Is there not a tradition that these things “come in threes”? First, one of our favorite authors dies (Robert Anton Wilson, on 1/11/07), and now one of our favorite jazz musicians, who happens to have been a spiritual giant, has taken leave of our collective drama:
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – Alice Coltrane, an avant-garde jazz pianist and widow of saxophone great John Coltrane, whose musical legacy she helped keep, has died at age 69 of respiratory failure, an official said on Sunday.
Coltrane died on Friday at West Hills Hospital and Medical Center in West Hills, a Los Angeles suburb, a hospital spokeswoman said.
Famed for replacing McCoy Tyner on piano in her husband’s last quartet as he broke new and controversial musical ground, Coltrane was also a convert to Hinduism and a guru who had her own commune.
Born Alice McLeod in Detroit, Coltrane was trained as a classical musician and as an organist, harpist and pianist. Among her jazz teachers was the legendary Bud Powell.
Jazz vibist Terry Gibbs told the Los Angeles Times that Alice Coltrane met her husband while playing with his band at Birdland in the 1960s.
“He saw something in her that was beautiful. They were both very shy in a way. It was beautiful to see them fall in love,” he told the paper adding, she was “the nicest person I ever worked with. She was a real lady.”
She left Gibbs’ band to marry and play piano for Coltrane as he moved into bolder, more spiritual music than he had been playing before.
In an interview with Essence magazine in September 2006, she was asked if she caused the change in his music and the break-up of the famous John Coltrane Quartet.
Her answer was, “I didn’t have to inspire John toward the avant-garde; he did not need anything from me. That is why it’s so interesting that critics decided to dislike me. At some point the members of the quartet felt it was time for a change, and left on their own.
“When John said that he wanted me to play with him on piano, I told him that there were many others who were qualified. He said, ‘I want you there because you can do it.'” She credited Coltrane with “showing me how to play fully.”
After his death in July 1967 at age 40, she raised the couple’s children, continued playing and expanding upon his music and devoted herself to the study of Eastern religions, adopting the Sanskrit name, Turiyasangitananda.
My wife discovered Alice Coltrane’s music during my time (1991 through 1998) working at an independent record store here in Boulder — this would’ve been 1995, I’m guessing. She’s been collecting Alice’s stuff ever since, including many Japanese import recordings of obscure concert dates at UCLA from the early 70’s.
Alice Coltrane’s spirituality came through every note of every song she ever played. When I would spin “Journey in Satchidananda” over the house system at the record store, shoppers would stop browsing and just listen, many of them buying a copy of the album on the spot.
It’s sad that she’s left us at 69, but on the other hand, I can think of few people who’ve lived such a full life as hers. Besides, I’m sure she would insist that life never dies, but simply moves on to the next thing.
My condolences go out to Alice Coltrane’s family and friends, who’ve been blessed by this unique woman’s presence.
[Cross-posted over here….]