCISCO (CBS SF) — SFJAZZ continues its 2021-2022 season this weekend with Ravi Coltrane celebrating the music of his saxophone giant father John Coltrane and his mother, spiritual jazz icon Alice Coltrane.

One of the most influential horn players to emerge during the ’50s, the initially bebop-inspired John Coltrane progressed from early work with Dizzy Gillespie and Johnny Hodges to a pair of storied collaborations, first playing with trumpet great Miles Davis mid-decade in what would later be referred to as his “First Great Quintet” before being sidelined with a debilitating heroin addiction (though not before contributing to a string of storied Davis albums including Cookin’Relaxin’Workin’, and Steamin’ on the Prestige label.

Coltrane would kick his habit by 1957 and begin working with iconoclastic pianist Thelonious Monk in addition to recording his first albums as a leader, including the seminal Blue Note Records effort Blue Train. Soon afterwards, he rejoined Davis in his group to contribute to the watershed jazz album Kind of Blue, one of the most influential and revered recordings of the era.

After an initial run with Atlantic Records — including more landmark albums as a leader including Giant Steps and the commercial and critical hit My Favorite Things that introduced the soprano sax to Coltrane’s arsenal, the saxophonist would become the cornerstone of the Impulse! Records label.

By then working with his legendary quartet featuring volcanic drummer Elvin Jones and innovative pianist McCoy Tyner, Coltrane released a series of albums ranging from traditional jazz standards (BalladsDuke Ellington and John Coltrane with the iconic big-band leader) to more exploratory experiments like his spiritual hymn A Love Supreme and the collective improvisation opus Ascension.

Up until his untimely death in 1967 from liver cancer at age 40, Coltrane produced an inspiring string of recordings — many that weren’t released until years after his passing — that pushed jazz into a new direction. His wife Alice — who had become the pianist in his group in early 1966 and also played harp — became not only the steward to her husband’s recorded legacy, but established herself as visionary artist in her own right.

Recording as a leader for Impulse Records, Alice Coltrane moved from the more traditional jazz of her 1965 debut A Monastic Trio to mine similar territory as her husband with a string of cosmic/spiritual jazz releases with members of his band including saxophonist Pharaoh Sanders, drummer Rasheid Ali and bassist Jimmy Garrison as well as other jazz luminaries like bassists Ron Carter and Charlie Haden and saxophonist Joe Henderson. Beginning with her landmark 1970 album Journey to Satchidananda, Coltrane introduced Indian instrumentation and influences that would mark her music for the rest of her career.

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Coltrane would add organ to her arsenal of instruments on Universal Consciousness the following year while embracing increasingly complex orchestral arrangements. She would later collaborate with John Coltrane devotee Carlos Santana and record a trio of records for Warner Bros. before moving away from secular life and becoming the spiritual director for a Vedantic ashram in Southern California.

However, she would continue to record hypnotic spiritual music built around chanting, percussion, organ and synthesizer through the 1980s and ’90s that were sold on cassette at the ashram. Coltrane returned to recording jazz and performing live in the early 2000s, releasing Translinear Light recorded with sons Ravi and Oran in 2004. Two years later, she played a trio of concerts to mark what would have been her husband’s 80th birthday, including one for the SF Jazz Festival with Ravi, Haden and drummer Roy Haynes. Sadly in the midst of renewed interest in her music, Alice Coltrane died of respiratory failure the following year at age 69.

Some of her religious recordings would eventually be compiled and released by the Luaka Bop label in 2017. The material featured on World Spirituality Classics 1: The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda would expand the audience for some of her underappreciated later work.

Recent years have seen a surge of interest in both of Ravi’s parents between the 2017 documentary film Chasing Trane and a string of new, previously unreleased material: the studio recordings Blue World and Both Directions at Once for John Coltrane, as well as a lost live recording of “A Love Supreme” featuring his classic quartet augmented by Sanders, second bassist Donald Garrett and alto saxophonist Carlos Ward that was just issued, while Kirtan: Turiya Sings adds to Alice Coltrane’s legacy with it’s solo voice and organ recordings from the early 1980s.

Ravi Coltrane (www.ravicoltrane.com)

For his part, Ravi Coltrane studied music at the California Institute of the Arts before embarking on a lengthy career as a sideman, touring with his father’s drummer Elvin Jones in his group and playing with trumpeter Wallace Roney before an extended stint with alto saxophonist and M-Base Collective founder Steve Coleman. He wouldn’t issue his first album as a leader until the release of Moving Pictures in 1997.

Ravi Coltrane has paid tribute to his parents’ music at the SFJAZZ Center before, performing A Love Supreme on the album’s 50th anniversary and again in 2017, playing other music made famous by his father with variety of musicians including a trio featuring drum legend Jack DeJohnette and Matthew Garrison, bassist and son of Jimmy Garrison. For this series of performances celebrating the cosmic music of both his parents, Ravi will lead a quintet featuring guitarist David Gilmore and bassist Lonnie Plaxico — who were both members of saxophonist Steve Coleman’s M-Base collective in the 1990s — keyboard player Gadi Lehavi and drummer Elé Howell.

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Ravi Coltrane: The Cosmic Music of John and Alice Coltrane
Thursday-Sunday, 7:30 p.m. (3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Sun.) $25-$75
Miner Auditorium at the SFJAZZ Center