Gifted harpist and pianist Alice Coltrane became a swamini in the second half of her life, establishing an ashram in Agoura Hills. (Courtesy photo/

When one is the wife and widow of a legendary jazz saxophonist, it can be easy—and quite innocently so—for people to forget (or mention less, perhaps) that she herself is an impossibly gifted musician and composer.

Lately, listeners and legend lovers have been remembering, and on the night of Saturday, August 27th, which would have been Alice Coltrane’s 85th birthday, the sound of those mentions, that understanding of her genius, was resoundingly clarion.

As part of its 36th Annual Summer Concert Series, and in partnership with dublab and The John and Alice Coltrane Home, Grand Performances held a birthday celebration for Coltrane—who played harp, piano, and organ—at California Plaza in downtown Los Angeles.

“The outpouring of love at the Alice Coltrane tribute this weekend was inspiring — you could feel it in the air,” remarked Canyon Cody, Grand Performances’ Director of Marketing & Communications.

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“It was definitely one of our busiest nights of Grand Performances’ summer season, with over 2,000 people coming together to celebrate her music, bringing her flowers in gratitude for the transcendent spirit she so generously shared with the world.”

The thirteenth of nineteen Grand Performances this season, “Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda: An Expansive Spirit” was composed of two separate programs. The Universal Consciousness Orchestra, which included a 16-piece string ensemble, was conducted and arranged by local composer Miguel Atwood-Ferguson, and featured the sonic power of L.A. native Azar Lawrence, who was the first tenor saxophonist brought in to replace John Coltrane in the quartet after his death in 1967.

The two ensembles presented multidisciplinary performances, including music, dance by Ranjani, a DJ set by Barbarelle & Teebs, poetry by Harmony Holiday, chanting and live visualizations by Alex Pelly. (Courtesy photo/Kimberly Shelby)

The second ensemble, which featured bhajans and progressive sounds inspired by the devotional music Alice shifted to in the late 1970s when she became a swamini and took the Sanskrit name Turiyasangitananda, was led by Surya Botofasina, a keyboardist and vocalist who was a member of Ms. Coltrane’s Sai Anantam Ashram. Michelle Coltrane, Alice’s daughter, was the featured vocalist. The melodic joining of their voices alongside other colleagues of Coltrane’s set to music with touches of gospel, jazz and Hindu influences made for sounds that induced euphoria. Men, women and children danced; many chanted along; the overarching vibration was one of bliss.

“Your soul is perfect,” Botofasina’s words resounded throughout the plaza, as he addressed the many different souls present, all of whom were in some way touched by Coltrane’s singular musicianship.

It seemed to underscore an excerpt of the Coltrane-penned liner notes from Alice’s most recent posthumous release, “Kirtan: Turiya Sings”: “This presentation of devotional music is earnestly offered from the soul to God, the Supreme Lord.”

Coltrane released a number of albums that could be classified as secular before dedicating her gifts to the creation of devotional music and establishing an ashram for spiritual development.

“As long as there has been music there has been devotional music, but Alice Coltrane brought her spirituality front and center in her sonic output, charting her personal path of inner transformation for the outside world to hear,” noted Mark “Frosty” McNeill, Co-Founder of dublab.

“In her commercial albums and her self-released “ashram albums,” we hear the trajectory of a woman headed towards transcendence on her own terms. She was unabashedly forward about the divine power of sound and harnessed it to elevate spirits.”

David Byrne’s Luaka Bop label released a collection of Coltrane’s works from this period in 2017, entitled The Ecstatic Music of Alice Coltrane Turiyasangitananda, which may or may not account for what feels like an unprecedented surge in appreciation of Coltrane’s artistry, particularly among a younger audience.

The vocal choir paying tribute to Coltrane featured Arianna Gouveia, Dwight Trible, Radha Botofasina, Shyam Tony Reyes and Sita Michelle Coltrane (Courtesy photo/Kimberly Shelby)

“Through a mapping of myriad sonic touchstones, Coltrane merged her wide-ranging influences together in such a fluid manner that the results belied just how groundbreaking her divine avant-grade proto-world music actually was,” offered McNeill.

“It often felt more like an extension of her breath than the result of complex composition, top tier audio production and masterful musicianship, but it was all because of these latter elements forged on dedication and experience that gave it an effortless feeling as if the sounds floated into existence. She was so far ahead of her time on every level that it’s natural we are all just slowly catching up.”

Ultimately, it could be argued that it does not matter whether a listener is ten, fifteen or forty years late in coming to appreciate this woman’s incomparable work, or if that appreciation comes by way of a more popular channel. Even the most enduring and puristic devotee might simply and most graciously say, as Botofasina did, emoting genuinely as he looked out upon Saturday’s audience, considering the challenges faced by the local community as well as the nation at large at this time, “Congratulations on making it here tonight.”

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Surya Botofasina of Coltrane’s Sai Anantam Ashram leads the ensemble in the second half of the evening’s program. (Courtesy photo)
Audience members pay tribute. (Courtesy photo)
Musicians from the two ensembles gather for an emotional closing. (Courtesy photo)
Azar Lawrence was only 19 years old when Elvin Jones invited him to fill John Coltrane’s shoes in his quartet. (Courtesy photo)
Alice’s daughter Sita Michelle Coltrane (center) is a vocalist, composer and Executive Board member of the John & Alice Coltrane Home. Also pictured: V.C.R. on violin and Arianna Gouveia. (Courtesy photo)