An industrial area at Maspeth, Queens which was formerly a door and glass factory was turned to a mesmerizing temple complete with marigolds, meditation cushions, and a golden multifunctional installation of a sunlight for a one of a type stellar concert celebrating a newly released, and mostly unheard body of work from pioneering artist and spiritual leader, Alice Coltrane.
“Gospel, soul, funk, and chanting, all in a single, it was amazing,” said Johanna Gielbehous a Brooklyn-based filmmaker after listening to The Sai Anantham Singers sing Coltrane’s exquisite devotional songs.
Alice, the wife of this legendary jazz saxophonist John Coltrane, has been a classically trained pianist, harpist, and a visionary musician regarded as one of the greatest composers of the 20th century. Her cosmic jazz and spiritual compositions are described as “prayers for humanity.”
For decades she has had a powerful underground cult following among music lovers, DJ’s from across the planet, and yogis. However, the bigger world doesn’t understand Ms. Coltrane’s greatness and this despite the fact that she left an exquisite musical catalog and also led to a remarkable life — she founded and was the spiritual leader of an ashram at California with countless devotees.
“I am so very happy,” explained Michelle Coltrane, Alice’s eldest child and only daughter who sang with the ensemble and wore her mother’s orange sari. “It felt wonderful to have the ability to celebrate my mom in such a special way.”
Even the six-hour musical extravaganza which transformed the The Knockown Center to Coltrane’s mandir complete with an altar, blue rug, and eight hundred yellow cushions imported from India on Sunday evening was the final night of this Red Bull Academy Music Festival.
Saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, John and Alice’s son, accompanied the ashram singers using a highly effective performance of his mommy’s ancient jazz compositions at the outside event.
The concert celebrated the one-hour compilation entitled, “The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda,” that premiered earlier this month from David Byrne’s music label Luaka Bop.
The album rocketed to number one on Billboard’s New Age and World music graphs. Luaka Bop agents said that the album would have topped jazz charts too but Billboard didn’t accept the album under the group, an unfortunate conclusion they said since Alice Coltrane’s jazz influence has been suspended in her devotional music.
These ten sacred songs were selected from four cassettes which Alice, also known by her Sanskrit title Turiya Sangitananda, softly recorded between 1982 and 1995 and released through her firm, Avatar Books, placed at Sai Anantam Ashram, the vedantic centre she founded in 1983. It is a body of work and also a chapter in Coltrane’ musical lifestyle that is mostly unknown out yogi circles and spiritual music aficionados.
The recent recognition of this masterful musician is long overdue. By all accounts Alice Coltrane was extraordinary.
Born Alice McLeod, Coltrane’s musical career began when she was a child from the dinosaurs of Detroit in which she was raised and born. She was a musical prodigy schooled in older time spirituals, blues and rhythm, and classically trained on the piano.
“There’s a picture of mother when she was like seven to the piano,” recalls Michelle. “Mom used to play at church and make a little cash and she’d give it to grandma.”
“Sometimes it strikes me how was she able to do this much, raise four kids, function as spiritual leader to so lots of men and women, teach, compose, perfect her art– it blows my mind when I feel all that she managed to do,” explained Michelle. “There’s certainly a genius to her and certainly her music.”
The brand new compilation has been created by jazz superstar Baker Bigsby who worked with Ornette Coleman, Sun Ra, and John Coltrane and has been the first recording engineer on all of Alice’s devotional records.
The compilation is still luminous. You find Alice chanting, singing, playing her harp, and resulting in a choir of all 24-celestial voices. There are eastern percussions, synthesizers, strings, and organs leading to a tasty mélange of sacred and soothing music.
“There’s certainly a genius to her and certainly her music.”
The audio is a reflection of Alice Turiyasangitananda ‘s spiritual devotion in the past four decades of her life and contain the musical world inside of this exceptional instrumentalist–from Igor Stravinsky to Bud Powell, from Detroit into India, from Africa to California, from Jesus into Rama, from older time spirituals and blues into ancient Sanskrit chanting. Words alone cannot behold the songs’s transcendental beauty and healing power–her music is a spiritual experience.
One reviewer wrote this, “listening to ‘Om Shanti,’ the very first tune in the compilation, is nothing less than an act of self-care.”
Yale Evelev, who co-owns Luaka Bop, has been blown away when he noticed Alice Turiyasangitananda’s devotional music one year ago at the suggestion of DJ Prince Language.
“Mine has been a visceral musical answer, Indian rapping, gospel,soulful this was music she devised, very revolutionary, and very sophisticated,” explained Evelev. The answer to the music, he says, continues to be astonishing. “There has been already appreciation for Alice’s music but with this launch we’ve observed something extraordinary.”
For several years nevertheless her musical function was lost inside her husband’s giant shadow.
“My mom was always pleased to talk about John’s music, it gave her pleasure; it’s the way she was. Sometimes it requires time and I only think this is the correct time politically and socially. After many years of bootlegged electronic variations, it’s wonderful to find a beautifully packaged and tangible collection of her work.”
In the summer of 1963, when Alice was 25, she was a part of a group led by vibrationist Terry Gibbs that started for The John Coltrane Quartet in the famed new york jazz temple, Birdland. It was there where she met John and two fell in love. They married in 1965, had three kids.
By 1967 John died of cancer departing Alice a widow with four young kids. Alice, who was on a spiritual quest with John researching Eastern music and spirituality, delved deeper to spiritual studies after his departure. She returned in India having a desire to leave secular life, and moved to Los Angeles from the 1970’s devoting her life and music to religious consciousness.
In 1975 she found the Vedantic Center within her home in Woodland Hills. Back in 1983 with a growing flock, she purchased nearly 50-acres of rolling mountains in Agoura Hills, California, just outside of Los Angeles and opened her ashram.
In 2017, no one would bat an eye since wellness, yoga, and meditation are ubiquitous. But in the 1970’s, maybe not so much. Alice was a black girl, a devoted yogi, a single mother of four, and also a masterful musician.
“Yes, my mom has been way ahead of her period,” noted Michelle. “She was a home-girl out of Detroit who founded an ashram from the west. Meditation is now a part of normal conversation, but back then, it was considered strange, and yoga has been viewed as only a bunch of folks who laid along with mats on the floor. But mother was always different.”
With a resurgence of function which uplifts and fuses musical influences from all over the world, it’s almost as though the spiritual teacher who expired in 2007 in age sixty-nine is reaching from beyond the cosmos to provide the world a much needed hug.
“Alice had a message of oneness, of inclusion, positivity, and admiration for one another,” says Evelev.
“She left this movie for us to love, because of our healing, and our expansion,” said her daughter Coltrane.
A new fan, Giebelhous agreed: “The extraordinary music welcomed and soothed us into a spiritual celebration of beauty and joy.”