Thursday, October 21, 2010

John Coltrane's My Favorite Things at 50

I've found you've got to look back at the old things and see them in a new light.
~ John Coltrane, 1926-1967
Today marks the 50th anniversary of John Coltrane's initial session for his landmark album My Favorite Things. Featuring McCoy Tyner on piano, Elvin Jones on drums and Steve Davis on bass, Coltrane's newly-formed quintet recorded the album at Atlantic Studios in New York, between the 21st and 26th of October, 1961. I wonder if they rested on the seventh day. Much like Miles Davis' opus Kind of Blue, Coltrane's My Favorite Things demonstrated a drift from bebop, opting towards a new style known as modal jazz. Modal jazz differs from bop, the predominant jazz form of the 1950s, which is typified by the harmony being driven by inter-related chord progressions amongst band members. Modal jazz, then considered "avant garde", forms a more complex sense of unity (or disunity, depending on how you see/hear it), by means of modal diversity and a series of various chords. Free jazz, if you will.

My Favorite Things is perhaps best known for its title track, which predates Julie Andrews' popular rendition of the song by half a decade. "My Favorite Things" was written by composer Richard Rodgers and originally performed by Mary Martin in the 1959 musical The Sound of Music - brought to the big screen by director Robert Wise and the aforementioned Andrews in 1965. Spanning nearly fourteen minutes in length, Coltrane's recording of "My Favorite Things" transformed the original, introducing modal playing and eastern influences (listen to Coltrane make his saxophone flutter), which would later be a fixture of the jazz genius' repertoire and experimental efforts in the '60s. As I've been reading into My Favorite Things for the past two days or so, I've come across this excellent essay by Scott Anderson, in which he breaks down four diverse performances of the album's title track. It's worth a read if musical theory interests you. In celebration of this important date, Southern California's KJazz radio channel (KKJZ, 88.1 FM) will be highlighting the record, beginning at 9:30 PM. Tune in... and turn it up!!