Alice Coltrane, widow of the jazz saxophonist John Coltrane and the pianist in his later bands, who extended her musical searches into a vocation as a spiritual leader, died on Friday in Los Angeles. She was 69.
Alice Coltrane was already an accomplished bop pianist when she married John Coltrane in 1965, having played under luminaries such as Barry Harris, Stan Getz, Terry Gibbs and Yusef Lateef. She served as John's pianist in his final year and a half, replacing McCoy Tyner in 1966.
Along with former bandmate Pharoah Sanders, she has done the most to carry and even expand JC's vision of spiritual, free form, Eastern mysticism music that sometimes went well beyond the normal boundaries of what was widely held as being "jazz". She didn't just stick with the piano, but also organ and later, synthesizers. She could also play a mean harp. 1970's Ptah the El Daoud was an early post-John high point for her, which demonstrated that the modal form of jazz championed by her late husband was not quite yet exhausted for ideas.
Alice Coltrane homepage.
Remarks. Jazz was always an acquired taste for me, to the extent that I acquired it at all. Of the jazz classics, I learned to love John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Thelonious Monk, but it took time to adapt my ears to their abstract sounds. (An exception was John Coltrane's "Blue Train", which I liked instantly.)
Alice Coltrane, though, was another matter. She seemed to be, literally, sui generis - a musical genre all her own. As a teenager in the 1970s my tastes tended toward the eclectic - Yes, Ravi Shankar, and Beethoven. When I discovered Alice Coltrane years later, her music seemed to pick up where progressive rock left off - where Rick Wakeman had provided excitement, Alice Coltrane added subtlety and grace.
I own most of Alice Coltrane's recordings, and if you haven't listened to her music I encourage you to experience it for yourself. My personal favorite (among many) is "Jagadishwar" from Translinear Light; it's probably my single favorite instrumental in contemporary music. Alice won't see the release of her forthcoming album Sacred Language of Ascension but you can be sure I won't miss it.
Alice Coltrane's passing is our loss. Rest in peace, Turiyasangitananda.