Coltrane Day Hopes to Hit All the High Notes to Restore Trane’s Dix Hills Home

John Coltrane

Some of the best-known jazz musicians in the world will be taking center stage July 23 as Heckscher Park in Huntington hosts the second annual Coltrane Day Music Festival.

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The musical genres range from jazz to funk, blues, hip-hop, reggae and gospel, promising something to please every ear. Proceeds from the all-day event will help to restore John Coltrane’s Dix Hills home, where he composed his iconic masterpiece A Love Supreme.

Who will be attending the Coltrane Jazz Festival?

Among the many luminaries on the lineup is the great drummer Roy Haynes, a living legend, whose stellar career as a “hard swinger” includes stints with Coltrane, Charlie Parker and Miles Davis, to name a few. Grammy Award-winner Randy Brecker, an innovative jazz-rock trumpeter and composer, has recorded with the likes of James Taylor, Bruce Springsteen, and Frank Sinatra. Saxophonist Charles Neville is the second-oldest of the Neville Brothers, the great family band that put New Orleans music on the map of American pop culture. Michelle Coltrane, the only daughter of Alice and John Coltrane, is an internationally known vocalist, arranger and band leader. The Firey String Sistas features Nioka Workman on cello, Mala Waldron on piano and vocals, Marlene Rice on violin, Melissa Slocum on base, and Dorota Piotrowska on percussion.

“Not only are Nioka and Mala tremendous musicians, but they’re also daughters of music giants who actually played and recorded with John Coltrane,” said Ron Stein, president of the Coltrane Home in Dix Hills, a not-for-profit organization. Nioka’s father was the famous bassist Reggie Workman. Mala’s dad is Mal Waldron, the acclaimed pianist and composer. Another claim to fame: Her godmother was Billie Holiday.

“One thing we’re trying to do is elevate the role of women in music,” said Stein. “Alice was one of the few female musicians who actually succeeded on the stage not behind the microphone. She was one of the great piano players of her generation, and to this day considered one of the greatest jazz harp players who lived. She was very influential in bringing the Eastern religious music of India to the rock music world.”

‘Building community through music’

Besides the eclectic roster of talented performers that includes students and professional musicians, there will be more than a dozen workshops and community jams to make it a full day of inspired music, bringing a wide range of people together, just the way Alice Coltrane intended.

“This year’s theme—Building Community Through Music—reminds us that nothing brings people together and connects us like music,” said Stein. Last year’s concert celebrated the 50th anniversary of the release of Coltrane’s jazz breakthrough, which he’d composed at the Dix Hills home.

John Coltrane House Dix Hills
The Coltrane House in Dix Hills, which a non-profit dedicated to preserving the site is seeking a federal designation. (Spencer Rumsey/Long Island Press)

The house could use a lot of love itself, to put it mildly. In 2011 the National Trust for Historic Preservation put the former Coltrane residence on its list of the “Eleven-Most Endangered Properties” in the United States. Abandoned for two years before Huntington Town acquired the property in 2005, it had suffered extensive damage. But since then, with dedication and determination, volunteers and preservationists on the board have stabilized its condition and stopped its deterioration.

Now the group is hoping to take it to the next level.

“We’re in the running to become a National Treasure,” says Stein, proudly.

Representatives of the National Trust have taken a keen interest in the Coltrane house, donating $5,000 last year, touring the site, and requesting more information to help them make their decision.

What would this designation mean?

“It opens the keys to the kingdom, so to speak,” said Stein. “It adds a level of credibility to the effort, because one of the problems that we are experiencing now, despite the fact that we’ve been doing this for a number of years, and despite the experience of some of the board members, is that we’re still seen as a non-profit startup by many organizations because we haven’t been…around raising big dollars year after year after year.”

The recognition could help this Coltrane organization take giant steps, Stein says, putting them in touch with high-end donors and those with the technical capacity and skills to transform the place into the culturally significant destination the group has long envisioned. Stein hopes to find out within the next few months if they made the grade. Proceeds from the Coltrane Day will go toward their capital campaign. They hope to raise approximately $2 million, whether in “real dollars or in in-kind dollars to try to move the restoration forward,” Stein says.

One of the toughest issues at the Dix Hills house has been getting rid of mold.

“We have literally taken apart the top two stories completely,” Stein said. Preservationists carefully labeled and removed every object that had historical significance and put the materials in storage while the house is being cleaned. The next target is the basement, where Alice and John Coltrane set up their recording studio.

“Once we get the basement fully cleaned and the mold remediated, then we can actually start to piece the house together again,” Stein says. “That’s the reason we’re going to be pushing our capital campaign.”

John Coltrane Jazz Festival

Following the Tesla model

The designation won’t bring in a lot of money by itself, Stein says, but it will raise the Coltrane Home in Dix Hill’s profile. In the meantime, his group has been trying to get some funding support from Albany, where they were thwarted last year due to a computer glitch that nixed their grant application.

“We’ve been working hard to develop relationships with many state legislators,” said Stein. “We have broad support among the business community, and I would be very surprised if we do not get a good amount of support from the state this year.”

He said the Coltrane Home organization wants to emulate the success that the non-profit group known as Tesla Science Center at Wardenclyffe has had trying to develop the site in Shoreham where Nikola Tesla intended to make electricity freely available to the world, an effort documented by the award-winning film, Tower to the People.

In honor of the visionary inventor’s 160th birthday on July 10, the center hosted an event that was linked live to the Nikola Tesla Museum celebration in Belgrade, Serbia, Tesla’s native country. Thanks to the efforts of this Long Island group, Tesla’s last remaining laboratory was saved from destruction and preserved, with the future intention of turning the property into a science and technology center and museum.

“We would love to follow that model,” Stein said.

In 1964 John and Alice Coltrane bought their Huntington house. The great jazz musician died from liver cancer on July 17, 1967, at Huntington Hospital, and was buried at Pinelawn Cemetery in Farmingdale. His wife sold the place in 1972 and moved to California. Today, a Coltrane statue stands in High Point, N.C., where the musician grew up. His home in Philadelphia, where he lived from 1952 until 1958 when he moved to New York City, is a National Historic Landmark, but it’s not open to the general public.

The goal of the Friends of the Coltrane Home is to create a world-renowned center that honors Trane’s career the way the Louis Armstrong House Museum in Corona, Queens, honors the iconic horn-player known as Satchmo. Stein said that Michael Cogswell, executive director at the Armstrong museum, has played an important part in their planning, Stein said.

This day and night of music gets them closer to opening the door so Coltrane fans can feel the love firsthand.

To find out more about the upcoming Coltrane Day Music Festival, which runs from noon to 10:30 p.m. July 23 at Heckscher Park in Huntington Village, click here. The rain date is Sunday, July 24. $10 admission donation for adults.