A pioneering woman in jazz, Alice Coltrane has distinguished herself as an important composer/conceptualist, pianist, organist, and one of the rare people to ever bring the harp into jazz. Born Alice McLeod on August 27, 1937 in Detroit, Michigan, she studied classical music as a child and participated in the gospel band at church. Her older brother Ernie Farrow, a bassist who in the ’50s and ’60s played in bands led by Barry Harris, Stan Getz, Terry Gibbs, and Yusef Lateef, introduced her to jazz early on. As a teen, Alice became quite taken with bop and its offshoots and began playing at school dances at Cass Technical High School. After graduating in 1955, she played various engagements around the Motor City with her own trio and also with female vibes player, Terry Pollard. She later played piano on recording sessions with Detroit jazz masters like saxophonist Lateef and guitarist Kenny Burrell before traveling to Paris in 1959 to study with Bud Powell. In Paris she also played with saxophonist Lucky Thompson before returning to the States the following fall. Alice originally met John Coltrane at a party in 1960, when he played a date in Detroit. Their next encounter was at the Olympia Theater in Paris, where he was playing with the Miles Davis sextet. Their next face-to-face meeting did not take place until July 18, 1963 at Birdland. By then, Alice had been touring and recording with vibes player Terry Gibbs (she appears on Gibbs’ 1963 album, Terry Gibbs Plays Jewish Melodies in Jazztime) and Trane was on the same bill with his own quartet. She began playing piano in Coltrane’s band — replacing McCoy Tyner — at the outset of 1966 and they were married later that year. She appears on such important latter day John Coltrane recordings for Impulse! as Live at the Village Vanguard Again!, Live in Japan, Expressions and the posthumously-released Stellar Regions.
After John Coltrane’s death on July 17, 1967, Alice continued working with members of her husband’s last group, including bassist Jimmy Garrison, saxophonists Pharoah Sanders and Carlos Ward, and drummer Rashied Ali. She began playing the harp and organ as well as piano, began utilizing Indian sitar, tamboura and tablas in the ensemble, and turned fully to Eastern cultures for inspiration. Her own recordings as a leader for Impulse! started out as small group settings, as on 1968’s A Monastic Trio, 1969’s Huntington Ashram Monastery, 1970’s Ptah the El Daoud and 1971’s Journey in Satchidananda, but they eventually developed into large scale productions with elaborate Stravinsky-esque string orchestrations, as on 1971’s Universal Consciousness, 1972’s World Galaxy and 1972’s Lord of Lords. She also helped coordinate a number of posthumously released John Coltrane recordings in the early 1970s, especially Infinity with its psychedelic kaleidoscope album cover, and she recorded her own version of his A Love Supreme, complete with invocation from her Hindu guru. She also appears on McCoy Tyner’s 1970 Blue Note album Extensions, Joe Henderson’s 1973 Milestone album The Elements, and on Carlos Santana’s 1974 Columbia album Illuniations. She moved from the Impulse! label to Warner Brothers in the mid-1970s and subsequently released Eternity in 1975, Radha-Krsna Nama Sankirtana and Transcendence in 1977, and Transfiguration in 1978.
In the later 1970s, Alice’s music became highly infused with Hindu religious music, whole sides of her albums being devoted to arrangements of religious chants. She was a devotee of Swami Satchidananda, and eventually adopted the Hindu name of Turiya. In 1975 she formed the Vedanta Center in California as a center for her spiritual activities. In her spiritual life she is now a devotee of living Hindu saint Satya Sai Baba, and goes by the name Swamini Turiyasangitananda. In the 1980s and 1990s she made a number of recordings of devotional music that are not very widely distributed but are made available through the Avatar Book Institute out of California. In 1998 she emerged from jazz retirement to play a concert in New York City with her son Ravi’s band, and in 2002 she performed with Ravi again in New York at a concert to celebrate the simultaneous release of Ashley Kahn’s book A Love Supreme: The Story of John Coltrane's Signature Album and Verve’s deluxe reissue of the album. And now Alice and Ravi document that collaboration on Translinear Light, Alice Coltrane’s first studio recording in nearly 30 years.
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