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date: 02 August 2021

Coltrane [née McLeod], Alice [Sangitananda, Turiya]free

Coltrane [née McLeod], Alice [Sangitananda, Turiya]free

  • Franya Berkman

(b Detroit, MI, Aug 27, 1937; d Los Angeles, CA, Jan 12, 2007). American jazz pianist, organist, harpist, composer, and spiritual teacher, wife of john Coltrane and mother of Ravi Coltrane. Raised in a musical family in Detroit, she studied piano between the ages of seven and ten, then percussion at North Eastern High School. A keyboard protégée, she played for gospel choirs during her teen years and attended bebop jam sessions with her half-brother, a bass player, Ernest Farrow (1928–69). Early piano mentors include Barry Harris and Terry Pollard.

From 1956 to 1960, she played organ with the Premieres in Detroit and accompanied the saxophonists Yusef Lateef and Sonny Stitt. In 1960, she married the singer Kenneth “Pancho” Hagood and moved to Paris, where she befriended Bud Powell and gave birth to a daughter, Michelle. After returning to New York, she played with Johnny Griffin and Lucky Thompson. Between 1960 and 1962 she led a Detroit-based sextet that included George Bohanon (valve trombone), Frank Morelli and Bennie Maupin (reeds), George Goldsmith (drums), and Melvin Jackson (bass). From 1962 to 1964 she toured and recorded with the vibraphonist Terry Gibbs. Her piano work on Gibb’s dates reveals up-tempo bebop lines reminiscent of Bud Powell’s style and bluesy double-time runs in minor modes.

In 1963 she met John Coltrane. The two married and she gave birth to three children: John Jr. (1964–85), Ravi, and Oran (b 1967). In 1966 she replaced McCoy Tyner as her husband’s pianist and played with him until his death in 1967. Her recordings with John—on Cosmic Music (1966, Coast Recorders), Live at the Village Vanguard Again (1966, Imp.), Live in Japan (1966, Imp.), Expression (1967, Imp.), Stellar Regions (1967, Imp.), and The Olatunji Concert (1967, Imp.)—explore the full range of the piano, dissonance, and modal mixture.

In 1968 she began her career as a bandleader, composer, and harpist. With the exception of idiosyncratic, florid harp improvisations, her early compositions are reminiscent of her husband’s work. Later recordings, from the 1970s, by contrast, are distinctive, featuring driving improvisations on Wurlitzer organ, compositions for orchestra, arrangements of Hindu hymns, and works by Stravinsky and Dvorak. Liner notes describe her Hindu-influenced spiritual philosophy, her pilgrimage to India, and extraordinary religious experiences.

In 1972 she moved to California and established the Vedantic Center. In 1976 she became a swami and took the name Turiya Sangitananda and in 1978 ceased to record commercially. During this monastic period, she wrote four spiritual treatises: A Monument Eternal (1977), Endless Wisdom I (1981), Divine Revelations (1995), and Endless Wisdom II (1999). In 1983, she purchased 55 acres in Agoura Hills, California, which became Sai Anantam Ashram, where she presided as its spiritual director until her death at the age of 69. Coltrane’s adaptations of Hindu devotional hymns form the basis of musical worship services there. Examples can be found on Transcendence (1977, WB) Radha—Krsna Nama Sankirtana (1977, WB), as well as Divine Songs (1987, Avatar), Infinite Chants (1991, Avatar), and Glorious Chants (1995, Avatar), the last three recorded on her own label. In 2004 Coltrane returned to the label Impulse! to record a jazz album, Translinear Light, which featured her sons Ravi (tenor sax) and an Oran (alto sax), the bass player Reggie Workman, the drummer Jack DeJohnette, and the Sai Anantam Singers, and was her last.

Bibliography

  • D. Lerner: “Alice Coltrane: Jazz Pianist, Inspirational Organist,” Keyboard, 8/1 (1982), 22–7
  • C. McDougal: “Alice in Wonder & Awe,” Ascent, no.29 (2006)
  • F. Berkman: Monument Eternal: the Music of Alice Coltrane (Middletown, CT, 2010)
  • T.L. Kernodle: “Freedom is a Constant Struggle: Alice Coltrane and the Redefining of the Jazz Avant-Garde,” John Coltrane and Black America’s Quest for Freedom: Spirituality and the Music, ed. L. Brown (New York, 2010), 73–98
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