‘Hello mate, have you got that album by Alice Coltrane? Er..Journey to Satch…Satchid…er…’
Picture me if you will, trying to purchase Journey in Satchidananda, the 1971 album by Alice Coltrane, in some long-forgotten record shop one weekend, way back when. As a fan John Coltrane, I was tipped off into investigating the music of his wife and once purchased, I could see why. I immediately took to the fragile, hypnotic, jazz harp-based sounds she conjured up and I’ll be honest, years later, it became a ‘go to’ album when the madness of the workdays I had created, became a little too much.
I simply found her music, took me elsewhere.
I, then like those before me, passed on the gospel of her work, and others then discovered her innovative and exploratory approach to jazz, her profound spirituality, and her ability to bridge different musical traditions. As a talented multi- instrumentalist, she pushed all and any boundaries, fusing jazz with elements of Indian classical music and spirituality to create a unique and transcendent sound.
She was born Alice McLeod on August 27, 1937 in Detroit, Michigan. Mother was Anna, a staunch church goer who encouraged music at home, which saw Alice become an early student of the piano aged 7, and half-brother Ernest Farrow, going on to be a jazz bassist and sister Marilyn, a songwriter at Motown. Encouraged by her father Solon, Alice performed in clubs in the local area, with the likes Yusef Lateef and Kenny Burrell. She became heavily influenced by the jazz harpist Dorothy Ashbee, before a move to Paris in the late 1950s. There she studied classical composition and jazz, with legendary pianist Bud Powell, who was living and working in the French capital at the time. There she also married Kenny ‘Pancho’ Hagood , with whom she had a daughter, Michelle, but the marriage was wrecked by her husband’s addiction to heroin.
So she returned to Detroit in the early 1960s and worked with renowned vibraphonist Terry Gibbs . Whilst in his band, she met saxophonist John Coltrane in 1963, who she then married in 1965, following his divorce from his wife Naima. They had three children, John Jr. in 1964 , Ravi in 1965 and Oranyan in 1967. The influences they had on each other’s work, can be heard in John’s music from this period, like A Love Supreme from early 1966. After Coltrane’s untimely death in 1967, from liver cancer, Alice took a vow of celibacy.
She also embarked on a deeply spiritual path and became known by some, by her adopted Sanskrit name Turiyasangitananda, often shortened to Turiya. She delved into Eastern philosophy, studying Hinduism, Vedanta, and Buddhism. These spiritual pursuits had a profound impact on her music, as she sought to incorporate the mystical and meditative qualities of her newfound beliefs into her compositions. With 4 young children now to fend for, she needed to work too. She released a succession of albums that slowly moved further away from jazz towards a more spiritual sound. A Monastic Trio, Universal Consciousness Ptah, the El Daoud, and the aforementioned Journey in Satchidananda, combined elements of traditional jazz with Eastern instrumentation, with the sitar and the tambura to the fore, first through the Impulse label, and then later, Warner Bros. She worked with the likes of Pharoah Sanders, Joe Henderson and her own sons Ravi and John Jr. to create a soundscape that was both ethereal and powerful, captivating audiences with its spiritual intensity.
The physical and emotional pain caused by the death of John, led her to seek guidance from Hindi gurus. In addition to her music, Alice’s spirituality and humanitarian work included establishing the Vedantic Centre in California in 1975, where she served as the spiritual director and Swamini. The centre aimed to provide a space for individuals to explore and practice Eastern spirituality. Alice’s devotion to the path she had chosen, continued to permeate her music, infusing it with a sense of profound spirituality and transcendence.
In her later years and following a 25-year break from performing, she returned to the stage in 2006. She died, or ‘left her physical form’ as her website says, on January 12th, 2007 aged 69. She was buried alongside her beloved John.
Alice Coltrane – ‘One of the directives given to me was to start the ashram. I felt I could serve in any way that God wished. Whatever was ordered, I would have been happy to follow. My idea was to have the availability to seek the Lord, to be able to study spiritual scriptures, and to really immerse myself in living the spiritual life as much as possible. If we put one fourth of the time into trying to understand our spirituality that we put into wanting to grow more wealthy, we would find some of the incredible things occurring in our universe that we need to be aware of…’
The Mumper of SE5
ART GALLERY CLOTHING – ODDS SODS AND MODS
THE SPEAKEASY VOLUME 3 – AVAILABLE NOW
THE SPEAKEASY Volume Three by Mark Baxter (The Mumper)
Illustrations by Lewis Wharton
Foreword by Eddie Piller
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