Turiyasangitananda (1937-2007). Alice & The Feather Touch Pt2 is a
focus on her life after the Detroit days and through her musical and personal marriage to John Coltrane.
Why Not Her?
Many women instrumentalists began a slow disappearing act. The
process deepened as more men filled more slots in recording on more
supposedly more sophisticated instruments, many electronic
including synthesizers. More spaces dominated by men, recording
studios, stages, bands and national and international concerts,
meant that women instrumentalists were rare. In the 1960s women
were again and possibly more than before seen as ornaments. Singers
were expected to look a certain way and that determined who might
be hired to sing. Women, who consented to be vocalists were always
at risk of being replaced by a woman with more of the physical
appearance wanted by men and the mentally conditioned audience.
They were disposable.
At the outset of Alice's career she was faced with reluctant men
bandmates, nothing new. Talented women of stature on the scene such
as Dorothy Donegan (1922-1998), the South Side Chicago phenom who
was European Classical trained like Alice was seemingly too much
for men to handle, a virtuoso among virtuoso. No less than
brilliant Dinah Washington (1924-1963), also from the bubbling
South Side, rocketed to fame through tireless work and blending of
her gospel roots with the blues. That did not translate to a
pleasant life, onstage, in recording studios or in executive
offices where White men ruled. Indeed, the leadership qualities of
the prominent Billie Holiday, perhaps the most well known woman in
the music, had never been realized by the time of her passing on at
age 44 in 1959. Billie and Dinah are one name legends still,
beloved by the people. There is no question that many have learned:
Tina (Turner) b. 1944 became a buddhist and has lived much of her
life in Europe. Diana (Ross) b. 1939 also has lived in Europe for
decades. These are just a few women who became multi-millionaires.
After a special, bittersweet time in the French metropole, Paris, studying with Bud Powell (1924-1966) Alice McLeod returned home to Detroit before departing for New York City. Bud Powell, along with Elmo Hope (1923-1967) were critical to her development on the piano. Her penchant was for arpeggio ("broken chord") playing. In Paris, during 1960, her husband, married right before the long distance flight, Kenny 'Pancho' Hagood, fell to the 'Horse', and heroin addiction. She was pregnant with his child, (called Michelle after her birth and later Miki Coltrane), to add to the situation and they separated soon after the landing in New York City. In just a few years, an ex heroin addict, considered the most advanced of the marquee saxophonists in the world, John Coltrane, would leave Naima Grubbs, his wife and marry Alice McLeod (Mexico, 1965), introducing her to the Bhagavad Gita, the holy hindu book, Asian music of India, African percussion and voicings, breathing techniques in Asian spiritual meditation and natural foods.They appreciated all kinds of instruments and learning to play them, from tambouras, to flutes and the harp, which Alice would one day master and change, more so than even her Detroit music mate Dorothy Ashby (1930-1986), the perception of it as an instrument for inprovisation and group inclusion. After a 1963 romance, it would be only four years before the two would be separated by death. Yet this transition, as it is seen by nearly all nonEuropean religions and philosophies, was an arrival for the tall musical beauty from Detroit, known for her humility. Still, she never conceived of music on others' terms.
Twin Sax Pillars: Pharoah Sanders b.1940 and Joe Henderson (1937-2001) assisted on the classic Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda Album, Ptah, The El Daoud (1970)
In accounts of music history it should be recognized acknowledged and reparations made to the great women who led the way. Listen to the 1982 recording Sangam by trumpet/cornetist Don Cherry (1939-1995) and Latif Khan and the direct influence (organ, tablas) and certainly the structure of the swirling composition, of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda. Earlier the stamp of the Coltranes was on the landmark Black Jazz albums by composer and pianist Doug Carn (b.1948, St Augustine Florida) featuring Jean Carne (b.1947, Atlanta Georgia) Jean Carne, a vocal and language prodigy, gives emblematic 'Coltranic' treatment to 'Naima' and 'Acknowledgment, the John Coltrane compositions, musically under the powerful influence of a prior era. A new generation of listeners were brought to the water to be baptized with Jean Carne's lyrics to 'A Love Supreme'. Both of these compositions, and surely others of jewel standard, taking nothing from men who played with John Coltrane, were fiercely and soulfully performed by Alice Coltrane at the piano in the later quadrant of John's career. A must listen is Coltrane Live At The Village Vanguard Again (1966) which has a cover with Alice Coltrane standing next to John on a New York City pavement in front of the Village Vanguard. In this period, the intensely musical and spiritual couple led a band tour to Japan where the thousands of Japanese in Hiroshima, Kyoto, Nagasaki, Nagoya and Tokyo greeted them with respect never seen in the USA: red carpets rolled out from the plane to the Tokyo air terminal (interview by Howard Mandel, with Philadelphia raised drummer Rashied Ali (1935-2009). John Coltrane was a quiet, music driven man dedicated to peace and used his strength, his music to communicate not only his serenity but his solid resistance to what he felt was evil. But it was Alice Coltrane who would embody his spiritual will and testament after his transition at age 40 on 17 July 1967 in a Long Island hospital as her hometown burned with the fury of the people. He left a multimillion dollar estate and his own publishing company, Jowcol. The Detroit rebellion against injustice, stoked for decades since her youth, were the fires of a loss, personally, in the music and spiritual worlds, too. Neither slave nor citizen, the USA government seemed to declare in this time and the African most associated with peace, Martin Luther King was shot dead by a sniper in Memphis, Tennessee on 4 April 1968. The widow, with her children, including newborn Oran, would face tragedy in multiples in these years: brother Ernie Farrow drowned in 1969. John Coltrane, Jr, an aspiring bassist about to tour the USA and Europe with his brothers, Ravi and Oran and their mother, lost his life at age 17 in a car crash in 1982.
Return To The Source
Besides The Voice The Most Ancient Instruments Are Percussive
Although her dedication to a divine life was constant, and she began the Vedantic center (study of the Vedas) in the southern California area in 1975. Swami Satchidananda (1914-2002), born in Tamil Nadu who eventually moved to the USA in the mid 1960s. He became a lifelong religious influence and is heard reciting sayings on Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda's 1971 album, Journey In Satchindananda. She became a Swamini and had an ashram in California but also had respect for her work worldwide. A vow to become a force for her beliefs, she paid for the Agoura Hills countryside plot outside of Los Angeles that would become her teaching point for those studying hindu and islamic holy articles, meditation and natural health care. She led the ashram choir onto stages with her over the years. Stopping her music career was never an option and her last performance was 4 November, 2006.
"Alice Coltrane is the only person I have ever seen who initially received obituaries that bore the picture of a deceased spouse instead of herself. I suppose that says it all, as far as how this culture was able to perceive her. Alice's music was sacred music. So the fact that she is seen primarily as John Coltrane's widow also speaks to the fact that creating sacred music made her somewhat invisible in a culture that does not know what to do with the truly sacred." Thulani Davis, Professor and playwright
Gone but not forgotten, with a featherlike but resounding touch, Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda left this plane age 69 on 12 January 2007.
END PART 2 and Article
21 October 2016
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