Everyone knows “My Favorite Things.” Most know it because of the 1965 movie version of the Broadway musical for which Richard Rodgers originally composed the song. But many jazz enthusiasts credit the one true “My Favorite Things” to a different musical genius entirely: John Coltrane. The free jazz-pioneering saxophonist’s version of Rodgers’ show tune (a filmed performance of which we featured here on Open Culture a few years ago) first came out as the title track of an album he put out in 1961, two years after The Sound of Music’s original Broadway debut. Clocking in at nearly fourteen minutes, it gave listeners a tour de force demonstration of dramatic musical transformation.
“In 1960, Coltrane left Miles [Davis] and formed his own quartet to further explore modal playing, freer directions, and a growing Indian influence,” says the documentary The World According to John Coltrane. “They transformed ‘My Favorite Things,’ the cheerful populist song from ‘The Sound of Music,’ into a hypnotic eastern dervish dance. The recording was a hit and became Coltrane’s most requested tune—and a bridge to broad public acceptance.”
If Coltrane’s interpretation of the song brought it toward the East, what would an Eastern interpretation of his interpretation sound like? Now, thanks to Pakistan’s Sachal Jazz Ensemble, you can hear, and see, Coltrane’s “My Favorite Things” itself transformed dramatically again.
You may remember the Sachal Jazz Ensemble from when we featured their performance of Dave Brubeck’s “Take Five.” In the video up top, led by no less an American jazz luminary than Winton Marsalis, they and their traditional instruments (bansuri, tabla, sitar, dholak, and more), played with a modern sensibility, give a similar treatment to “My Favorite Things.” Their interpretation, though it runs only a comparatively brisk eight minutes or so, will sound quite unlike any jazz standard you’ve ever heard — or any show tune or piece of traditional Pakistani music, for that matter. It also hints at the vast musical possibilities still untapped by the hybridization of musical traditions, even when used to play a song many of us thought we’d been sick of for the past fifty years.
Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.