John Coltrane and Ravi Shankar first met in NYC sometime between 61-62 while the latter was on tour. He had been listening closely to Shankar’s music and had been adapting some of the methods used by Indian classical musicians, more subconsciously than formally. Shankar was the first Indian Classical musician to fully introduce the music of his culture to the West. His recording, “The Sounds of India” (Columbia) was a major influence on many musicians and Shankar’s subsequent tours of the US found him playing before enthusiastic audiences everywhere. Coltrane and Shankar became pen pals and life long friends. Unfortunately, there are no known examples of them playing together. It seems strange that they never did, if that is indeed true. It would have been an amazing listening experience but no recordings exist. Coltrane knew it would’ve worked, though. In an interview with french writer Bernard Postif, he said, “I collect the records he’s made, and his music moves me. I’m certain that if I recorded with him I’d increase my possibilities tenfold, because I am familiar with what he does and I understand and appreciate his work.” He would spend the rest of his life emboldened and inspired by the cultural and musical concepts of India.
Coltrane’s music after 1961 seems to reflect what he liked most about Indian music: the intriguing modes which inspired his intense melodic explorations, the raga form (utilized in his extended compositions, A Love Supreme and the magnificent Suite: Prayer and Meditation (Transition, Impulse), the driving polyrhythms and contemplative/spiritual mood Indian classical music always conveys. He combined these with the compositional/improvisational concepts of Afro-American modern jazz to produce a style of music yet to be equaled in manic intensity, raw emotional commitment and transcendental enlightenment. Tunes like “Afro Blue”, “India”, “Ole”, Chim Chim Cheree” are all Ragas to this writer. Even his late period music, with all of its abstract sound design and multi directional space/time flow, has the feeling of a Raga. India spoke to John Coltrane and his wife Alice, who is also a major inspiration. Raga-inspired Jazz is a something she’s been doing since the late ‘60s. She deserves as much credit as her husband does for combining aspects of Indian music and jazz.
Their influence is pervasive and now has come full circle with the master musicians of the Brooklyn Raga Massive collective interpreting the compositions of the visionary saxophonist in honor of his 90th birthday.
Brooklyn Raga Massive’s John Coltrane Tribute is committed to revealing the beauty and intensity of North Indian Classical Music and it is only fitting that they would produce a concert celebrating the music of a man equally committed to the same ideals. Their reworking of such compositions as “Alabama” and “Living Space”, utilizing sitar, sarod, bansuri, tabla and strings with more traditional jazz instrumentation (drum set, saxophone, piano) is a major revelation. The group has achieved the rare feat of honoring a great artist’s contributions with respect and reverence while pushing the boundaries of creativity.
The Brooklyn Raga Massive is building on the Raga-inspired legacy that John and Alice Coltrane started. Hopefully, the BRM Coltrane Tribute will continue to interpret their compositions and reveal to us the commonality of world cultures. This is an idea that inspired Coltrane. It is an idea that continues to inspire those of us seeking the truth of this lifetime. Thank you, John Coltrane and thank you Brooklyn Raga Massive for honoring the music of a man who stood for positivity and love.
-David Boyce (9/1/2016)