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ALICE COLTRANE

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Nice article on Alice Coltrane online today's Washington Post Style section.

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Alice is underrated in my opinion - Journey into Satchinanda is a fine album....

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Jazz And Harmony

From Bebop to Chants, Music Has Been in Alice Coltrane's Soul

By Teresa Wiltz

Washington Post Staff Writer

Saturday, October 21, 2006; C01

AGOURA, Calif.

Aluxury station wagon rolls up to the temple here at the Sai Anantam Ashram and everyone stands at the ready, even the little ones, hands clasped in prayer. The door opens, and from it, Swamini Turiyasangitananda, nee Alice McLeod Coltrane -- yes, that Coltrane -- steps out.

She is tall, mahogany of skin, swathed in a saffron sari, ebony hair pressed smooth, rippling past her shoulders, a long layer of dreadlocks snaking out from underneath. She smiles shyly. A devotee rushes to her side, drops to her knees, and, in the tradition of Vedantic followers everywhere, bows at the feet of her guru.

Inside this temple, located about 35 miles west of Los Angeles, worshipers practice a sort of ecumenical Hinduism: The men sit on one side of the royal blue carpet, the women on the other; Alice presides from a fuchsia velvet armchair. During a Sunday service, she kisses a baby and christens him with a Sanskrit name. Someone announces there will be no services next week, thanks to a rare concert that Alice is giving "back East" -- a reference to her show tomorrow at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark. She gives a short sermon, quoting from the Bhagavad-Gita: "You don't need any religion to get devoted to God," she tells them. Some of the 30-plus present wipe tears from their eyes.

Then she sits at the electric organ. Places fingers to keys. Chants "Ommmmmm."

And begins to play.

Heads nod; bodies sway. They're singing in Sanskrit -- Bolo Bolo Asrita Bolo Om Namah Sivaya -- but something else is going on. The deep bass humming from the organ . . . the funk emanating from tambourines and hand drums . . . the soulful singing and fervent yeah yeahs . . . the sister crying out, hands raised, caught up in the rapture . . .

Hindu gospel?

Indeed, watching Alice on organ, beaming till her dimples pop, it's not hard to catch a glimpse of the child prodigy from Detroit playing in the Baptist church. To see the young bebop player, the one with whom John Coltrane fell in love, back at Birdland so many years ago.

Another lifetime ago.

* * *

Hers is a life reinvented, in the classic American way of taking sorrow and spinning it into something that gleams brighter than gold. She's got a last name attached to one of jazz's all-time greats, and yet few know her for the highly gifted musician and composer she is: an artist admired for her righteously rumbling arpeggios, for the deep vibrancy of her tone, for her dynamism as an improviser. She joined John Coltrane's quintet in 1965, and together they explored the limits of avant-garde jazz, marinating in the mysticism of Eastern music, improvising their way into a deeply transcendent experience.

Theirs was a brief but intense union -- just five years -- but one that brought three children and altered her life's trajectory. John Coltrane, 11 years older, introduced Alice to Eastern religion, meditation and philosophy. He pushed her to take up the harp, at the time a rare addition to the jazz canon. That instrument, along with her ecclesiastical explorations and noodling with North African and Indian instrumentation, formed the musical basis of her solo albums in the late '60s and early '70s: "Journey in Satchidananda," the staple of many a yoga class; "Ptah the El Daoud"; "World Galaxy"; and "Universal Consciousness."

Her latest, critically acclaimed album, "Translinear Light," released in 2004 after a 26-year absence from the mainstream jazz scene, looks both backward and forward, traveling between John's compositions to the gospel hymns of her Christian childhood to the Hindu hymns of her own Vedantic-based beliefs. She's now at work on "Sacred Language of Ascension," scheduled for release early next year, an album that incorporates Hebrew devotional chants, Vedic culture, Coltrane jazz, along with orchestral and congregational church music.

"She's got an incredible strength and direction," says bassist Charlie Haden, who played with John Coltrane, worked with Alice on "Journey in Satchidananda" and "Translinear Light," and will be performing with her tomorrow. "She's always exploring and discovering. . . . She's an incredible musician."

When her one great love died in 1967 of liver cancer after years of alcohol and drug abuse -- Alice manages the jazz legend's estate -- she kept on playing, jamming on the piano, harp and Wurlitzer organ in studio sessions with the likes of Jimmy Garrison and Pharoah Sanders, with Rashied Ali and Archie Shepp, and collaborating with Carlos Santana, Laura Nyro, McCoy Tyner and Jack DeJohnette. Music swirled all around her until 1978, when Alice decided that she'd rather pursue all things spiritual. She spent weeks at a time in India, studying with spiritual masters such as her guru, Sri Swami Satchidananda, and the Indian sage Sri Satya Sai Baba, he of the beatific grin and the splendiferous 'fro.

Ask her about this change in life direction, and she carefully measures her words, her voice a lyrical murmur punctuated by abrupt, staccato bursts:

"This is what we did, [my children's] father and I, this is what we did when we were young," Alice, 69, says of her jazz career, sitting by a burbling stream at the ashram. "We concertized, we were busy and we played in various places and we recorded a lot. I felt that he completed his mission. And I felt that my time had passed on.

"You see where I am today," she continues, gesturing at the Santa Monica Mountains, the lush trees. "I wanted to spend time in spiritual search."

So she stopped making music for secular consumption and began recording spiritual music with members of the ashram's choir. But her second-eldest son, Ravi Coltrane, 41, a talented saxophonist, coaxed her out of retirement, bit by bit, for occasional concerts. Ravi produced and performs on "Translinear Light," five years in the making, and this year cajoled her to perform in four concerts across the country in the 80th year since John's birth. Tomorrow's concert will be her only East Coast appearance.

"The performances for me are really commemorating that Alice wants to get onstage and play a little bit," Ravi says from his home in Brooklyn, N.Y. "All my ideas -- 'C'mon, Ma, we should make a record, let's go in the studio' -- it was me begging her."

* * *

Growing up in Detroit in the aftermath of the Depression, the second-youngest of six children, money was always tight. Her father drove a delivery truck; her mother, a homemaker, didn't truck with childish nonsense. Alice learned about music from her older half brother, Ernie Farrow, a bassist. When Alice was 7, she went knocking on a neighbor's door. The neighbor had a piano; Alice didn't.

"I decided one day that I was going to ask her to teach me," Alice says. She learned the rudiments and moved on to Rachmaninoff, Beethoven, Stravinsky and Tchaikovsky. Classical music grounded her in technique. She composed her first song at 10 and played in church choirs, and then music halls, weddings, funerals, didn't matter. "Music," Alice says, "was just in my heart, somehow."

Farrow, who died in 1969, turned her on to the intricacies of bebop, to the genius of Charlie Parker and Bud Powell. "He loved music," Alice says of Farrow, "and umph , he could play ." She fell in love with bebop's muscular braininess, with its off-kilter chord changes and speeded-up tempos. By high school, she was gigging all over town, chasing bebop's jagged rhythms. If Cannonball Adderley or Sonny Stitt landed in town without a pianist, she was on their shortlist to call.

After graduating from Northeastern High School in the mid-'50s, Alice passed up a scholarship at the Detroit Institute of Technology and headed straight to New York, with a temporary detour in Paris to study with Powell, legendary even then. Jazz -- instrumental jazz -- was a macho world, and with the exception of a few, such as Mary Lou Williams, Carla Bley, Hazel Scott and Marian McPartland, women weren't exactly welcome. Alice ignored the macho machinations.

"There was no way I was going to be mannish and do the things men did," she says. She just played, mindful of her Baptist upbringing. She carried herself like a lady, just like her mother taught her, and that, she says, is exactly how she was treated.

"She was a sweetheart, a lady lady , that's how I would put it," says vibraphonist Terry Gibbs, with whom Alice played Jewish melodies as part of her New York experimentation. "A good-hearted person."

And what made her a good musician?

"What makes anybody good? They're good. She played all the right notes, all the right chord changes. Her timing was perfect. What makes Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, good? That cliche 'good for a girl' was not true."

* * *

Gibbs likes to take credit for playing matchmaker to Alice and John. Mention this to Alice and a little righteous Detroit indignation creeps into her mellifluous voice, which often brings to mind India more than Motor City.

"Only Terry and I know the real story," she says, turning to look at her sister, Marilyn, and raising her eyebrows. She won't elaborate except to say that it was while gigging with Gibbs at the legendary Birdland in Manhattan in 1962 that she got to know John. She was 25; he was 36. By then, John had battled and beaten his much-publicized addictions to booze and heroin, and was deep into exploring yoga and religions, from Islam to Buddhism to Hinduism.

Backstage, the two (Gibbs calls them "introverts") opened up and started chatting about religion, architecture, languages, the world. Depending on whom you talk to or what you read, they both may have been married at the time -- she to jazz vocalist Kenny "Pancho" Hagood, with whom she had a young daughter, Michelle; he to Naima Coltrane -- but Alice and John were soon inseparable.

"I don't think he cared about her physically," Gibbs, the erstwhile matchmaker, says. "I think he just saw a great human being."

Alice joined John's group, and they toured the world. But home was Dix Hills on Long Island, far from nightclubs and chaos. Their family grew: John Jr. was born in 1964; Ravi, named after Indian classical musician Ravi Shankar, followed in '65, the year that the couple wed in Mexico. Oran, the youngest, was born in 1967, a few months before John died.

Alice knew he was in a lot of pain, they just didn't know what was wrong. By the time she persuaded him to go to a doctor, the cancer had progressed.

She saw the end one day, sitting in meditation. She says he came to her in a vision. "I'm going onward," he told her. So she was prepared. Even though it broke her heart. He was 40 when he died. She wasn't yet 30, suddenly single with four young kids to raise.

"It was not a very happy time," Alice says.

And yes, she misses him still.

"Absolutely."

* * *

Just outside the ashram, a white sign spells out the rules: Women should dress modestly. This is a vegetarian retreat; no meat is allowed on the premises. Neither is alcohol, cigarettes or drugs. Shoes are prohibited inside the buildings, where shrines to Sri Satya Sai Baba abound.

Alice moved west because she says that is what God told her to do. First, to San Francisco in the mid-'70s, establishing a Vedantic center there, and then settling in Southern California in Woodland Hills.

Growing up with Alice as a mother didn't make for a traditional childhood. Her eldest, Michelle, remembers the vegetarian dinners, her mother dressing in the orange clothes of the renunciate who'd taken a vow of celibacy (right after her husband's death), the singing and chanting in their living room.

"So we weren't popular with the other kids when they came over," laughs Michelle, now 46 and married with children of her own. "Because we were young, it didn't seem strange really, just another part of life."

In 1983, Alice bought the ashram property, paying a reported $1.3 million for 50 acres of land, a year after her eldest son, John Jr., died in a car accident, at 17.

She got through it through her spiritual practice -- "that's the only way" -- and focusing on keeping John Sr.'s legacy alive, playing the savvy businesswoman, managing his estate through Jowcol Music, which includes a publishing and licensing business and an educational foundation. Proceeds from the estate help keep the ashram afloat. Today, she lives in a modestly furnished house in Woodland Hills. Michelle and her family live next door; Oran and his family live on the other side.

Far from Detroit, perhaps, but then again, not so far.

"You never forget your foundation," Alice says. "I'm just as devoted to Christ and Christianity as I was back then. But because you've expanded your views and you've expanded and your options for experience . . . "

Staff researcher Karl Evanzz contributed to this report.

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Nice article. Thanks for posting it. I didn't know that Alice studied with Bud — in Paris.

On record, what's a good example of Coltrane's (Alice) bebop playing?

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On record, what's a good example of Coltrane's (Alice) bebop playing?

Terry Gibbs - Jewish Melodies in JazzTime comes pretty close to bebop.

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June 19, 2008

Music Review

Hymns and Blues in the Name of Family

By BEN RATLIFF

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One of the revelations of “A Tribute to Alice Coltrane,” the JVC Jazz Festival concert on Tuesday night at the New York Society for Ethical Culture, was a short film clip of Ms. Coltrane playing piano in Paris in 1959. She was smiling, running through fast bebop with the drummer Kenny Clarke and the saxophonist Lucky Thompson, and skating through the chord changes.

At the time she was learning from Bud Powell, and her playing showed it. After she moved from Paris back to her hometown, Detroit, and then to New York in 1962, met and married John Coltrane, she was still playing those continuous, blanketing lines on the piano. But they were staying in single chords for much longer, and sounded more like the harp, an instrument she took up as well.

Those long arpeggios remained in Ms. Coltrane’s music until her death last year. Tuesday’s concert elegantly condensed her family, her interests and some of her better music into two hours.

There was her son Ravi Coltrane on saxophone. There was an improvising harpist, Brandee Younger. There was a well-chosen pianist, Geri Allen, also from the Detroit area. (She also occasionally used a Korg Triton synthesizer, the same kind Ms. Coltrane played in later years, using the same ersatz orchestral pre-set.) There was a musician on tablas and tamboura, Ed Feldman, a reminder that Ms. Coltrane made music for Vedic meditation for about half her life, eventually founding an ashram in Southern California. And there were the bassist Charlie Haden and the drummer Jack DeJohnette, who played on some of her early records.

For some listeners there’s a danger of mysticism overload with Ms. Coltrane’s music. Charlie Haden and Jack DeJohnette are instant antidotes. Mr. Haden plays in a mysterious ballad style, as she did, but it comes out as the opposite: plain-spoken and boiled-down. Mr. DeJohnette used a low-slung groove for the minor-key blues pieces, and elsewhere played colors as much as rhythms, with a few dozen different kinds of cymbal pings and splashes. This was music with an intention of great, heaving generality — Ms. Coltrane would have called it universality — but Mr. Haden and Mr. DeJohnette grounded it in specific, isolated mechanics of rhythm and melody. They kept it diverting.

The band mostly played selections from Ms. Coltrane’s 1970s records, including “Blue Nile,” “Journey in Satchidananda” and “Los Caballos,” and then a few pieces from her final album, “Translinear Light,” released in 2004. The theater is a churchlike space with a high ceiling, and as the band started the first of many long vamps it sounded vague and wet. The piano and much of the bass were lost in the acoustics of the space. But then the band self-corrected, played a little more quietly, and the concert turned around completely.

Ms. Coltrane used to hire some very strong and loud saxophonists; her husband had been a model for that. But her son is a much more careful and pinpointed player, and here and there, as he played long tones in the blues and hymns, he sounded more respectfully pretty than cathartic. Gradually, though, he warmed up, putting in some of his own jagged phrasing; by “Journey in Satchidananda,” at the end, he was playing the soprano saxophone hard enough that it sounded tense and alive.

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Thanks, 7/4!

I've been an Alice Coltrane fan for years. Her organ playing in particular has always appealed to me very strongly. She uses such unusual registrations and sounds unlike any other organist. It's nice to see her receiving some recognition in the mainstream press.

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Homophobic creeps can take comfort in the fact that Alice McLeod was not gay.

Sorry, could not resist injecting that into this scumbag's thread. Why is he still a member of this group????? People have been banished for far less offensive attacks on fellow members.

Ok, I vented, now back to this pianist.

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Did I miss something? :blink:

In another thread and I think it was deleted.

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Did I miss something? :blink:

In another thread and I think it was deleted.

Oh, well, I didn't really miss anything then.

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Thanks, 7/4!

I've been an Alice Coltrane fan for years. Her organ playing in particular has always appealed to me very strongly. She uses such unusual registrations and sounds unlike any other organist.

I think it's because she wasn't a Hammond player - on Illuminations, she is credited with Wurlitzer orgone.

It's nice to see her receiving some recognition in the mainstream press.

Alice Coltrane Ascension Ceremony

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Alice is underrated in my opinion - Journey into Satchinanda is a fine album....

Yes, it is. Sanders is great throughout and Cecil McBee's bass line on the title track wouldn't be out of place on a Black Sabbath album!

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I love Alice. I even have a cassette of spiritual music from her Ashram or something that I really love. We need another release.

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