Photo credit: Esmond Edwards/CTSIMAGES.
In 1958, tenor saxophonist John Coltrane made quite the impression with his soloing on the song, “Russian Lullaby.” His work on this track was so impressive that it inspired jazz critic, Ira Gitler, to coin a phrase to describe Trane’s groundbreaking, frantic style: “sheets of sound”.
“Russian Lullaby” is an Irving Berlin composition from 1927, and was initially performed by singer Douglas Stanbury. Written to be played at a relaxed tempo, a swinging, 1939 instrumental rendition by big band leader Bunny Berigan upped the pace considerably.
John Coltrane’s version is the closing number on his 1958 album, Soultrane. The LP was recorded was recorded by Rudy Van Gelder at his home studio, which was located in the living room of his parents’ house in Hackensack, New Jersey.
Photo credit: Rudy Van Gelder/the Rudy Van Gelder Estate.
In excerpts from the liner notes for the upcoming box set, Coltrane ‘58: The Prestige Recordings, writer Ashley Kahn walks us through Coltrane’s head-turning “Russian Lullaby”:
Surprise factors into the presentation in a big way: a conventional, consciously elegant introduction by pianist Red Garland (Coltrane’s fellow sideman in Miles Davis group at the time) hits an exaggerated downbeat and suddenly the tempo shifts as drummer Art Taylor resets the pace with a furious hi-hat pattern. Coltrane leaps into the tune, blistering his way through the melody and into his ensuing improvisation as stunning in its ceaseless urgency as it is in the fluid, extended patterns of sixteenth notes that wash over and into the ears in a manner most unlike the “melodic propulsion” most members of the jazznoscenti favored. It demanded a letting go of expectations, and an aural generosity.
After Coltrane was done, gone was the lull in the lullaby, the original mood and message of Berlin’s song. But he had one more thing to say—all in a brief, explosive unaccompanied cadenza near the end of the tune.
In a mere thirty seconds starting at 4:57, Coltrane outshone the fury of his prior solo, and gave this new improvisation its own character, developing ideas in its breathless flow. His lines shoot skyward and he brings them back gently: rhythmically in control, emotionally on point. It wasn’t merely the speed of the statement; the first ten-second stretch contains almost 90 notes. It was the bravado and the knowledge: the amount of harmonic information being conveyed and the soulful precision of articulation.
Here’s the newly remastered “Russian Lullaby, ” from Coltrane ’58:
The 5-CD/8-LP box will be released on March 29th by the Craft Recordings label. Pre-order Coltrane ’58: The Prestige Recordings via Amazon; bundle packages are available on Craft’s website. The set contains every track Trane recorded for Prestige as band leader or co-leader in 1958.
In 1961, John Coltrane scored a hit with his interpretation of the Rodgers and Hammerstein show tune, “My Favorite Things.” Trane’s cover of The Sound of Music number became a signature song for him, and is a classic. Here’s Coltrane and his group performing “My Favorite Things” on the Belgium TV program, Jazz Pour Tous, in 1965:
Previously on Dangerous Minds:
New boxed set reveals John Coltrane created ‘terror’ during final tour with Miles Davis, 1960
Hear a stellar version of ‘Impressions’ from the upcoming live John Coltrane/Eric Dolphy boxed set
John Coltrane meets Terry Riley in free jazz minimalist mashup