As a child in Detroit, young Alice McLeod studied classical music and participated in the gospel band at church. But her brother, bassist Ernie Farrow, introduced her to jazz early on, and as a teen she became quite taken with bop and its offshoots. In Detroit she played piano on sessions with masters like guitarist Kenny Burrell and saxophonist Lucky Thompson. By the early 1960s she was sharing the bandstand with vibes player Terry Gibbs. It was on tour with Gibbs that she met saxophonist John Coltrane. Their 1966 wedding was the start of a musical union as well. When she replaced pianist McCoy Tyner in the classic Coltrane Quartet there was hubbub in the jazz world. But John Coltrane’s music was unfolding further with every passing month — he had begun probing musical motifs from the East. Alice’s approach to the piano assisted in extending the music even further.
When her husband died in 1967, Alice continued working with members of his last group, including Garrison, saxophonist Pharoah Sanders, and drummer Rashied Ali. She began playing the harp, utilizing sitar and tablas in the ensemble, and turning fully to Eastern cultures for inspiration; spiritual and colorful, her music morphed into the soundtrack for prayer. Her talents and trajectory spoke to others.
By Jim Macnie
Excerpted from: Alice Coltrane Priceless Jazz