Coltrane, Brecker go to great gig in the sky

Forty years after John Coltrane's death, the jazz world lost two important links to the legendary saxophonist this week.

Coltrane's widow Alice Coltrane, a pianist, harpist and organist, passed away Friday at 69 of respiratory failure. Saxophonist Michael Brecker, 57, died Saturday of leukemia.

Brecker was the arguably the most influential saxophonist of his generation. Working as a leader, sideman and studio whiz, he ingested Coltrane's harmonic and technical innovations, packaging them in a style at once accessible and sophisticated.

Born in Philadelphia, he began as a clarinetist at 6, moving through alto saxophone on his way to tenor. He briefly attended Indiana University before dropping out to pursue music.

Brecker recorded the first of his 900-plus albums in 1969, and formed the fusion band Dreams with drummer Billy Cobham and his brother Randy, a trumpeter. His jazz credits include Pat Metheny and Chick Corea, but he was equally comfortable in the pop world, working with Joni Mitchell, Steely Dan, Frank Zappa and James Taylor. A perennial favorite of the Recording Academy, Brecker racked up 11 Grammys, many for his work as a soloist.

In 2005, Brecker publicly announced his diagnosis with a bone-marrow disorder, which later progressed to leukemia. Despite calls for bone-marrow donors and numerous benefits held by musician friends, Brecker passed away from the illness in a New York City hospital Saturday.

Coltrane did not have nearly as much influence on music as Brecker, but her spiritual impact was great. As a young pianist, she met John Coltrane while playing in vibraphonist Terry Gibbs' band in 1963; they were married two years later. She replaced McCoy Tyner in her husband's band during the last period of his career, as his music became more and more daring.

The prime of her career came in the early 1970s, playing adventurous music informed by the gospel music she heard and played during her childhood in the company of her late husband's associates. But a new spiritual direction became powerful in her life: the influence of gurus Swami Satchidananda and Sathya Sai Baba.

Beginning in the late 1970s, Coltrane largely retreated from performance to lead her own ashram (Sai Anantam near Los Angeles-she was known as Swami Turiyasangitananda), raise her children (including now-prominent tenor saxophonist Ravi Coltrane) and administer John Coltrane's estate. She made a brief, critically acclaimed comeback in 2004 with Translinear Light, featuring Ravi Coltrane, Charlie Haden and Jack DeJohnette.


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