My Favorite Things

There’s a reasonable article about minor songs and sadness in the Atlantic, which essentially says that the minor key isn’t necessarily sad. The author brings up “Greensleeves” and “My Favorite Things” in the course of the article. I loved both those melodies as a kid – from having seen The Sound of Music and from singing the Christmas hymn “What Child Is This.” When I fell in love with Coltrane’s music, I was deeply gratified to hear that he too loved those melodies and spent his career interpreting the entire range of their expressiveness. The Atlantic author zeroes in on the tune of “My Favorite Things” as a good example of a bright use of the minor key; he has some good things to say:

“And then there’s the interesting, equivocal case of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s ‘My Favorite Things.’ If this minor key standard exuded a dominant sadness despite the feelgood self-talk of its lyrics, it would be powerful evidence for minor determinism. But most would agree that the song is, instead, on its surface at least, almost therapeutic in its inventory of heart-gladdening pleasures like crisp apple strudel and schnitzel with noodles. (Maria has so many favorite things she has the luxury of cherry-picking ones that rhyme to sing about.) At the same time, there is a hint of melancholy shadowing the song’s overtly happy face. But that shadow probably derives at least as much from Oscar Hammerstein’s words as from melody and harmony. For me at least, it emanates from the lyrics’ catalogue of wintry comforts like ‘bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens,’ which evoke a particular range of snug feelings that presuppose vulnerability—a sheltering, fortifying happiness salvaged from an enveloping Alpine harshness.”

When Coltrane does “My Favorite Things” he adds several odd notes at opportune times to its structure. McCoy Tyner helps in this with those beautiful, twelve-fingered chords of his. What I’ve always loved about the tune in all of Coltrane’s interpretations is the strange coloring of it. In jazz I think of Duke Ellington as a colorist of warm blues and indigos, impressionist pastels. There’s a similar warmth in “My Favorite Things” but with an entirely different palate – warm coppers and silvers and golds. Is it happy or sad? It seems to have properly abstracted from those kinds of designations, which I’ve never particularly liked in describing music anyway. Here’s the great quartet plus Eric Dolphy, maybe the only person who plays the flute in an exciting, enjoyable manner. In particular make sure you listen to the interplay between Elvin Jones (drums) and Coltrane after Dolphy gets done soloing.

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2 Responses to My Favorite Things

  1. I don’t think of Trane’s version of “Favorite Things” as sad as much as dynamic and powerful. Minor chords can evoke drama, emotion, and power and I think that is what Trane tapped into.

    ABout a month ago I posted about the album, “My Favorite Things.”

    • I read your post – you’re right that the B side of My Favorite Things is terrific. “Summertime” is a doozy. Have you heard Sidney Bechet’s version of “Summertime”? It’s my favorite. Not perhaps quite as harmonically adventurous, but a masterpiece of tone and dynamics and – most of all – feeling. Bechet was a good influence on Coltrane, and the main reason he took up the soprano.

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