Turiya Alice Coltrane

Born Alice MacLeod, Alice Coltrane married John Coltrane in 1965. One of the rare female instrumentalists in jazz, she was also (along with Dorothy Ashby) one of the few harpists in jazz. She performed in the early 1960s with vibist Terry Gibbs, appearing on one of his recordings. Eventually she replaced McCoy Tyner as the Coltrane group's pianist in 1966.

John Coltrane's work became a spiritual wellspring for her, but she surely developed her own style on piano, organ, harp, and later, Indian instruments such as the tamboura. After John Coltrane's death Alice began recording under her own name, like John for Impulse! records. She collaborated numerous times with Pharoah Sanders and Carlos Santana.

Her own recordings started out as small group settings, but eventually added elaborate Stravinsky-esque string orchestrations. She also helped coordinate a number of posthumously released John Coltrane recordings in the early 1970s, especially "Infinity" with its psychedelic kaleidoscope album cover. She recorded her own version of his "A Love Supreme" complete with invocation from her Hindu guru. In the later 1970s her music became highly infused with Hindu religious music, whole sides of her albums being devoted to arrangements of religious chants.

She was a devotee of Swami Satchidananda, and eventually adopted the Hindu name of Turiya. In 1975 she formed the Vedanta Center in California as a center for her spiritual activities. In her spiritual life she is now a devotee of living Hindu saint Satya Sai Baba, and goes by the name Swamini Turiyasangitananda. In the 1980s and 1990s she made a number of recordings of devotional music that are not very widely distributed, but are now listed herein.

She was for a long while the executor of John Coltrane's estate, though her own recording career seems to have ended in the late 1970s. She moved from the Impulse! label to Warner Brothers in the mid-1970s. Eventually control over John Coltrane's still extant recordings passed to her son--himself a wonderful saxophonist--Ravi Coltrane.

Recordings as a Leader

John and Alice Coltrane: COSMIC MUSIC
Impulse! Records 1968. AS-9148. Produced by Bob Thiele.

Capsule Info: A posthumous tribute to John Coltrane and the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Two tracks feature the late John, and two the Alice Coltrane/Pharoah Sanders grouping only. *Two tracks appear on US CD reissue of Alice Coltrane's A MONASTIC TRIO.

Impulse! Records 1968. AS-9156. Produced by Bob Thiele.

Capsule Info: Dorothy Ashby move over: Alice Coltrane brings the jazz harp to the avant garde. This is her tribute to her late husband and his spiritual vision. *The US CD reissue is significantly augmented, so listed separately, below.

Impulse! Records 1968/1998. AS-9156. Produced by Alice Coltrane.

Capsule Info: Added to the US version of Alice's first solo outing are two cuts from COSMIC MUSIC and a prevously unreleased piano solo from the John Coltrane session that produced EXPRESSION. The new cut is rewarding, the entire package nicely arranged and a welcome domestic US release. Part of Impulse's new "The New Thing" CD Reissue series. Excellent 20-bit sound.

Impulse! Records 1969. AS-9185. Producer not listed.

Capsule Info: Recorded after Alice Coltrane met her future guru, Swami Satchidananda, this album shows her spirituality narrowing but deepening the focus of her expression in jazz.

Impulse! Records 1970. AS-9196. Produced by Ed Michel.

Capsule Info: A fairly eclectic album, moving from Mingus-like marches to the spritually meditative to a Pharoah Sanders screechfest.

Impulse! Records 1971. AS-9203. Produced by Alice Coltrane with Ed Michel.

Capsule Info: One of Alice's best albums. From her liner notes: "Direct inspiration for JOURNEY IN SATCHIDANANDA comes from my meeting and association with...my own beloved spiritual perceptor, Swami Satchidananda... Satchidananda means knowledge, existence, bliss....I hope that this album will be a form of meditation and a spiritual awakening for those who listen with their inner ear."

Impulse! Records 1972. AS-9210. Produced by Alice Coltrane and Ed Michel.

Capsule Info: One of Alice's more way-out albums, the fruit of a visit to South Asia, the source of her spiritual inspiration. Alice Coltrane's organ is fierce and shrieking, sounding more like an oboe than a keyboard: no funky soul jazz here. And yet it's also deeply meditative and brooding. The string transcriptions are by, of all people, Ornette Coleman. A beautiful record.

Impulse! Records1972. AS-9218.

Capsule Info: Yes, the gatefold cover is by Peter Max. Alice's religious ruminations on her own and John Coltrane's work go straight out to a string-backed stratosphere. Here Alice touches on Yoruba religion (Olodumare is the Yoruba/Lucumi God) and Hindu theology. Her cover of her late husband's masterwork "A Love Supreme" opens with an invocation by her guru, Swami Satchidananda, explicating the forms of love; it moves from sweeping strings to funky back-beat and organ. Oh yeah, this album was partially recorded on my 13th birthday.

Impulse! Records 1972. AS-9224. Produced by Ed Michel.

Capsule Info: Highlights of this spiritual orchestral masterwork include her version of the gospel/spiritual "Going Home," and her excerpt of Stravinsky's "Firebird," performed, says Alice, after a ghostly visitation by its composer who offered her musical and spiritual advice and blessings.

John Coltrane: INFINITY
Impulse! Records 1972. AS-9225. Produced by Alice Coltrane and Ed Michel.

Capsule Info: Nominally a posthumously released John Coltrane album, this wonderful disc is actually John completely presented through Alice's early 1970s mystical vision. Only John Coltrane's and portions of his quartet members' parts are original dating from previously unreleased mid-1960s performances: the bass solos, the harp and organ parts, the percussion parts, and sweeping Stravinsky-like string arrangements were overdubbed in 1972. This is not "John Coltrane with Strings," but a re-envisioned opus entirely. Some might call it heresy: I call it brilliant. Not to be missed is the psychedlic kaleidoscope cover.

Impulse! Records 1973. AS-9232. Compilation.

Capsule Info: A best-of Alice Coltrane's Impulse! period, with songs edited and in some cases combined from the original releases.

Turiya Alice Coltrane/Devadip Carlos Santana: ILLUMINATIONS
Columbia/Sony 1974/1996. Produced by Alice Coltrane, Carlos Santana and Tom Coster.

Capsule Info: During Devadip Carlos Santana's religious period he and Alice produced this legendary collaboration: his electric guitar work against her string arrangements and spiritual transcendence.

Warner Bros. Records 1976. Produced by Ed Michel.

Capsule Info: Alice moved from Impulse! to Warner Brothers with a wildly eclectic offering recorded in 1975. As jazz was trying various ways of crossing over to pop...some successfully but most spelling deathknells for many jazz careers, Alice didn't quite sell out but she certainly crossed over...where one might not be completely sure. Two tunes (one from Stravinsky, again) are lush horn and string orchestra settings. Two tunes are meditative Eastern-sounding pieces that fifteen years later might be called New Age. The album is rounded off by her first (thought not last) use of vocals in Om Supreme, and the percussion heavy rumba-esque Los Caballos. As is customary all the tracks feature spiritual annotation and explanation.

Warner Bros. Records 1977. Produced by Ed Michel.

Capsule Info: In a relatively spare album, side one features Alice interpreting traditional Hindu chants replete with the backing of a Hare Krishna choir, students at her Vedantic Center in California. Side two is an extended duet with one of her sons.

Warner Bros. Records 1977. Produced by Ed Michel.

Capsule Info: More successful in my opinion than the previous vocal album, side two features Hindu chants sounding surprisingly funky accompanied by Alice's organ and the Indian percussion of the singers, the arrangements and voices sounding like Hare Krishna filtered through a gospel sensibility. Purists might balk at calling it jazz but probably the most "swinging" Alice Coltrane material since PTAH THE EL DAOUD. Side one features her trademark, by now, austere string arrangements.

Warner Bros. Records 1978. Produced by Ed Michel.

Capsule Info: Recorded live at UCLA in 1978, Alice set aside the Hare Krishna choirs and exotic instruments to a return to her early period's trio style, revisiting several of her own tunes as well as John Coltrane's way-out period opus "Leo". Deeply spiritual, but definitely jazz.

Avatar Book Institute, 1982. No producer listed.

Capsule Info: Recording of spiritual, devotional songs, to original music. Sung in sanskrit by Alice Coltrane (now Swamini Turiyasangitananda) herself, the songs are simple and meditative; Alice Coltrane's voice proves to be deeply affecting; heartfelt and even soulful. String arrangements on some songs, synthesizer washes and organ on others. This, like her other devotional recordings, is not jazz, but a beautiful statement of her evolution on the non-secular plane. She writes, "divine music shall always be the sound of love, the sound of peace, the sound of life, the sound of bliss."

Avatar Book Institute, 1987. Producer unknown.

Capsule Info: I haven't heard this one.

Avatar Book Institute, 1991. Producer unknown.

Capsule Info: I haven't heard this one.

Alice Coltrane - Turiyasangitananda: GLORIOUS CHANTS
Avatar Book Institute, 1995. No producer listed.

Capsule Info: Sanskrit and English chants arranged mostly for vocal chorus with lead vocal. Devotional in nature; peaceful and meditative. The synthesizer wash backgrounds have their dramatic moments but are mostly more soothing ala new age music. Clapping and Indian percussion accompany. Dedicated to Bhagawan Sri Satya Sai Baba.

GRP/Universal 1998. Compilation.

Capsule Info: An overdue compilation of tunes from several Impulse! albums: PTAH THE EL DAOUD*, HUNTINGTON ASHRAM MONASTERY+, JOURNEY IN SATCHIDANANDA=, A MONASTIC TRIO#, and UNIVERSAL CONSCIOUSNESS@.

Recordings as a Supporting Artist

Impulse! Records 1966. AS-9124. Produced by Bob Thiele.

Capsule Info: Recorded live in May of 1966, this album shows how far John Coltrane travelled since his legendary 1961 sessions at the same venue.

John Coltrane: EXPRESSION
Impulse! Records 1967. AS-9120. Produced by John Coltrane and Bob Thiele.

Capsule Info: The last album John Coltrane worked on before his death in July of 1967, and the first of many to be released by his heirs posthumously. Having reached a free and frenetic plateau earlier, this album pulls back to earth and is full of haunting tranquility and introspection. Surprising and wonderful are Pharoah Sanders & John Coltrane on flutes in "To Be".

Atlantic Records, 1969. Produced by Joel Dorn.

Capsule Info: Alice Coltrane makes a brief cameo appearance in the long suite "Expansions." I'm not an expert on Kirk's work, but this seems like a superior effort with lots of different musical moods. Issued on CD in 1998 as part of 32Jazz's 4-disc Kirk set ACES BACK TO BACK.

Columbia 1970. Produced by Arif Mardin and Felix Cavaliere.

Capsule Info: I wish I knew how the Rascals hooked up with Alice Coltrane, and then how the Rascals came to help produce this jazzy Nyro album bringing their jazz roster including Alice into the mix. The early 1970s saw the mixing of boundaries between jazz and rock and folk and soul, and this might be said to be a blending of them all. "Upstairs By A Chinese Lamp," the primary Coltrane vehicle here, is also featured on the 1997 Sony compilation THE BEST OF LAURA NYRO: STONED SOUL PICNIC.

Blue Note 1970. Produced by Francis Wolff.

Capsule Info: Alice Coltrane's harp and McCoy Tyner's piano playing becomes a great combination. The liner notes are filled with quotations from the Holy Quran. (Select McCoy Tyner discography)

Columbia 1971. Produced by Arif Mardin and Felix Cavaliere.

Capsule Info: I haven't heard this.

John Coltrane: LIVE IN JAPAN
Impulse! Records 1973/1991. AS-0000. Reissue produced by Michael Cuscuna.

Capsule Info: Recorded in July of 1966 in Tokyo for broadcast to Japanese radio. One disc's worth was originally released on vinyl in 1973, with further sessions released in Japan only in the 1980s. The CD brings all sessions to a four-CD set, though the monophonic sound leaves a bit to be desired. Alice Coltrane's solos in "Peace On Earh" are terrific.

Joe Henderson featuring Alice Coltrane: THE ELEMENTS
Milestone Records, 1973. Produced by Orin Keepnews.

Capsule Info: Joe Henderson reprises a spiritually-oriented collaboration with Alice.

Charlie Haden: "CLOSENESS" DUETS
A&M 1976. Produced by Ed Michel.

Capsule Info: Charlie Haden in intimate settings with four of his long-time collaborators. The duet with Alice Coltrane's harp is beautifully contemplative.

Rhino/Atlantic Jazz 1993. Compilation produced by Joel Dorn.

Capsule Info: A year or two before Atlantic and Rhino reissued all of Coltrane's Atlantic sides on a massive boxed set entitled HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION, it released this overview of Coltrane's non-Impulse recordings from the late 1940s on. Tantalizing, included nowhere else, and relevant here is the brief, under two-minute snippet "Ogunde" from Coltrane's last live performance, at the opening of Babatunde Olatunji's Center For African Culture, in New York City's Harlem, May 23, 1967. Maddeningly the collection offers no clue as to the rest of this recording: how long it is, will it ever be fully released, etcetera. Coltrane playing a tune titled in Yoruba with multiple percussionists and Alice and Pharoah? Damn what's the rest of the song like!

The Jazz Alliance, 1995. Produced by NPR Radio.

Capsule Info: A radio show taped in Decenber 1981, this disc contains solo and duet piano performances by two of the rare female jazz instrumentalists. Also includes fascinating dialogue.

Impulse! Records 1995. Produced by John Coltrane and Bob Thiele.

Capsule Info: Recorded in February of 1967, these are some of Coltrane's last recordings, most of which went unreleased until rediscovered by his widow Alice in the 1990s.

Miki Coltrane: I THINK OF YOU
Chartmaker Records 1996. Produced by Scott Hiltzik.

Capsule Info: Alice Coltrane is featured on one song, a vocal version of JC's "Lazybird", on her daughter's debut album. Very pleasant straight-ahead effort from Miki, and it's even mostly all acoustic or at least non-electronic.


A Jazz Supreme