Written by Grant Jackson from NPR
On this episode of Piano Jazz, pianist and composer Alice Coltrane shimmers on a set of her original tunes and honors the legacy of her husband, saxophonist John Coltrane. She also duets with host Marian McPartland in Trane’s “Giant Steps” and “Miles’ Mode.”
“I remember her working at Birdland back before she and John were married,” McPartland says. “I enjoyed playing his tunes with her: ‘Giant Steps’ and also ‘Miles’ Mode,’ which is a very good tune.”
Coltrane opens the program with two of her compositions: “Transfiguration” and “Prema (Divine Love).” Her skill as a harpist is reflected in the sparkling, light treble notes of her right hand; with the other hand, she brings the broad, suspended chords of her days playing the organ. Coltrane’s playing is dense, which made her a natural replacement for John’s former pianist, McCoy Tyner.
McPartland performs solo in the ballad “Naima,” before the two get into a final duet in another solid John Coltrane tune, “Blues Minor,” to close the program.
More About Alice Coltrane
Alice Coltrane, née McLeod, was born August 27, 1937, in Detroit, Mich. She began studying classical music at age 7. Her family was active in the church, and she played piano and organ for the choir. After graduating high school, she played at various halls and functions around town. In 1960, she took a job as intermission pianist at the Blue Note Club in Paris, where she studied jazz with Bud Powell.
After moving to New York in the early ’60s, she played in vibraphonist Terry Gibbs’ quartet, during which time she met John Coltrane. In 1965, they were married in Juárez, Mexico. In 1966, she replaced McCoy Tyner as pianist in John Coltrane’s group, and recorded and played with him until his death the next year. John Coltrane became stepfather to Alice’s daughter from a previous marriage, Michele (Miki), and together the couple had three children: drummer John Jr. (1964–82) and saxophonists Oran (b. 1967) and Ravi (b. 1965).
After her husband’s death, Coltrane continued to play with her own groups, which later included their children. She recorded several albums as a bandleader, including work with Ron Carter, Pharoah Sanders, Joe Henderson and Jack DeJohnette. Many of these were recorded on Impulse! in the late ’60s and early ’70s.
Coltrane was also a devotee of Indian guru Sathya Sai Baba. After moving to California in the mid-’70s, she opened a Vedic center and later Ashram. She changed her name to Turiyasangitananda, though she continued to perform publicly as Alice Coltrane.
Her last major performance was on Nov. 4, 2006, at a concert in San Francisco with her son Ravi, drummer Roy Haynes and bassist Charlie Haden. Alice Coltrane died of respiratory failure on Jan. 12, 2007.
Originally recorded Dec. 4, 1981.