Smorgasbord Blog Magazine – The Music Column with William Price King – Alice Coltrane #Pianist #Harpist

Welcome to the last music column of the year with William Price King who will return in the New Year with more Jazz instrumentalists.

Today, William shares the life and music of pianist and harpist Alice Coltrane (née McLeod, August 27, 1937 – January 12, 2007), also known by her adopted Sanskrit name Turiyasangitananda or Turiya Alice Coltrane, was an American jazz musician and composer, and in her later years a swamini. One of the few harpists in the history of jazz, she recorded many albums as a bandleader, beginning in the late 1960s and early 1970s for Impulse! and other major record labels. She was the second wife and the widow of jazz saxophonist and composer John Coltrane.

Alice McLeod was born on August 27, 1937, in Detroit, Michigan and grew up in a musical household. Her mother, Anna McLeod, was a member of the choir at her church, and her half brother, Ernest Farrow became a jazz bassist. With the motivation of Ernest, Alice pursued music and started to perform in various clubs around Detroit, until moving to Paris in the late 1950s. Alice studied classical music, and also jazz with Bud Powell in Paris, where she worked as the intermission pianist at the Blue Note Jazz Club in 1960. Following the breakdown of her marriage to Kenny Hagood Alice moved back to Detroit with her daughter.

She continued playing jazz as a professional in Detroit, with her own trio and as a duo with vibist Terry Pollard. In 1962–63 she played with Terry Gibbs’ quartet, during which time she met John Coltrane. In 1965 they were married in Juárez, Mexico. John Coltrane became stepfather to Alice’s daughter Michelle, and the couple had three children together.

In January 1966, Alice Coltrane replaced McCoy Tyner as pianist with John Coltrane’s group. She subsequently recorded with him and continued playing with the band until his death on July 17, 1967. After her husband’s death, she continued to forward the musical and spiritual vision, and started to release records as a composer and bandleader.

“Ptah, the El Daoud” recorded and released in 1970 is the third solo album by Alice Coltrane and her first album with horns. All of the compositions were written by her. This is a great album consisting of four tracks featuring an all-star cast including Ben Riley, Ron Carter, Pharaoh Sanders, and Joe Henderson. From the first moments of the title track to the last moments of « Mantra, » the album resonates with beauty, clarity, and emotion and demonstrates that Alice was a strong composer and performer in her own right, with a unique ability to impregnate her music with spirituality and gentleness without losing its edges or depth.

From 1968 to 1977, she released thirteen full-length records. As the years passed, her musical direction moved further from standard jazz into the more cosmic, spiritual world.

“Journey in Satchidananda”, a transcendental blend of modal experimental Jazz and Eastern spirituality, is Alice Coltrane’s fourth solo album whose title and title track reflect the inspiration she received from Swami Satchidananda, with whom she had a special relationship while, at the same time, being one of his followers. In the liner notes for this album, Mensah Demary wrote “listening to Alice play is to hear what love, and the love of life, sounds like—it is a love that is for John, but is also clearly a love for something higher, something far less flawed and temporary than another human being.” Though the arrangements are pared down, there is a myriad of bells, oud, tamboura, and other exotic instrumentation and she shares the spotlight with a group of legendary musicians such as Pharaoh Sanders, Charlie Haden, Cecil McBee, and Rashied Ali. This album was recorded at the Coltrane studio in New York and released on the label Impulse in 1971.

Albums like Universal Consciousness (1971), and World Galaxy (1972), show a progression from a four-piece lineup to a more orchestral approach, with lush string arrangements and cascading harps.

“Universal Consciousness,” Coltrane’s fifth solo album, is a tribute to her spiritual principles. Ornette Coleman did the arrangements, featuring guest stars Jimmy Garrison, Rashied Ali, Jack DeJohnette and Leroy Jenkins. The avant garde “Universal Consciousness “ transcends free jazz by its reliance on deeply thematic harmonic material. The music, whether composed or improvised, perfectly unites the kingdoms of body, speech, and mind for the listener to take into his/her own experience.

The death of John Coltrane was devastating and led to Alice turning further towards a spiritual path. In 1975 she established the Vedantic Center in California and became the director or swamini of Shanti Anantam Ashram in 1983 near Malibu.

This Alice Coltrane recording of “Transfiguration“, featuring Reggie Workman and Roy Haynes in the rhythm section, was recorded live at UCLA in 1978. Here, her keyboard work is greatly influenced by African and Indian music. There is a strong resemblance with the organ playing of minimalist Terry Riley, who is also one of her devotional figures. “Transfiguration” highlights her virtuosity and improvisational prowess, which is particularly noticeable on John Coltrane’s “Leo”, divided into two parts, in which she uses twelve tones which play off each other to represent each sign of the zodiac. A powerful piece of music.

Alice would perform formal and informal devotional Vedic ceremonies at the ashram. She performed solo chants, known as bhajans, and group chants, or kirtans. She developed original melodies from the traditional chants, and started to experiment by including synthesizers and sophisticated song structures. This culminated in her first spiritual cassette, Turiya Sings, in 1982 and through the mid 1980s into the mid 1990s, she released three more cassettes, Divine Songs in 1987, Infinite Chants in 1990, and Glorious Chants in 1995. New York-based label Luaka Bop released a compilation of tracks from her ashram tapes as World Spirituality Classics 1: The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda in May 2017.

The 1990s saw renewed interest in her work, which led to the release of the compilation Astral Meditations, and in 2004 she released her comeback album Translinear Light. Following a 25-year break from major public performances, she returned to the stage for three U.S. appearances in the fall of 2006, culminating on November 4 with a concert for the San Francisco Jazz Festival with her son Ravi, drummer Roy Haynes, and bassist Charlie Haden.

“Translinear Light “, Alice’s last studio album, was produced by her son Ravi Coltrane who accompanies her on the saxophone and percussions. This was her big comeback album with a little help from her friends, Charlie Haden on double bass and Jack DeJohnette on drums. In addition to the original compositions, this album includes two works by John Coltrane and four covers, showcasing the many influences she had during her career as well as, from time to time, fusion. The tracks « Satya Sai Isha », “This Train”, “Triloka”, and “Leo” where there’s an awesome interplay with her son Ravi, are mind blowing.

Alice Coltrane died of respiratory failure at West Hills Hospital and Medical Center in suburban Los Angeles in 2007, aged 69. She is buried alongside John Coltrane in Pinelawn Memorial Park, Farmingdale, Suffolk County, New York.

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About William Price King

William Price King is an American jazz singer, crooner, and composer.

His interest in music began at an early age when he studied piano and clarinet in high school. At Morehouse College in Atlanta where he grew up, he sang in the Glee Club and studied classical music. After graduation he went off to the Yale School of Music where he earned a Masters degree. From there he journeyed to New York where he created a jazz trio ‘Au Naturel’ which performed in some of the hottest venues in Manhattan including gigs on Broadway and the famous ‘Rainbow Room.’ These gigs opened doors for performances in Montreal and a European tour.

While touring Europe he met a lovely French lady, Jeanne Maïstre, who, a year later became his wife. King left the group ‘Au Naturel’ and settled in the south of France where he started a new life on the French Riviera, opening his own music school – the “Price King Ecole Internationale de Chant.” He has had the pleasure over the years of seeing many of his students excel as singers on a professional level, and some going on to become national celebrities. He continues to coach young singers today, in his spare time.

His debut jazz album was entitled “Home,” and was a collection of contemporary compositions he composed, with lyrics written by his wife Jeanne King. His second album was a Duo (Voice and Guitar) with Eric Sempé on the guitar. This album included original songs as well as well known standards from contemporary jazz and pop artists. The “King-Sempé” duo toured France and thrilled audiences for more than three years before going their separate ways. King has formed a new duo with French/Greek guitarist Manolis, and is now exploring new ideas, in a smooth jazz/soul/folk direction.

In addition to singing and composing, King has been collaborating with author Sally Cronin over the past few years on her blog “Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life,” with the series “A Man And His Music – Jazz, Contemporary, Classical, and Legends” and now, the “William Price King Music Column.” Working with author Sally Cronin has been an exhilarating experience in many ways and has brought a new dimension to King’s creative life. King has also created a micro blog, “Improvisation,” which features and introduces mostly jazz artists from across the jazz spectrum who have made considerable contributions in the world of jazz; and also artwork from painters who have made their mark in the world of art. This micro blog can be found on Tumblr.

His vocal mentors are two of the greatest giants in jazz, Nat King Cole and Mel Tormé. King has a distinctive wide-ranging voice which displays a remarkable technical facility and emotional depth.

William Price King on Tumblr – IMPROVISATION

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You can find all of the Music Column series in this directory:

And here is a reminder of the magic of William Price King’s own voice.. a teaser with his new accompanist Manolis…