World Jazz Pioneer Alice Coltrane Dies at 69

Alice Coltrane - Photo courtesy of Impulse Records. Photo credit: Jeff Dunas
Alice Coltrane – Photo courtesy of Impulse Records. Photo credit: Jeff Dunas
Alice Coltrane, an innovative jazz musician and composer died of respiratory failure at West Hills Hospital and Medical Center in Los Angeles (California). According to her family, she had been in frail health. She was 69.

She was born and raised in the religious family of Solon and Anne McLeod in Detroit, Michigan, once hailed as a major musical capital. Alice became interested in music and began her study of the piano at the age of seven. She consistently and diligently practiced and studied classical music. Subsequently, she enrolled in a more advanced study of the music of Rachmaninoff, Beethoven, Stravinsky and Tschaikowsky.She once said: “Classical music for me, was an extensive, technical study for many years. At that time, I discovered it to be a truly profound music with a highly intellectual ambiance. I will always appreciate it with a kind remembrance and great esteem. Subsequent to the completion of her studies, she said, “The classical artist must respectfully recreate the composer’s meaning. Although, with jazz music, you are allowed to develop your own creativity, improvisation and expression. This greatly inspires me.”

She graduated from high school with a scholarship to the Detroit Institute of Technology; however, her musical achievements began to echo throughout the city, to the extent that she played in many music halls, choirs and churches, for various occasions as weddings, funerals, and religious programs. Her skills and abilities were highly enhanced when she began playing piano and organ for the gospel choir, and for the junior and senior choirs at her church. In later years, she would further her musical attributes by including organ, harp and synthesizer to her accomplishments.

After moving to New York in the early sixties, Alice met and married John Coltrane, the great creator of avant-garde music and genius and master of the tenor and soprano saxophones.

Alice Coltrane’s early albums under her name, including A Monastic Trio and Ptah the El Daoud, received critical acclaim.

After John Coltrane’s his death in 1967, Alice dedicated herself to raising their children but she also continued with her musical career.

She was one of the few harpists in the history of jazz and her style became more meditative, blending jazz with Indian ragas and other world elements. In the early 1970s she collaborated with rock star Carlos Santana, creating a fusion of jazz, rock and Indian music. Fruit of that work was the album Illuminations.

In the early 1970s, after years of involvement with Eastern religion, Coltrane took the name Swamini Turiyasangitananda. She was a devotee of the Indian guru Sathya Sai Baba. However, she continued to perform under the name Alice Coltrane.

Following a 25-year hiatus from major public performances, she returned to the stage for three US appearances in the fall of 2006, culminating with an ecstatic concert in San Francisco on November 4th with her son Ravi, drummer Roy Haynes and bassist Charlie Haden.

Her last recording was Translinear Light, released in 2004. Her last performances came in an abbreviated tour last fall with her saxophonist son, Ravi Coltrane.

Coltrane, a convert to Hinduism, was also a significant spiritual leader and founded the Vedantic Center, a spiritual commune now located in Agoura Hills, California.

Elements of the biography courtesy of and Wikipedia.