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Alice Coltrane’s Beautiful Music

by Linnea Crowther

Alice Coltrane (1937–2007) was a multi-talented jazz musician, bandleader, and composer—she sang, played piano and organ, and was one of the few harpists in the history of jazz.

And if the last name sounds familiar, it’s no coincidence: she was married to legendary saxophonist John Coltrane for two years until his 1967 death.

Alice met John while playing in Terry Gibbs’s band in the early 1960s. Within a couple years, the two were married, and soon after that, in early 1966, Alice replaced McCoy Tyner as the pianist for John’s band. It was a short-lived partnership—John died just a year and a half after Alice joined the band—but a musically fruitful one.

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Together the couple had three children (John was also stepfather to Alice’s daughter Michele), and with parents like Alice and John Coltrane, is it surprising that all three are musicians? John Jr. was a drummer before his death in 1982, and both Oranyan and Ravi are sax players like their father.

As a bandleader, Alice Coltrane recorded 23 albums and made music that was a reflection of her spirituality as well as her love for John. In the wake of John’s death, she became a devotee of Indian guru Sathya Sai Baba and her spiritual awakening was reflected in many of her albums. She sometimes recorded songs written by John and put out previously-recorded collaborations with her husband.

Though not as famous as her husband, Alice Coltrane outlived him by almost 40 years, and when she died her loss was felt across the music world. The year after her death, English singer-songwriter Paul Weller released a song dedicated to Coltrane: “Song For Alice (Dedicated to the Beautiful Legacy of Mrs. Coltrane).”

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