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Jazz great John Coltrane's Dix Hills home preserves musical history

Ron Stein, president of the Friends of the

Ron Stein, president of the Friends of the Coltrane Home nonprofit, gives a tour of the Coltrane home in Dix Hills on June 6. Credit: Shelby Knowles

In a second-floor bedroom of an unassuming high ranch house in Dix Hills sometime in 1964, jazz legend John Coltrane picked up his saxophone and unspooled the opening bars of his masterpiece "A Love Supreme" album for the first time.

It remains his best-known work and launched the brick house on Candlewood Path into history. 

The John and Alice Coltrane Home opened this year to limited, invitation-only tours after extensive mold remediation was completed by the Friends of the Coltrane Home nonprofit group. The National Trust for Historic Preservation last year named the house a national treasure. 

"The good thing is that this house is fairly close to what it was when the Coltranes lived here in the '60s," said Ron Stein, president of the Friends of the Coltrane Home. "And that's kind of amazing when you consider that all these mansions that have gone up and all the houses that have been gutted and radically changed." 

The nonprofit aims to raise $2 million to fully restore the house as a cultural center and museum, Stein said, estimating that about $400,000 has been raised to date. The National Trust’s African American Cultural Heritage Action Fund awarded the nonprofit a $75,000 grant to hire a project manager, and the trust plans to repair the fence and gate on the property this year, trust senior field officer Tiffany Tolbert said.

Coltrane and his wife, also a musician, had already become synonymous with American jazz when they bought and moved to the house in 1964. The spiritual message of "A Love Supreme" was rooted in context of the civil rights struggles of the era, Stein said.

"It could be argued that John Coltrane was the most influential musician that ever emerged out of this country," Stein said, listing his influence not just on jazz, but on music ranging from the Grateful Dead and the Allman Brothers to current artists Kendrick Lamar and Flying Lotus.

The Coltranes left their mark on the house physically as well. Alice Coltrane built a studio in the basement and recorded five albums there. In the garage, John Coltrane parked his Jaguar XK-E sports car — an uncharacteristic purchase, Stein said, spurred by his friend Miles Davis' extravagant sports car collecting.

John Coltrane died of liver cancer in 1967 at Huntington Hospital. Alice Coltrane sold the home in 1973 and moved with their family to California, where she died in 2007.

At the urging of local fans and historians, the Town of Huntington in 2005 purchased the deteriorated house from a developer who had plans to demolish it for a subdivision. The town will celebrate its fifth annual Coltrane Day on July 20 with a daylong music festival in Heckscher Park, headlined by jazz musician David Liebman.

"The Town is proud to continue supporting efforts to restore the Coltrane Home property and pay tribute to John Coltrane's legacy," Town Supervisor Chad Lupinacci said in an emailed statement.

Preserving the sites where America's greatest artists lived and worked is a battle for funding and attention, preservationists say. For every tourist site like Elvis Presley's Graceland, there are many smaller locales such as the humble North Carolina shack where Nina Simone grew up, also now the focus of a crowdfunding preservation effort.

Preservation "says to everybody that our culture, our history is really important — especially the history and culture of great African Americans who have historically gotten the short shrift when it comes to paying homage to the kinds of things that have had enormous impacts," Stein said.

Preserving the Coltrane home shows more than just where an album was written, the National Trust's Tolbert said. "It also establishes a way for us to understand their creativity, their spiritualism, their belief systems," she said, "and it's all integrated into the house."

Coltrane Day

A partnership of the Town of Huntington's Summer Arts Festival and the Huntington Arts Council celebrates John Coltrane on July 20 in Heckscher Park. For more information and to register for workshops, visit thecoltranehome.org.

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