Alice Coltrane (238122)
Credit: Chuck Stewart

By now, many of you have seen the documentary “Chasing Trane,” about the acclaimed musician John Coltrane. It was also an opportunity for viewers to learn a little more about his wife, Alice, if they hadn’t heard of her before, and with an iconic artist such as her husband, it was very easy to be overshadowed.

But she cast her own enormous shadow, one that has its own visibility since she often worked in close concert with him, most notably in his last ensemble, and carried on their musical legacy after his death.

Born Alice McLeod Aug. 27, 1937, in Detroit, she was surrounded by music as a child. Her mother, Anna, was a member of the choir at her church and, Ernie Farrow, her half-brother, was an outstanding bassist who performed with a list of notable leaders, including Yusef Lateef.

After acquiring some of the fundamentals of music and inspiration from her family, she pursued the study of classical music at age 7. As a teenager she attended Cass Technical High School, where she was again in the company of such proficient musicians as pianist Hugh Lawson (another Lateef protégé) and drummer Earl Williams.

Along with the lessons at Cass, she continued her musical development at her church and studying privately with a host of remarkable teachers and musicians in the city.

Her musical progress and prowess were rapid, and soon she was the pianist in a number of local bands before embarking for Paris in 1959 to study with the immortal Bud Powell. While in Paris, she worked as an intermission pianist at the Blue Note Jazz Club. Among the jazz greats with whom she performed were tenor saxophonist Lucky Thompson and drummer Kenny Clarke. Many of these dates were broadcast on radio and French television. She married vocalist Kenny “Pancho” Hagood in 1960. Their marriage ended after Hagood became addicted to heroin, and she moved back to Detroit with her daughter Michelle.

Back in Detroit she was constantly in demand at local nightclubs, where she often was featured with Terry Pollard, a talented vibraphonist who later would tour with Terry Gibbs. In 1962-63 she met John Coltrane while touring and recording with vibist Terry Gibbs. They were married in 1965 in Juarez, Mexico, and she joined his band a year later, replacing the indomitable McCoy Tyner.

Their union was deeply spiritual, and together they began to infuse spirituality into their musical performances and recordings. Although she didn’t perform on his most popular album, “A Love Supreme,” it was exemplary of their love for each other and their growing spirituality. After his death in July 17, 1967, she resumed her career with her first album, “A Monastic Trio.” From 1968 to 1977, sometimes on piano, harp or organ, she recorded more than a dozen albums. With each recording she was more deeply involved in cosmic and spiritual ventures, and the recordings “Universal Consciousness” in 1971 and “World Galaxy” a year later were indicative of this quest. Her early training on the harp became even more prominent in these recordings. Most of the recordings during this period were alternately done on Impulse and Warner Bros. labels.

When she began to suffer from various ailments, including an inability to sleep and hallucinations, she resorted to the counsel of Swami Satchidinanda, a guru who guided her into Vedic studies, and later she would establish her own ashram and found her Vedantic Center in 1975. By the late ’70s she had completely abandoned the secular life and changed her name to Turiyasangitananda. Now a swamini, or spiritual director, she renamed her ashram and relocated it to Malibu, Calif.

Delving even deeper into the Vedic life and chants resulted in the recording “Turiya Sings” (1982), which was released by the Avatar Book in a limited edition. She released several more cassettes through the ’80s and ’90s, most notably “Divine Songs.” Except for an appearance on pianist Marian McPartland’s “Piano Jazz” radio series in 1981, she continued her long retreat into a secular/spiritual life. Five years later, she and her sons Oran and Ravi performed in a tribute to John at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in Manhattan.

In the early ’90s, she consistently was back in public, and some of the performances were compiled in “Astral Meditations.” More significantly was “Translinear Light” in 2004. Her intermittent public concerts picked up considerably in 2006, and this year was highlighted by a date at the San Francisco Jazz Festival with her son Ravi on saxophone, Roy Haynes on drums and Charlie Haden on bass.

Coltrane died of respiratory failure at West Hills Hospital and Medical Center near Los Angeles in 2007. She was 69. Her body is interred alongside her husband in Pinelawn Memorial Park in Farmingdale, New York. But both spirits, once again united, continue to find a place in the hearts of their loyal fans and music lovers all over the globe.

Her daughter Michelle said about her parents and other members of her family, “I will always in some way pay homage to my family of musicians and composers Alice and John Coltrane. I will use the lessons taught by them, as parents and musicians, to hopefully guide my journey and lead me to exactly where I need to be. I hope that you the listener will enjoy my projects and feel inspired.”