June 3, 2020

The John and Alice Coltrane Home: A Source of Inspiration

In a time of uncertainty and isolation, people’s houses are working overtime, often serving as schoolrooms and offices in addition to their regular roles. These spaces are also home to newfound innovative impulses, and while many individuals are taking time to bond with family members, they’re also tapping into their creativity, which can often take a back seat to the demands of everyday life.

While broadcasting music, making videos to share on social media, and dabbling in art projects from home is a new experience for most, for John and Alice Coltrane, home was always a place to experiment with their artistry. In fact, their family home in Long Island, New York, was the birthplace of some of their most celebrated work.

The accomplished jazz musicians and composers used their former 1952 suburban home not only to escape from the outside world, but to cultivate their most iconic masterpieces from 1964 to 1973. John Coltrane spent his last three years living in the Dix Hills neighborhood and used the time to explore his spirituality through music before he died of liver cancer in 1967.

Built in 1952, this Midcentury Ranch house in Dix Hills, New York, in 1964 was once the home of John and Alice Coltrane.

photo by: Joshua Scott

Exterior of John and Alice Coltrane's Home in Long Island, New York.

The ranch-style house is the birthplace of Coltrane’s legendary 1964 project, “A Love Supreme.” Created in one of their bedrooms, the album has undeniably impacted the lives of many. Coltrane spent five days in isolation in the upstairs room with just a pen, paper, and saxophone, and the piece continues to inspire musical artists across various genres to this day.

Their son Ravi Coltrane considers home as a place of balance, comfort, and safety. He believes that’s what his father was looking for to create his art, although he spent many years in places like North Philadelphia, and in New York City.

“I think there was something about the solitude and the peace that he found there in Long Island that just allowed him to be with his new wife and his new family and his children and to stay as creative—even more creative probably than he was able to living anywhere else,” Ravi said.“He had so much room and so much space for contemplation and to be inspired by the nature.”

The Dix Hills' home basement was another significant area used for musical experimentation and cultivation. It was Alice’s studio where she recorded her first album, "A Monastic Trio," in 1968. Alice also recorded additional works including, “Journey in Satchidananda”; “Ptah, the El Daoud”; and “Universal Consciousness.” She learned how to play the harp and organ in her studio and spent time to invest in her spiritual journey.

Alice Coltrane plays on the Steinway piano her husband gave her in 1964, and her son, Ravi, plays the saxophone in front of a photograph of John Coltrane (2004).

photo by: J. Emilo Flores/Getty Images

Alice and Ravi Coltrane with a photograph of John Coltrane.

Without a doubt, the house was inseparable from the Coltrane's creative output. Today, Alice’s meditation room “is still intact” and a small room on the second floor of the home, which is now a kitchenette, was named “Jackson Five fan club room” by their kids. Ravi and his sister, Michelle Coltrane recalled various instruments, such as a koto, piccolo, bag pipes, a guitar, and pianos, being laid out all over home.

She remembers her dad’s saxophone case being placed right under their white piano in the living room, and Ravi recalls playing the piano when he was very young. He also mentioned his mother’s beautiful Steinway piano that was in the home’s studio.

After John’s death, Alice and the family stayed in the home a few additional years, until she decided to sell it and move to California in 1973.

“When we moved to California, that was the instrument [Steinway piano] that came with us,” Ravi said. “That was the instrument that I heard my entire life and I still have that piano in my possession. My siblings and I decided that certain instruments would go to certain places, so that Steinway is here back in New York with me. I feel the most connected with that instrument.”

Ravi said all their father’s saxophones relocated with them to California, and he still has some of his father’s instruments. He says he gets a lot of inspiration of having them in his possession.

The living room interior, which inspired John Coltrane's composition "Living Space," included on his 1965 album, "Crescent."

photo by: Joshua Scott

View of the living room at the Coltrane House.

In 2002, the New York home was at risk of demolition, but fortunately the property was bought by the town of Huntington, thanks to many supporters who advocated to preserve it and its distinctive history.

Through the collaborative efforts of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the Huntington community, the Coltrane family, and nonprofit organization Friends of the John and Alice Coltrane Home, the 3.4-acre property is in the works to become a cultural education center. To celebrate John and Alice Coltrane’s legacy, the National Trust and the coalition of partners are taking a unique approach on how to preserve this National Treasure. The goal is to use home as a place of inspiration that encourages visitors to invest in their creative talents and explore musical artistry just as the legendary couple did.

“Now more than ever, the arts are so very needed and so important within our society,” Ravi said. “You know, I do have hopes and dreams that the home in itself can be a resource for musicians for artists of every type to inspire and motivate them in their own creative pursuits.”

Alice Coltrane performs live on stage at the North Sea Jazz Festival in the Hague, the Netherlandsm on July 12, 1987.

photo by: Frans Schellekens/Getty Images

Alice Coltrane

John Coltrane in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1961.

photo by: JP Jazz Archive/Getty Images

John Coltrane

The coalition wants to make this vision come to life through, in part, through a grant from the National Trust’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund. The fund provides financial aid to historic sites that exemplify African American achievement, activism, and community.

But,before the home can be transformed into a cultural center and open to the public, its brickwork, interior, and foundation needs repair. Once that is complete, focus can turn to interpreting the house for visitation. The basement is planned to become an interactive space for creatives to experiment with their music and artistry, while the meditation room and other areas of the house will be used to hold musical workshops, educational gatherings, and more.

Michelle reminisced on how she felt when she revisited the home during a "Coltrane Day." She felt as if she was a ghost when she walked into the house.

“I was so distracted by the feeling,” Michelle said. “I was trying to talk and be social, but walking around and looking at it, it was like I was spirit. I could feel the spirit....Every room I walked in the kitchen and the birthday parties and the cake and the table and the dog we had. It's something else, and it gave me the chills to be in my room when I was a little girl. I remembered looking out the window and all of that. All of those memories came flooding back, and I feel very blessed to be able to have seen that and if I should live long enough for see it come to fruition.”

The second-floor bedroom, where John Coltrane composed much of his music including "A Love Supreme."

photo by: Joshua Scott

View of the composition room at the Coltrane House.

The goal is for the home to provide an outlet for visitors to explore their sense of purpose, both creatively and spiritually, through music. There’s no better time to support the arts and historic sites like the Coltrane’s home than now.

“The home is important because I believe John and Alice were some of the most important musicians of the 20th century,” Ravi said. “They both really showed the world that the great physical and spiritual power in music and creativity. They shined a light on all the possibilities. What's out there for artists to explore and going as deep as you can within your own creative abilities. John and Alice showed us a path to do that and I think again the house really embodies that in so many ways.”

A year before his death, John Coltrane stated, “I know that there are bad forces, forces that bring suffering to others and misery to the world. I want to be the opposite force. I want to be the force which is truly for good,” referring to his purpose behind connecting his spirituality and music together. Music is currently serving as a source of tranquility and therapeutic fulfillment for people during isolation. Hopefully the Coltranes and their home will empower many to create beautiful masterpieces through their unique talent as they did.

“I’ve always been inspired by my parents; I mean they were just a musical love story,” Michelle said. “They were young. My mother was in [her late 20s]. Who would live out in the boonies like that when you’re young and have a family, you know? That inspired me. They were two creative people getting together. They were able to focus on their craft. They got into their spirituality. They had children. I mean it’s just outside of my father’s life being very short, that is a movie. A love story. A real one. You know, and African American people too in that generation, it’s like I’m inspired by that.”

Are you looking for melodic, soothing sounds for creative inspiration? Check out a compilation of the Coltrane’s music.

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Brianna Rhodes is the African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund Fellow for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

brhodes@savingplace.org

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