Saturday Night Tunes: My Favorite Things

It occurs to me, as I’m already very late in writing this, that one of the great things about John Coltrane is that you don’t need to write a lot about his albums, because the music says everything that needs to be said. My Favorite Things, recorded in 1960 and released the following year for Atlantic Records, didn’t break dramatic new musical ground like Giant Steps or A Love Supreme (and in fact it contains not a single original Coltrane composition), but it’s such a beautiful album that it ranks up there with the best jazz recordings you’ll ever find.

That’s not to say that the album doesn’t also have some interesting historical elements to it. This was the first album where Coltrane was recorded on soprano sax, and with all due respect to Steve Lacy, Coltrane did probably as much to revive interest in the soprano as Lacy did. Also, although the album is all covers of standards, you can hear the influence of Miles Davis’s modal jazz pretty clearly throughout the album (Coltrane had just left Davis’s band in the spring of 1960), and in Coltrane’s approach to modal jazz you can also hear the early-ish developments of his own unique style of avant garde jazz, the style that would eventually come to really characterize his work in the mid to late 1960s.

Coltrane plays both soprano and tenor, and he’s joined by McCoy Tyner on piano, Steve Davis on bass, and Elvin Jones on drums.

Coltrane takes the title track, the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic from The Sound of Music, and makes it entirely his, a 13+ minute-long exploration of what essentially turns into a long modal vamp after the melody. Tyner takes the first solo, then Coltrane just tears into it, getting nearly every conceivable sound out of that soprano. It’s justifiably considered a masterpiece and even made for that rarest of jazz triumphs, a successful commercial single:

“Ev’ry Time We Say Goodbye” is a Cole Porter ballad that showcases Coltrane’s effortless mastery of the soprano (he’d only just started playing it right before he left Davis):

“Summertime,” from the George Gershwin-composed opera Porgy and Bess, has been played by almost everybody, but Coltrane’s uptempo, “sheets of sound” version stands out:

The last track, “But Not for Me,” is another Gershwin, written for a 1930 musical called Girl Crazy. Gershwin seemed to specialize in writing show tunes that would eventually become jazz standards, and this is another one that’s been done countless times. Here Coltrane runs the tune through his “Coltrane changes,” the chord substitution pattern he invented for Giant Steps:


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