Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Something About Alice: For My Niece Saran

As a child growing up in the sixties I heard a lot of the new jazz music that was emerging at that time. My parents were born near the Savoy Ballroom in Harlem in 1921. The Savoy was the Mecca for lindy hoppers. Early on I was weaned on the music of Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Jimmy Lunceford and Dinah Washington. In the mid sixties my brother George, who's seven years older than me, started to bring home jazz albums of a different sort. The music was becoming more experimental allowing the musicians room to solo extensively; searching, reaching and improvising their way into nether regions of spontaneous improvisation.

Perhaps no two artists pushed the envelope to the extreme than did John Coltrane and Miles Davis. My brother was a big fan of Coltrane's and I too found Coltrane's music to be both challenging and satisfying. (Miles, on the other hand, is my own personal deity and I pray at his altar every day!) As I was coming of age I discovered, for myself, the music of Alice Coltrane, wife of John.

What John Coltrane was searching for, Alice found. The first tune I heard Alice play was Gospel Trane from the album, A Monastic Trio. Later I purchased a copy of Ptah, The El Daoud which featured Joe Henderson and Pharoah Sanders on saxophones and the great Ben Riley on drums, Ron Carter bass and Alice on harp and piano. The album is a classic and it swings. She later released such titles as Journey to Satchindananda, Universal Consciousness and Transcendence.

She also collaborated with Carlos Santana on the 1974 album Illuminations which is a marvelous meeting of enlightened spirits where rock & jazz join in a meditative embrace. Alice also plays on Santana's "white album" Welcome that features Leon Thomas and Flora Purim as guest vocalists. Alice and Carlos set the album off by playing Anton Dvorak's "Going Home" (Anton hung in the hood before he wrote his Symphony No.9 "From the New World") At that time Carlos was a devotee of Sri Chinmoy and Alice became a devotee of Sai Baba so it's no surprise that they would play & record together.

This morning as I'm traveling to work I listened to Spiritual Eternal from the album Eternity. Alice plays the blues on what sounds like a Farfisa Organ and the string orchestra plays the blues. (I can't recall hearing a full orchestra play the blues unless, once again, you include Dvorak's Symphony No.9)

Mrs. Coltrane loved Igor Stravinsky and she arranged and recorded segments from Le Sacre du Printemps and L'oiseau de Feu.

Alice Coltrane was a truly beautiful spirit and musician.

For my niece Saran who desires to play the harp.

Cliff Jacobs
Have Pen, Will Write