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Coltrane's Home Now a Historical Site


I'm Farai Chideya, and this is NEWS & NOTES.

It's been a good month for John Coltrane fans. Yesterday, the Prestige record label released a new box set of Trane rarities. New York Times music critic Ben Ratliff published a new biography mapping out Coltrane's lifelong musical journey. And to top it all off, the saxophonist former home in Dix Hills, Long Island is joining both the New York State and National Register of Historic Places. As co-chair of the Friends of John Coltrane's House, Steve Fulgoni is a driving force behind that last bit of good news, and he joins us now.

Steve, congratulations.

Mr. STEVE FULGONI (Director, Friends of the Coltrane Home): Hi. Thank you very much.

CHIDEYA: So you've got a 501(c)(3) non-profit, you're looking to create a museum and education center. What's that going to be like for visitors?

Mr. FULGONI: Well, we hope to create, first of all, this was the home where John and Alice Coltrane lived from 1964 until John passed away in 1967, and that Alice lived here with her children until 1972. This is where he created "A Love Supreme." This is where he created all of his later work. And miraculously in 2004, we saved the home from being demolish, and it is almost exactly the way the Coltrane family left it. So we'd like to recreate that and make it a very, very unique place for people to come and visit, see where the Coltranes lived and experience some of the music and videos that are not available anywhere else.

CHIDEYA: So give us a sense of this community. Dix Hills is suburban. Was it a place in 1964 when they moved in that there were black families there already or not so much?

Mr. FULGONI: Well, Dix Hills is a very mixed community. It's an affluent community but it really has people of every race, religion. It's a nice mixed community. In 1964, when John and Alice moved out from Queens, it was really the end of the Long Island expressway, it was far out. But they bought a beautiful home on three and a half acres of property. There are African-American people were on the block then and still are today, yeah.

CHIDEYA: So when you think about their lives together, and both of them were musicians, we should say that it's not just John but Alice who also had her own career. Take us inside what you think life might have been like inside that house.

Mr. FULGONI: Well, first of all, the setting was very, very peaceful being a Dix Hills at that time was very rural. They had a lot of space, and they were in the process of creating a studio in the basement where, of course, Alice recorded her first five or six, I think, albums. And it was just a very, very nice warm place where they could create their music and raise their family.

CHIDEYA: Now John Coltrane died in 1967. I understand he spent his last night in that house.

Mr. FULGONI: Yeah, I mean, he died fairly suddenly. I don't think - there was just a one-night stay in the hospital and stomach pains and those things caused him to go to the hospital and he didn't make it. But he was there up until his last day.

CHIDEYA: Now when Alice Coltrane died, it was really only a year ago, and she spent most of her later years on the West Coast. So what happened in between John Coltrane's death and this moment today?

Mr. FULGONI: What happened between - I'm sorry…

CHIDEYA: Who was inhabiting the house in those years when Alice Coltrane was gone…

Mr. FULGONI: Okay.

CHIDEYA: …John had passed on?

Mr. FULGONI: Sure. In 1972, Alice moved to California where she lived until she passed away this year. It was owned by two separate families. And through - I consider it a series of miraculous events where the home was maybe rented and things like that, it remained entirely unchanged. There are shagged rugs in the meditation room, the recording studio in the basement. Everything was still there. And in 2002, it was scheduled - purchased by a developer who planned on tearing it down, and that's when I heard about it and started this grassroots campaign, which went all the way around the world to try and save it from being demolished.

CHIDEYA: Why did you do that, Steven(ph)? What I mean by that is that John Coltrane's music lives on. Why was it important to you to preserve where he live as oppose to other parts of his legacy?

Mr. FULGONI: Well, of course, it's about the music, and I'm a big John Coltrane fan of his music, but more so even about the man and Alice Coltrane personally. Their life, their ideals are my ideals and it - I just felt it was very important that so many people want to be able to see and touch the place where he lived and be a part of that, you know, maybe take a little part of his life with him - that experience. So I thought it was a very important part of American history and did not deserve to be torn down.

CHIDEYA: Tell us a little bit more about - you mentioned that "A Love Supreme" was created in this house. Tell us a little bit more about that story.

Mr. FULGONI: Well, "A Love Supreme," of course, is John Coltrane's gift - musically, his gift to God where, after many years - after 1957, when he turned himself around and really started to dedicate his life to being a force for good.

In 1964, after a period of four or five days in seclusion, he said to Alice, finally, I have everything. It has come to me in a musical sweep. And that is "A Love Supreme," which, of course, we know today. It's his gift to God. He meditated over a period of days, and this is where it all happened.

CHIDEYA: Now, back to the house. Being in the National Register of Historic Places, isn't the same as being a national landmark. So what's the difference, and how did that play out?

Mr. FULGONI: Well, the Parks Department has different levels of designation. Certainly, with what we've received right now, which is a listing on the National Register of Historic Places for both national and state of New York, it is a designated that, hey, this home, is nationally significant. The highest level is landmark status, which this would have been worthy of for sure, but it's typically only one landmark is given per person. And that already exists for the Coltrane home in Philadelphia. That is a national landmark.

CHIDEYA: When do you think you'll be able to open the exhibits?

Mr. FULGONI: Well, you know, it's been a long struggle I'll be honest. We - the town of Huntington very fortunately purchased the home and property from the developer for almost a million dollars, but they deeded the home over to our non-profit organization, which is led by myself, Ravi Coltrane, and the family. But we're in the process of raising funds, so we've done a lot of work already in terms of basic - getting the house stabilized because it was vacant for a while. But we're seeking to secure funds so that we can open it to the public. And I imagine it will take a few years.

CHIDEYA: Well, Steve, thanks so much.

Mr. FULGONI: Okay. Thank you.

CHIDEYA: Steve Fulgoni is co-chair of the Friends of the John Coltrane House, and he spoke with us from his office in Dix Hills. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.