John Coltrane – My Favorite Things (1960)

Coltrane My Favorite Things

The premise behind My Favorite Things is simple. Take a famous show tune, shift it a direction and stretch it to the absolute brink. It’s a seemingly common idea in the world of jazz – but one that would fascinate Coltrane throughout his career. The title track is just a taste of the boldness he’d take with these covers, warping a simple melody into almost fifteen minutes, all while keeping it incredibly catchy. By the time Coltrane started booking large sets in the late 60s, the covers started becoming exhaustive. Selflessness sees “My Favorite Things” pushed to nearly 18 minutes. Village Vanguard Again sees it at an exaggerated 20. By the time The Japan Concert rolled around, it’s played for nearly an hour, as it’s warped into one of the most draining, grueling sets of music I’ve personally experienced.

In a sense, My Favorite Things sparked not only Coltrane’s fascination with a Rodgers and Hammerstein tune. It in turn prompted his obsession with modal explorations. On this record, he began pushing within the pop idiom, stretching comfortable songs to their max, testing the patience of listeners and wandering about on lengthy tangents. However, these tangents aren’t anywhere near the grueling expansiveness of later albums. As a result, My Favorite Things marks one of those spots in Coltrane’s career where songs are not only forward-thinking and innovative – but also grounded. Tracks on the album have unusual moments but they manage to retain their catchiness, rhythm and overall normalcy. This incredible mix is what makes it among my favorite albums of all time.

While Coltrane is certainly the bandleader and mastermind behind My Favorite Things, the true success story and stand out in my book is McCoy Tyner. On only his second session with Coltrane and fifth as a recorded musician, he’s absolutely sublime. Hearing Tyner’s soloing on My Favorite Things, you’d think he was a veteran. Instead, Tyner jumps into this album relatively inexperienced and completely steals the show. Everything Tyner does on this album is gorgeous in one way or another and his soloing is perfect in the context. Whenever Coltrane gets too weird with his soprano soloing or drones on a bit too long, Tyner’s there to sooth you, play a beautiful melody and bring you back to the normal. He’s there to bring balance into the whole equation.

On the title track, Tyner provides some phenomenal piano soloing, adding gorgeous melodies and beautiful riffs. He compliments the swing of Elvin Jones magnificently, proving bouncy, upbeat riffs that tie the track together perfectly. Even on the adventurous side 2 which features wild, extended soloing from Trane (especially the blistering “But Not For Me”) – Tyner provides perfect accent work in the background. You might not even notice he’s there on first listen but he’s the glue that holds the whole track together. Beyond being a great complimentary player, there’s a certain eagerness and childlike wonder in his playing that never ceases to amaze me. He’s fearless and adventurous in his playing but usually manages to keep things playful.

On “Everytime We Say Goodbye” Tyner has a moment that’s up there with my favorites in all of music. Coltrane builds tension with his brooding soprano solo and right when it’s getting too serious, Tyner chimes in. He paces his way into the solo, plodding around and working his way to the right keys. He finally bursts out, ascending on the scale, dancing about in this moment of pure happiness. It’s a moment of bliss in a previously solemn cut and hearing Tyner spark the change to a major key is just phenomenal. He rounds the corner, relieves the tension and brings light into a previously dreary track.

Beyond the two leaders in the album – My Favorite Things has a fantastic rhythm section. Elvin Jones is a drummer I write about quite often but he’s a musician that rarely lets me down. There’s a certain breezy swing to his style and it’s one that compliments the adventurous sound of this album. He doesn’t eat up a lot of space in the recording but manages to sound ever-present. He adds a typically soft pitter-patter in the background and it’s one that fills out the space carefully. Jones may not be as ambitious as he is on later albums but his sound manages to sound equal parts comforting, easy-going and virtuosic.

It’s easy to politicize an artist with little voice or in this case one beyond the grave – but My Favorite Things feels like a bizarrely defiant album. Sure, none of the tracks are directly political. None of the track titles even hint at a conscious approach. However, there’s something provocative about taking well-known, institutionalized tracks and warping them. In the context of anyone else’s career, this might seem like a jovial, light-hearted decision. But in the context of Coltrane’s, I believe it shows his willingness to branch beyond and deconstruct the popular.

Coltrane’s trademark fiery, avant-garde approach isn’t quite present on My Favorite Things. Soothing tracks are balanced by occasional weirdness. But early covers like “I’m Old Fashioned” are blown right out of the water – feeling bland and uninteresting in comparison. The fire, the spirituality, the potential political strife of the civil rights movement are ever so gradually bubbling to the surface on My Favorite Things. They’re barely there. But even the hints of those exact emotions made Coltrane such a fascinating musician and make My Favorite Things a fascinating listen. 

Author: Charlie

Charlie Wooley is an aspiring journalist and founder of The Tenth Man Blog. An avid sports fan and music nerd, he’s written for publications such as Pop Gates, Every Deja Vu and Tremr. A local San Diegan, you can catch him eating fish tacos or cruising through Balboa.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *