Alice Coltrane
Alice Coltrane
Alice Coltrane
Alice Coltrane
Alice Coltrane

Alice Coltrane

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Alice Coltrane also known by her adopted Sanskrit name Turiyasangitananda or Turiya Alice Coltrane, was an American jazz musician and composer, and in her later years a swamini. One of the few harpists in the history of jazz, she recorded many albums as a bandleader, beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s for Impulse! and other major record labels. She was the second wife of jazz saxophonist and composer John Coltrane.

Music obviously ran in Alice Coltrane's family; her older brother was bassist Ernie Farrow, who in the '50s and '60s played in the bands of Barry Harris, Stan Getz, Terry Gibbs and especially, Yusef Lateef. Alice McLeod began studying classical music at the age of seven.

In January 1966, Alice Coltrane replaced McCoy Tyner as pianist with John Coltrane's group. She subsequently recorded with him and continued playing with the band until his death on July 17, 1967. Their growing involvement in spirituality influenced some of John's subsequent compositions and projects, such as the acclaimed A Love Supreme.

In addition to the piano, Alice also played harp and Wurlitzer organ. She led a series of groups and recorded fairly often for Impulse, including the celebrated albums Monastic Trio, Journey in Satchidananda, Universal Consciousness, and World Galaxy.

After the death of her husband, Coltrane experienced a period of trial. She suffered from severe weight loss and sleepless nights, as well as hallucinations. This tapas (a Sanskrit term she used to describe her suffering), led her to seek spiritual guidance from the guru Swami Satchidinanda and later from Sathya Sai Baba.

By 1972, she abandoned her secular life, and moved to California, where she established the Vedantic Center in 1975. By the late 1970s she had changed her name to Turiyasangitananda. She was the spiritual director, or swamini, of Shanti Anantam Ashram (later renamed Sai Anantam Ashram in Chumash Pradesh) which the Vedantic Center established in 1983 near Malibu, California.

The Sai Anantam Ashram is based on the Vedic religion, an ancient Indian religious tradition that significantly influenced Hinduism. The ashram is 48 acres and includes a temple, living quarters, public access television, and a publishing house.

At any given time, the ashram has 25-30 full time residents studying Vedic, Buddhist, and Islamic scriptures, but people of all faiths are welcome to visit, take advantage of the peaceful surroundings, and study any scriptures they like at Sai Anantam Ashram. Owls, hawks, deer, and trout are among the wildlife present in the natural surroundings.

Alice would perform formal and informal devotional Vedic ceremonies at the ashram. She performed solo chants, known as bhajans, and group chants, or kirtans. She developed original melodies from the traditional chants, and started to experiment by including synthesizers and sophisticated song structures. This culminated in her first spiritual cassette, Turiya Sings, in 1982. The cassette was released only to the members of the ashram, through her publishing company, the Avatar Book Institute. Through the mid 1980s into the mid 1990s, she released three more cassettes, Divine Songs in 1987, Infinite Chants in 1990, and Glorious Chants in 1995.

Alice’s music was solemn and heavy, filled with stormy passages that felt like nervous attempts at purification—a struggling kind of transcendence. Like much of the more forward-thinking jazz of this era, it was music that felt in a hurry to get somewhere.

"This is art of the highest order, conceived by a brilliant mind, poetically presented in exquisite collaboration by divinely inspired musicians and humbly offered as a gift to listeners. It is a true masterpiece".

On Alice’s album covers, she often wore a look of dreamy preoccupation, and their titles—“World Galaxy,” “Universal Consciousness”—easily aligned her with many of her outer-space-obsessed peers. For artists like Sun Ra or Herbie Hancock, outer-space futurism offered a potent metaphor—a way of illustrating a sense of alienation, and a dream of shuttling someplace where black people might be free. But Alice was looking elsewhere.

[Alice] would make offerings at the altar, take her seat behind the Hammond B3 organ, and begin…. Playing syncopated chords with her left hand and a soaring, pentatonic melody with her right, she would signal the song leader in the men’s section to start the men singing. The women would respond, and blues-inflected devotional music would fill the room…. The congregation would create harmonies and counterpoint, and cry and shout in response to members’ musical and emotional outpourings. They would clap ecstatically, and join in with tambourines and other hand-held percussion instruments.

"Chanting is a devotional engagement, one that allows the chanter to soar to higher realms of spiritual consciousness. Chanting is a healing force for good in our world, and also in the astral worlds. Chanting can bring the person closer to God because that person is calling on the Lord. When one calls to even a friend, a mother, or any other relative in a kindly way, he gets the response, also in a reciprocal way."

She came to believe that bliss was close at hand—it was inside you. The universe wasn’t a range of options and futures that were light-years away; it was an idea you couldn’t quite grasp, and in the struggle to try to imagine infinity’s sprawl all you could do was just try and align yourself with it. In the early eighties, after the death of her son John, Jr., she bought forty-eight acres in nearby Agoura Hills and built an ashram.

“Ecstatic Music” draws from four cassettes that Alice released between 1982 and 1995 on a tiny local label devoted to Vedic teachings. The music is astounding. “Om Rama” feels as if you’ve walked into the middle of a daylong ritual—it’s all handclaps, tambourines, and blissful chants chasing after the occasional erratic whoosh of a synthesizer. It stays at a frenzied peak for a few minutes, until a wailing, ascending note sweeps everything away, slowing the song to a stately procession. Through the haze comes Alice’s creaky church organ, which sounds as if it had been transplanted from a gospel record.

That 1971 LP Journey in SatchidanandaI, Coltrane’s best-known album and a cult classic, is named after Swami Satchidananda, who helped Alice explore her spiritual side starting in 1969. From there, she traveled to India, cut ties with the world of record companies after 1978’s Transfiguration and started Sai Anantam in the early Eighties. Though many thought Coltrane had played her final notes – she wouldn’t release another album commercially until 2004’s powerful Translinear Light, which wound up being the final LP she issued during her lifetime – nothing could have been further from the truth. Not only had she continued playing, she had taken a new weekly gig: every Sunday at the ashram, with vocal and percussive accompaniment from its members.

Her consciousness indeed spanned the planes of being, and the music was a kind of teaching, not only another way of saying "if you call out to a friend you will get a response" but the actual shout out itself to both God and us, her listeners, her friends, seeking that response.

Alice Coltrane remains a singular figure on the fringe of American music but her appeal is growing. While Coltrane's music is gaining wider acceptance there is an entire era of her recorded output that remains obscure, almost as if by design.

Her four self-published, devotional albums of the eighties and nineties were recorded during a period in which she had withdrawn from secular life. They were manufactured and distributed in limited quantities amongst her spiritual community.

Operating outside of the constraints of the commercial recording industry Coltrane was free of external pressures whether monetary or deadline. She recorded this music totally on her own terms. The resulting compositions synthesized her spiritual and musical outlook into a highly original work that is unique unto herself. 

The Elements is an album by American saxophonist Joe Henderson, released in 1973 on Milestone. 1970 began a decade of discovery for Joe Henderson, a time to set aside the post-bop instrumentation and repertoire he was identified with and branch out into other realms.

One of the most successful and challenging of these efforts that the Milestone label documented was the present four-part improvisation on the basic themes of "Fire", "Air", "Water" and "Earth".

Assisting the tenor saxophonist was a group of sympathetic explorers--Alice Coltrane on piano and harp, violin original Michael White, bass giant Charlie Haden, and the multifaceted percussionist Kenneth Nash.

While the music is enhanced with overdubbing in spots, the true magic of The Elements emanates from the musicians' collective genius at listening and responding to each other.

Quadraphonic (or Quadrophonic and sometimes Quadrasonic) sound – equivalent to what is now called 4.0 surround sound – uses four channels in which speakers are positioned at the four corners of the listening space, reproducing signals that are (wholly or in part) independent of one another. Quadraphonic audio was the earliest consumer product in surround sound and thousands of quadraphonic recordings were made during the 1970s.

It was a commercial failure due to many technical problems and format incompatibilities. Quadraphonic audio formats were more expensive to produce than standard two-channel stereo. Playback required additional speakers and specially designed decoders and amplifiers. Devadip Carlos Santana & Turiya Alice Coltrane's Illuminations was made available on Quadraphonic 8 Track Tape.

Alice Coltrane had a TV show on KTTV, called Eternity's Pillar. At the end of every show she would play harmonium and sing vedic gospel songs with some of the students from her ashram.