JOHN COLTRANE / “I Want To Talk About You”
I heard this stuff backwards. First, Trane fisted my ear, scrambling my brain in awesome wonder. What could someone do to you / for you / with you that would make you talk about them like Trane talked through his tenor? Tender, one moment. Roaring, the next. Sex and what all else? Everything. Everything! This was everything. Everything a love song could be. And that’s a lot. Especially on the out-chorus when Trane shushes the band and steps out, truly solo, to explore the implications and possibilities inherent in "I Want To Talk About You." Just Trane, his horn and his memories / his vision. This is no simple chat, this is grand oratory. Coltrane’s reading of the lyric during the solo with band was astonishing enough. I really would have been satisfied. But then came that cadenza, the one that, from then on, every up-and-coming tenor saxophonist had as a reference point for what one could do with a saxophone. Trane played like Muhammad Ali tattooing a fool, with the brutal beauty of Ali’s boxing skills while simultaneously calling the fool out with taunts of “what’s my name” – ka-pow – “what’s” – ka-pow – “my” – pow-pow (one of those lethal double jabs) – "name?” – BOOM (one of those sneaky rattlesnake-quick hooks). Trane was like that. Left you in a trance. How could he play so fast?! You are hit with three licks before you even have time to feel the first one. OK. So that’s what I heard first. I was not aware the song had lyrics nor, for that matter, what the song as a romantic ballad actually sounded like when done straight. Billy Eckstine, sometimes promoted as the “sepia Sinatra” (except he was both better looking and had a better voice than Sinatra, who was not shabby at all in either department, just not the equal of Billy, except, of course, Sinatra was white and thus received all kinds of extra points on that basis alone—in one of his really wickedly funny moments, Max Roach said that Sinatra really made it as a singer because he was the first white boy of his era that could sing and snap his fingers (on the beat) at the same time, which, although it was meant as a hip put-down, actually was a testament to Sinatra’s abilities, but back to the source…). Billy’s grand baritone had to be killing in the Forties. Plus, imagine, this man was a premiere musician who led a progressive pre-bebop big band. Big ups and kudos unending to Billy for writing this song. In between Coltrane and Eckstine came the pristine beauty of Nancy Wilson’s star-bright voice. Even in her early, early twenties, Nancy had a sophisticated style that could cause steel to melt and cause men to swoon like school girls in a matinee fainting over their favorite movie star. Check the way Nancy holds that note on “mention” in the second verse. Throughout the bridge, catch how she does those swells on key notes, the volume increasing (or decreasing) incrementally but remaining light and spot-on in pitch. No wavering, no straining for effect. Nancy makes singing sound so easy. Once I heard Nancy, I knew what the song was about. So then when I returned to Trane, I was even more impressed because Trane knew both the melody and the changes and knew how to transform a hallmark card sentiment into a modern novel that meditated on the total meaning of life. —Kalamu ya Salaam Lagniappe: here’s a little extra sumthin’ sumthin’. Trane first recorded “I Want To Talk About You” back in the late Fifties, years earlier than the 1963 recording featured here. So for comparison purposes, I lead off with that earlier recording. The sound is unmistakable Coltrane. It’s a beautiful reading—even has those choked-up grace notes when Trane be reaching for something beyond the normal range of the horn and also has a short cadenza at the end—the totality of it a portent of things to come. FYI: that’s Red Garland chiming those block chords on the piano. This version is great but it’s not classic like the Live at Birdland version is. Which brings me to this observation: Coltrane was so distinctive, so in a category unto himself, so far ahead of the pack that he made lightning strike not just twice or thrice, but four (or more) times. You’ve got to be great to not only do a great cover of a song, but to do it so well that once it’s out there, your cover becomes the standard. Coltrane did it at least four times. 1. “My Favorite Things” 2. “Afro-Blue” 3. “In A Sentimental Mood” (with Duke Ellington) and 4. “I Want To Talk About You.” That’s not to mention Coltrane’s own iconic compositions such as “Giant Steps,” “Naima” and “A Love Supreme.” Coltrane! Give thanks and praises. John Coltrane. A creative interpretation of the song My thoughts on this one are about how difficult it initially was for me to understand what jazz musicians were doing when they improvised around the chord changes. When I heard a jazz solo, I always assumed they were just playing whatever they wanted to. I didn't realize there was a structure at all. I remember one day at the record store talking with a guy who always came in to buy jazz LPs. Turns out he was a musician. Coltrane was on the box and we got into a conversation about improvising. While Coltrane played, the guy alternated between humming the chords and counting out the bars. It didn't take long for the lights to turn on. I remember saying to him, "It's like math." He laughed and said, "Exactly." Of course, along came modal jazz and there went a lot of the math. But the point is, Kalamu's choices are a great example of the art of soloing. Listen to Trane's solo solo (if you know what I mean) at the end of his version of "I Want To Talk About You," but think of Nancy's singing while you're listening. I remember what a surprise it was for me when I found out that a solo wasn't random at all, but a creative interpretation of the song itself. Trane is singing too. —Mtume ya Salaam
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