[Monday Notes no. 47] Eighteen months after taking part in the recording of the famous album Kind Of Blue, John Coltrane recorded My Favorite Things and continued in the direction of that first journey led by Miles Davis: modal jazz. Unlike Davis, John Coltrane does not compose original pieces but interprets and transforms the beloved old standards.
My Favorite Things is in 3/4 time, the theme is simple and has the peculiarity of never touching the 3rd of the chord, so it can be played major or minor without any adjustments in the melody.
John Coltrane and his companions make use of this peculiarity, repeatedly switching from the minor to the major mode and vice versa.
The bass often plays a pedal note while the chords played by the piano delineate different modal situations among which the Eolian mode (or natural minor scale) prevails, as already stated in the theme with the chords Em9, Cmaj7/E, Am6/E.
After the piano’s introduction, the saxophone exposes the theme first in a minor mode (0’20”) then in a major mode (1’27”). Each thematic execution is surrounded by large pedal spaces of varying duration.
Very interesting is the pianist’s solo intervention (3’26”), the improvisation is minimalist, rhythmic and spacious. McCoy Tyner lets time flow and plays in a major mode, using repeated rhythmic patterns (3’42”) or suggestive arpeggios (5’08”). Rather than weaving traditional melodic lines, the pianist asserts a colour and creates a hypnotic and intense atmosphere.
All the elements of the piece: theme, solos, transition zones (pedals), are realised by the quartet in a free and extemporaneous way, without following a pre-established arrangement. The ability of the four musicians to understand each other at all times is impressive and produces one of the most important and significant pieces in the history of jazz.
Coltrane’s ‘favourite things’ are therefore the dear old standards that the saxophonist is able to reinvent, reaching new artistic and expressive heights.
Until next Monday!
This song is part of the list How to learn 100 jazz standards