The Jazzcat

Alice Coltrane's Ascension

by on Jan.16, 2007, under News


August 27, 1937 – January 12, 2007


pianist Alice Coltrane, widow of jazz saxophonist John Coltrane, died

on Friday, January 12th at the West Hills Hospital near Los Angeles,

California. She was 69.


Coltrane was born Alice Lucille McLeod in Detroit, Michigan August 27,

1937. As a young girl, she studied classical piano and began playing

organ in local churches. Bud Powell was one of her early teachers. She

played piano with her brother, Ernest Farrow, in several Detroit clubs

before moving to New York in the early 1960’s to pursue a career in

jazz. There, while playing at Birdland with vibraphonist Terry Gibbs,

she met John Coltrane. They later married, and she performed in his

quartet beginning in 1966 until his death in July of 1967.


Coltrane continued her career and was a noted jazz artist and composer

throughout the 1970’s and into the 1980’s. She recorded works for

piano, organ, and harp as a leader on the albums: Monastic Trio, Ptah

the El Daoud, Journey in Satchidananda, and Universal Consciousness.

She performed and recorded with Lucky Thompson, Kenny Clarke, Pharoah

Sanders, Ron Carter, Joe Henderson, Jimmy Garrison, Charlie Haden, Roy

Haynes, Reggie Workman, Jack DeJohnette, Carlos Santana and many



a long hiatus from performing, Mrs. Coltrane had recently staged

concerts in Paris, Los Angeles, Ann Arbor, Newark, and San Francisco,

appearing with her sons Ravi and Oran. These performances followed the

critically acclaimed 2004 release of “Translinear Light,” her first

studio album in 27 years.


the beginning, she regarded her music as a part of a greater spiritual

journey. This path would eventually lead her to Eastern religious

studies. In 1975 she founded an ashram, the Vedantic Center, which

later relocated to the Santa Monica Mountains and is currently known as

the Sai Anantam Ashram. Alice Coltrane, also known as Swami

Turiyasangitananda, led her students in meditation and devotional

studies. In 2001 with her daughter Michelle, she founded the John

Coltrane Foundation to encourage the advancement of music performances

in jazz and to award scholarships to young musicians.


Coltrane’s passing was related to respiratory failure. She is survived

by her sons Ravi and Oran, her daughter Michelle and five


In lieu of flowers, the Coltrane family asks that you please send donations to the following charities:

The John Coltrane Foundation – www.johncoltranecom

21777 Ventura Blvd., Suite 253 Woodland Hills CA 91367

St Jude Children’s Research Hospital –

Musicare Foundation –

156 W. 56th St. Suite 1701, New York NY 10019

Habitat for Humanity –

A Public memorial service will be announced at a later date.


Alice Coltrane, 69; performer, composer of jazz and New Age music; spiritual leader

By Jon Thurber

 Times Staff Writer

 January 14, 2007

 Alice Coltrane, the jazz performer and composer who was inextricably

linked with the adventurous musical improvisations of her late husband,

legendary saxophonist John Coltrane, has died. She was 69.

 Coltrane died Friday at West Hills Hospital and Medical Center in West

Hills, according to an announcement from the family's publicist. She

had been in frail health for some time and died of respiratory failure.

 Though known to many for her contributions to jazz and early New Age

music, Coltrane, a convert to Hinduism, was also a significant

spiritual leader and founded the Vedantic Center, a spiritual commune

now located in Agoura Hills. A guru of growing repute, she also served

as the swami of the San Fernando Valley's first Hindu temple, in


 For much of the last nearly 40 years, she was also the keeper of her

husband's musical legacy, managing his archive and estate. Her husband,

one of the pivotal figures in the history of jazz, died of liver

disease July 17, 1967, at the age of 40.

A pianist and organist, Alice Coltrane was noted for her astral

compositions and for bringing the harp onto the jazz bandstand. Her

last performances came in the fall, when she participated in an

abbreviated tour that included stops in New York and San Francisco,

playing with her saxophonist son, Ravi.

She was born Alice McLeod in Detroit on Aug. 27, 1937, into a family

with deep musical roots. Anna, her mother, sang and played piano in the

Baptist church choir. Alice's half brother Ernie Farrow was a bassist

who played professionally with groups led by saxophonist Yusef Lateef

and vibes player Terry Gibbs.

 Alice began her musical education at age 7, learning classical piano.

Her early musical career included performances in church groups as well

as in top-flight jazz ensembles led by Lateef, guitarist Kenny Burrell

and saxophonist Lucky Thompson.

 After studying jazz piano briefly in Paris, she moved to New York and joined Gibbs' quartet.

 “As fascinating — and influential — as her later music was, it tended

to obscure the fact that she had started out as a solid, bebop-oriented

pianist,” critic Don Heckman told The Times on Saturday. “I remember

hearing, and jamming with, her in the early '60s at photographer W.

Eugene Smith's loft in Manhattan. At that time she played with a brisk,

rhythmic style immediately reminiscent of Bud Powell.

 “Like a few other people who'd heard her either at the loft or during

her early '60s gigs with Terry Gibbs, I kept hoping she'd take at least

one more foray into the bebop style she played so well,” he said.

She met her future husband in 1963 while playing an engagement with Gibbs' group at Birdland in New York City.

 “He saw something in her that was beautiful,” Gibbs, who has often

taken credit for introducing the two, told The Times on Saturday. “They

were both very shy in a way. It was beautiful to see them fall in


 Gibbs called her “the nicest person I ever worked with. She was a real lady.”

 She left Gibbs' band to marry Coltrane and began performing with his

band in the mid-1960s, replacing pianist McCoy Tyner. She developed a

style noted for its power and freedom and played tour dates with

Coltrane's group in San Francisco, New York and Tokyo.

 She would say her husband's musical impact was enormous.

“John showed me how to play fully,” she told interviewer Pauline

Rivelli and Robert Levin in comments published in “The Black Giants.”

“In other words, he'd teach me not to stay in one spot and play in one

chord pattern. 'Branch out, open up … play your instrument entirely.' …

John not only taught me how to explore, but to play thoroughly and


 After his death, she devoted herself to raising their children.

Musically, she continued to play within his creative vision,

surrounding herself with such like-minded performers as saxophonists

Pharoah Sanders and Joe Henderson.

 Early albums under her name, including “A Monastic Trio,” and “Ptah

the El Daoud,” were greeted with critical praise for her compositions

and playing. “Ptah the El Daoud” featured her sweeping harp flourishes,

a sound not commonly heard in jazz recordings. Her last recording,

“Translinear Light,” came in 2004. It was her first jazz album in 26


 Through the 1970s, she continued to explore Eastern religions,

traveling to India to study with Swami Satchidananda, the founder of

the Integral Yoga Institute.

Upon her return she started a store-front ashram in San Francisco but

soon moved it to Woodland Hills in 1975. Located in the Santa Monica

Mountains since the early 1980s, the ashram is a 48-acre compound where

devotees concentrate on prayer and meditation.

Known within her religious community by her Sanskrit name,

Turiyasangitananda, Coltrane focused for much of the last 25 years on

composing and recording devotional music such as Hindu chants, hymns

and melodies for meditation. She also wrote books, including

“Monumental Ethernal,” a kind of spiritual biography, and “Endless

Wisdom,” which she once told a Times reporter contained hundreds of

scriptures divinely revealed to her.

 In 2001 she helped found the John Coltrane Foundation to

encourage jazz performances and award scholarships to young musicians.

 In addition to Ravi, she is survived by another son, Oren, who plays

guitar and alto sax; a daughter, Michelle, who is a singer; and five

grandchildren. Her son John Coltrane Jr. died in an automobile accident

in 1982.




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