Women’s History Month Tribute: Alice Coltrane

UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1970: Photo of Alice Coltrane Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Alice Coltrane’s music has had a huge influence on me in several aspects, perhaps most significantly by broadening my musical horizon and igniting my interest in jazz. Her music was my first contact with spiritual jazz, the genre which she pioneered throughout the ‘60s and into the ‘70s.

I vividly remember my introduction to her music. In November of 2017, following the reissue World Spirituality Classics 1: The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda, The Sai Anantam Ashram Singers came to Copenhagen to perform the album and screen the documentary titled Ashram.

When I heard about the concert, I had no idea who Alice Coltrane was (I could only recognize her last name because I had a faint awareness of John Coltrane), but the event description sounded interesting, so some friends and I decided to go. The event took place in a very small and intimate room belonging to the Copenhagen Concert Hall. Upon arriving, I had absolutely no idea what to expect, but I saw some people I knew, eagerly waiting for the show to start. Their enthusiasm quickly rubbed off on me, and soon after 13 people politely walked on stage and kicked off what might be the most impressive concert I’ve been to. 

The audience was immediately invited to sing along and become part of the choir, which I think made some people feel a bit uneasy. The concert was a rollercoaster of emotion and expressions, from meditative and spiritual chanting to heavenly harp melodies and ecstatic droning sounds of the oud and the tanpura, to groovy bass lines and uplifting gospel singing. Minute after minute, you could sense the energy in the room gravitate from being tense and tight to being more laid back, finally reaching a euphoric state. You could clearly see and feel people letting their guard down, embracing the effect of the music. Eventually, even though no one knew the words, everyone was singing along. I had never experienced this at a concert before – it was just what I needed on a bleak November evening in Denmark.

I had always wanted to explore jazz, however, it always felt like a daunting task. After learning about Alice Coltrane’s music, it no longer felt like a job, or something that just had to be done. I was suddenly equipped with a child-like curiosity, something I find far too rare, eager to explore this giant new world.

Mads Rehof is the bass for the Copenhagen-based band Communions. They will release their sophomore album Pure Fabrication April 23 on Tambourhinoceros. Pre-order the album here


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