history

The Cherrys And The Coltranes

Next week, the saxophonist Ravi Coltrane and vocalist Neneh Cherry will both release new records. Coltrane’s Spirit Fiction is his sixth studio album. Cherry’s The Cherry Thing is a collaboration with Scandinavian trio The Thing. Both albums are available for a full preview this week via NPR Music’s First Listen series.

The two artists share more than a release date. They were born less than a year apart and became top names in their respective fields. Their new albums may not sound much alike but both feature abstract saxophone improvising. Both musicians are also the children of jazz legends: Ravi is the son of saxophonist John Coltrane, and Neneh is the stepdaughter of cornetist Don Cherry. Indeed, their fathers even recorded an album together in 1960, entering the studio nearly 52 years before next week’s releases.

I’m not sure if Neneh and Ravi have ever met, but it turns out their lives have plenty of parallels. I’ve compiled them in a short timeline of important dates from their fathers’ birthdays all the way up to their new albums. Continue reading

For Jazz Musicians Looking For Mentors, Things Ain’t What They Used To Be

One of the great things about jazz is that it bridges generations. Because it relies on interactive improvisation and live performance, and thus can’t be completely taught in a classroom or with a book, aspiring younger musicians seek the direct guidance of older, wiser ones. And more experienced musicians have plenty of reasons to take fresh talent under their wings, like gaining new bandmates with fresh skill sets, or helping future torch-bearers to thrive.

Such mentorship has changed a lot in the last half century. Collegiate and even post-graduate jazz education has become a huge engine of talent cultivation. Meanwhile, performing opportunities have greatly diminished. So the previous model of mentorship, where promising musicians learn “on the job” by joining the bands of established musicians, is becoming less common. But as Nate Chinen’s recent New York Times article explains, plenty of “apprentices” are still “availing themselves of counsel” — they’re just taking different paths to it. Continue reading