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A Labor of Love Supreme: Saving John Coltrane’s Home Studio

The crumbling home—and home studio—of Jazz greats John and Alice Coltrane has been rescued and named a National Treasure, but the work has only begun.

Dix Hills, NY (October 10, 2018)—The now-crumbling suburban home where jazz saxophonist John Coltrane once created seminal works, including A Love Supreme, was named a National Treasure on October 9 by the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The designation acknowledged not only the importance of the Dix Hills, NY house in cultural and African-American history, but also the ongoing efforts of local preservationists determined to save the landmark from the brink of collapse after decades of neglect.

“The bricks on this home are literally coming off the walls, and the house inside is gutted,” said Ron Stein, president of The Friends of the Coltrane Home in Dix Hills. Built in 1952, the 2,700-square-foot house is nestled on a 3.4-acre plot in a leafy neighborhood an hour outside of New York City. There, the Coltranes created a creative refuge for themselves and their children. In the inspirational setting, the saxophonist wrote “Living Space” on his 1965 album, Crescent, about their herringbone-patterned wood-paneled living room adorned with a brick fireplace and circular stained-glass window. A year earlier, he composed the album considered his masterwork, A Love Supreme, in a spare bedroom on the second floor.

And it was there that the couple designed and began building a serious home studio in the basement with extensive soundproofing, a glass-walled control room and, out of necessity, an entrance through the garage where Coltrane kept his prized white Jaguar XKE. It was a studio that would eventually host other jazz greats like drummer Ben Riley, bassists Cecil McBee and Charlie Hayden, and saxophonists Joe Henderson and Pharaoh Sanders. It was a studio that Coltrane himself would not live to see completed.

Coltrane’s death in 1967 from liver cancer left Alice to become a single mother looking after four children while launching her own substantial solo career. Using the completed basement studio, the pianist went on to record five albums at home before moving to California and ultimately selling the house in 1973 without ever meeting the next owner.

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Passing through different landlords until it was boarded up and left to be demolished, the house was rescued by the Town of Huntington and the Friends group in the early 2000s. Today, the Friends group owns the site, but most of the intervening years have been spent fortifying the exterior and gutting most of the interior due to rampant mold throughout the house.

Today, the Coltrane Home remains closed to the public, but that will change: “The studio will be rebuilt and we will make it a working studio,” said Stein. “Everyone who plays or records here will do so knowing that some of the greatest musicians of the late Sixties and early Seventies spent a lot of time in this recording studio.”

The studio will be at the center of the group’s outreach plans and that means the recording technology used will be up-to-date rather than period authentic. “We’re not going to have the same Ampex [tape] decks that were in here,” said Stein before catching himself. “Well, we will have them but they won’t be working. We’re going to have [period] consoles; we’ve tracked some down, and one of them is the original one. They’ll be here, but they probably won’t be used. We’ll probably use digital because it costs a fortune to do analog—but people have been advocating for analog’s use.”

For now, there’s the more immediate concern of getting the control room and live room area back to a state where one could even think of recording there; at this point, it’s all a single, amorphous space with an industrial dehumidifier gently chugging away where the tape machines used to sit.

“All the acoustic tiling had to come out,” said Stein. “Those white walls are gone but they will be replaced. That’s actually easy and we’ll do it with proper soundproofing so that we can do stuff in here and not completely contaminate what’s going on elsewhere.”

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When completed, the studio will be used as an interactive and creative space for students and musicians young and old. “We’re going to bring it back to life in a big way,” said Stein, looking around the gutted room. “I actually think that the recording studio will be the most-used part of this house going forward.”

Friends of the Coltrane Home in Dix Hills •

National Trust for Historic Preservation •