Alice Coltrane, R.I.P.

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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.

For more, you can go here, here or here….

[Cross-posted over here….]

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A Holiday for the Holidays

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You’ve got to have something to eat and a little love in your life before you can hold still for any damn body’s sermon on how to behave.”

Billie, that is….

Billie Holiday’s grandfather was one of 17 children of a black Virginia slave and a white Irish plantation owner. Her mother was only 13 when she was born.

The future “Lady Day” first heard the music of Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith on a Victrola at Alice Dean’s, the Baltimore “house of ill repute” where she ran errands and scrubbed floors as a young girl. She made her singing debut in obscure Harlem nightclubs (borrowing her professional name from screen star Billie Dove), then toured with Count Basie and Artie Shaw before going solo. Benny Goodman dragged the frightened singer to her first studio session. Between 1933 and 1944, she recorded over 200 “sides,” but she never received royalties for any of them.

Despite a lack of technical training, Holiday’s unique diction, inimitable phrasing and acute dramatic intensity made her the outstanding jazz singer of her day. White gardenias, worn in her hair, became her trademark.

“Singing songs like the ‘The Man I Love’ or ‘Porgy’ is no more work than sitting down and eating Chinese roast duck, and I love roast duck,” she wrote in her autobiography. “I’ve lived songs like that.” Her own compositions included “God Bless the Child,” espousing the virtues of financial independence and “Don’t Explain,” lament on infidelity.

Billie Holiday, a musical legend still popular today, died an untimely death at the age of 44.

This hits home for a lot of reasons, not the least of which is the fact that I turned 44 a couple weeks ago.

Luckily, I gave up my wild lifestyle in 1995, so any untimely deaths should not be blamed on drugs, alcohol, rock n roll or even jazz.

Regardless, Billy should be an inspiration for anyone who reveres the ecstatic in life, no matter how wounded, no matter how desperate, no matter how bittersweet. She captured the exquisite essence of human contradiction, and she did so with a voice that was extremely easy on the ears. She was the real deal.

Zakir Hussain with Charles Lloyd

Mrs. AntiSniveler and I enjoyed Charles Lloyd touring with the great Zakir Hussain a year ago when they came to Boulder.

All I can say is, if you ever have the opportunity to see Zakir in person, you will have a religious experience.

And I’m not saying this lightly.

The only other musician to give me chills like that was Pharoah Sanders.

Go figure.

Here’s more about Zakir:

Zakir Hussain is today appreciated both in the field of percussion and in the music world at large as an international phenomenon. A classical tabla virtuoso of the highest order, his consistently brilliant and exciting performances have not only established him as a national treasure in his own country, India, but gained him worldwide fame. The favorite accompanist for many of India’s greatest classical musicians and dancers, from Ali Akbar Khan and Ravi Shankar to Birju Maharaj and Shivkumar Sharma, he has not let his genius rest there. His playing is marked by uncanny intuition and masterful improvisational dexterity, founded in formidable knowledge and study.

Widely considered a chief architect of the contemporary world music movement, Zakir’s contribution to world music has been unique, with many historic collaborations including Shakti, which he founded with John McLaughlin and L. Shankar, the Diga Rhythm Band, Making Music, Planet Drum with Mickey Hart, and recordings and performances with artists as diverse as George Harrison, Joe Henderson, Van Morrison, Jack Bruce, Tito Puente, Pharoah Sanders, Billy Cobham, the Hong Kong Symphony and the New Orleans Symphony.

A child prodigy, Zakir was touring by the age of twelve, the gifted son of his great father, tabla legend Ustad Alla Rakha. Zakir came to the United States in 1970, embarking on an international career which includes no fewer than 150 concert dates a year. He has composed and recorded many albums and soundtracks, and has received widespread recognition as a composer for his many ensembles and historic collaborations. Most recently, he has composed soundtracks for the films In Custody, Ismail Merchant’s directorial debut, Little Buddha by Bernardo Bertolucci, for which Zakir composed, performed and acted as Indian music advisor and Vanaprastham, chosen to be screened at the Cannes Film Festival in May, 1999.

He’s a once-in-a-lifetime human being.

Here’s another clip that is mostly Zakir Hussain playing tabla: