Pianist-harpist Alice Coltrane, the widow of John Coltrane who revolutionized jazz with her Eastern explorations-merging postbop and free jazz with Carnatic music and even avant-classical composition-died on Friday, Jan. 12 at West Hills Hospital near Los Angeles. Her death was related to respiratory failure. She was 69.
Born Alice Lucille McLeod on Aug. 27, 1937 in Detroit, Mich., Coltrane was raised by a family with a strong musical background-her mother sang and played piano in church and her half-brother, Ernie Farrow, played bass for Yusef Lateef and vibist Terry Gibbs-who encouraged her to learn piano at an early age. At 7, she began learning classical piano and religious hymns on church organs, eventually taking lessons from Bud Powell. By the early ’60s, Coltrane had performed with Lateef, Kenny Burrell and Lucky Thompson, and was playing piano for Farrow before she decided to move to New York to pursue a jazz career. After joining old acquaintance Terry Gibbs’ band, she met John Coltrane in 1963 following a gig at Birdland. She left Gibbs shortly thereafter and married John in 1965.