In Memoriam Alice Coltrane
by Felice Pomeranz
used with permission
Alice Coltrane, the innovative pianist, organist, and harpist who collaborated with her legendary husband, John Coltrane, has passed away at age 69.
Although Mrs. Coltrane was well known for her musical contributions, she also had a very spiritual side. As a convert to Hinduism, she sponsored many spiritual institutions, including founding the Vedanta Center, first in the Bay Area of California, and then later in Agoura, California. Her spiritual name was Swami Turiyasangitananda.
She was born in Detroit, Michigan to a very musical family. Her mother, Anna, sang and played piano in the church choir and her brother, Ernie Farrow, was a professional bassist. Mrs. Coltrane began classical piano at age seven. She was interested in both classical and jazz music. She performed in her early profession with great jazz artists such as Yusef Lateef and Kenny Burrell. She studied jazz piano briefly in Paris and then moved to New York, where she began playing with Terry Gibbs and his quartet. While playing with Gibbs’ group at Birdland, she met John Coltrane.
After marrying John Coltrane, she left Gibbs’ band and began playing with her husband’s group, replacing the great jazz pianist McCoy Tyner. She had a style of power and rhythmic intensity that has been compared to Bud Powell. Mrs. Coltrane attributed her growth as a musician to her husband’s musical prowess. She is quoted as saying that “John not only taught me to explore, but to play thoroughly and completely.” She was an icon in jazz music in an age where very few women participated. Her interest in musical color is noted by her astral compositions and for dragging the harp onto the jazz bandstand and using it as a textural instrument.
After Coltrane’s death of liver disease in 1967, Mrs. Coltrane continued to play with jazz greats such as Pharaoh Sanders and Joe Henderson. Some albums under her name include “A Monastic Trio” and “Ptah the El Daoud.” She also devoted herself to her children, Ravi, Oren, and Michelle, all of whom are musical. She leaves five grandchildren.