Jazz Musician Alice Coltrane Dies

Alice Coltrane, widow of the legendary jazz musician John Coltrane and a giant of the jazz piano in her own right, has died. She was 69.

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STEVE INSKEEP:

Next, let's take a moment to remember Alice Coltrane, who died on Friday. She may be best known as a piano player who married jazz legend John Coltrane. But she was also a musical innovator, an influential spiritualist who developed her own sound on piano, on organ and on the harp.

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INSKEEP: We have a report now from music journalist Ashley Kahn.

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ASHLEY KAHN: As Alice Coltrane saw it, there's really no difference between making music and worshipping the divine. It was part of the philosophy she had inherited from her husband, saxophonist John Coltrane.

Ms. ALICE COLTRANE (Widow of John Coltrane): Once, John and I were coming form a concert that he had played, and it was late in the morning. We heard a couple leaving, and the lady said, oh, I have to hurry home. I'm going to church tomorrow. And her friends said, church? You've already been to church.

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KAHN: She was born Alice Lucille Mcleod in 1937 to a musical family in Detroit. She studied classical piano, fell in love with bebop jazz and then fell in love with John Coltrane in 1962. When he died five years later, she became a widow with a career that was just beginning.

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KAHN: Over the next 40 years, Alice Coltrane accomplished many things. She led a center for spiritual study. She raised four children, and she created an entirely original musical mix of modern jazz and the Indian Ragga's classical influences and funky blues.

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KAHN: In 2004, at the urging of her son, saxophonist Robby Coltrane, she came out of retirement and recorded her final album, "Translinear Light."

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KAHN: In the circle of jazz, a musician does not die or pass away. It's simply referred to as leaving. At the age of 69, Alice Coltrane has left us to begin a different stage of her journey. May she travel well.

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INSKEEP: Ashley Kahn is author of "The House that Trane Built: The Story of Impulse Records."

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Alice Coltrane: 'Translinear Light'

Listen: Ashley Kahn's 'Morning Edition' Report on Alice Coltrane

Alice Coltrane

hide captionAlice Coltrane

Doualy Xaykaothao, NPR
Cover for Alice Coltrane's 'Translinear Light'

hide captionCover for Alice Coltrane's Translinear Light (Impulse Records, 2004)

If jazz legend John Coltrane has disciples — musical or otherwise — chief among them would be his widow, Alice Coltrane.

Alice Coltrane, now 67, met her husband when they were both touring jazz musicians — she was a noted bebop jazz pianist and classically trained musician. She shared with her husband a passion for both music and the spiritual side of human experience. At one point, she joined her husband's famed quartet on piano, replacing jazz great McCoy Tyner.

When her famous husband died of liver cancer in 1967, Alice Coltrane became a fierce guardian of his vast musical estate. She was also left with the task of raising their four children. She continued with a string of well-received albums, but quit the jazz world in 1978.

Now, after a 26-year hiatus, Alice Coltrane is back with a new CD, Translinear Light. The title is a play on the Coltrane name, and also a nod to Alice Coltrane's deep spirituality.

"Look at what trance means," she tells The Tavis Smiley Show producer Roy Hurst. "It means to transcend... it means to become transcendental! So if we get a singular transcendental path of light, that could lead to such great dimensions of consciousness, of revelation, of spirituality, of spiritual power."

Alice Coltrane will join her son Ravi Coltrane and artists Savion Glover and Branford Marsalis in a concert to benefit the John Coltrane Foundation on Sept. 30 in Los Angeles.

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