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Monument Eternal

The Music of Alice Coltrane

Franya J. J. Berkman

Publication Year: 2010

Alice Coltrane was a composer, improviser, guru, and widow of John Coltrane. Over the course of her musical life, she synthesized a wide range of musical genres including gospel, rhythm-and-blues, bebop, free jazz, Indian devotional song, and Western art music. Her childhood experiences playing for African-American congregations in Detroit, the ecstatic and avant-garde improvisations she performed on the bandstand with her husband John Coltrane, and her religious pilgrimages to India reveal themselves on more than twenty albums of original music for the Impulse and Warner Brothers labels.

In the late 1970s Alice Coltrane became a swami, directing an alternative spiritual community in Southern California. Exploring her transformation from Alice McLeod, Detroit church pianist and bebopper, to guru Swami Turiya Sangitananda, Monument Eternal illuminates her music and, in turn, reveals the exceptional fluidity of American religious practices in the second half of the twentieth century. Most of all, this book celebrates the hybrid music of an exceptional, boundary-crossing African-American artist.

Ebook Edition Note: All images in center photo section have been redacted.

Published by: Wesleyan University Press

Series: Music Culture


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pp. c-vi


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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

My first exposure to the music of Alice Coltrane occurred while I was relaxing in savasana, or the corpse pose, on the floor of a Brooklyn yoga studio in the winter of 1993. The instructor started the cassette player, and out came the rich sound of a black woman’s tenor voice chanting the name of Siva, accompanied by a Wurlitzer organ and a small violin section. The...

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pp. xiii-xvi

Many people have helped me bring this project to fruition, and I offer them my sincere gratitude. Most of all, I thank the late Alice Coltrane and her associates (George Bohannon, Terry Gibbs, Bennie Maupin, Cecil McBee, Ed Michel, Ben Riley, and Vishnu Wood) and members of the Sai Anantam Ashram community (in particular, Radha Reyes- Botafasina and Surya Botafasina)...

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Introduction: Alice Coltrane as Turiyasangitananda

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pp. 1-18

To reach Sai Anantam Ashram, home of Alice Coltrane’s Vedantic Center, you must travel on Triunfo Canyon Road, which goes through a lovely mountain pass in Agoura Hills, California, and winds leisurely between horse farms and exclusive homes in the Santa Monica Mountains. When you reach the ashram’s entrance—a humble gate that is easily overlooked—...

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1. God's Child in the Motor City

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pp. 19-46

Long before her artistic collaborations with John Coltrane, Alice Coltrane (1937–2007), née Alice McLeod, had already acquired a wealth of musical experience and a deep understanding of the spiritual power of music. An African American keyboard prodigy, she had the great fortune of growing up in a musical family in Detroit during its postwar heyday, a period in...

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2. Manifestation

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pp. 47-63

In February 1966, Alice McLeod, now Alice Coltrane, made her first recording with her husband John in a San Francisco studio, which was posthumously issued as “Manifestation” on the CD Cosmic Music. Her stunning and seemingly overnight transformation from a Detroit bebop pianist to a champion of the new music evident on this recording speaks to the profound...

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3. Universal Consciousness

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pp. 64-93

After her husband’s untimely death in 1967, Alice assumed the extraordinary task of carrying on John Coltrane’s musical, spiritual, and familial legacy. She never rebelled against this responsibility or tried to differentiate her work from his. On the contrary, she wrote and performed a great deal of music in his memory and continually referred to him—often as “the Father”...

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4. Glorious Chants

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pp. 94-110

In 1976, Alice Coltrane had a revelation in which she received divine instruction to renounce secular life and don the orange robes of a swami, or spiritual teacher in the Hindu tradition. Thereafter, she was known as Swamini (the feminine form of “swami”) Turiyasangitananda; she translated her “anointed” name from Sanskrit as “the Transcendental Lord’s highest song...


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pp. 111-118


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pp. 119-126


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pp. 127-128


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pp. 129-137


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pp. G1-G6

E-ISBN-13: 9780819571069
Print-ISBN-13: 9780819569240

Page Count: 160
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Music Culture