I was driving around Brooklyn one afternoon, and the version from John Coltrane’s “Live at Birdland” came on WKCR. I had liked Coltrane decently enough, especially with Miles, but his genius hadn’t yet knocked me out. But now I had to pull the car over.
I was with a buddy who was a brilliant drummer. We’d arrived in NYC the same time and, over the course of a few years, we played many gigs and rehearsals together. The track was new to both of us, even as it was a classic of modern jazz. There’s always going to be a blind spot or several, no matter how much music you listen to. This was one of those. I don’t think we knew who we were until the announcer came on and identified the track.
Before you hear I WANT TO TALK ABOUT YOU in Coltrane’s hands, listen to the 1944 original, sung by “Mr B” Billy Eckstine. Listen to it a couple times through, until you can recognize the harmony and sing along with the melody.
By 1958, the song was an oldie. Coltrane put it on his first quartet record, the stone classic “Soultrane.” This isn’t the version that stopped me in my tracks, but it’s worth appreciating this gorgeous early take. Holy hell, that TONE.
By 1963, though, Coltrane had left Prestige and also Atlantic. At Impulse!, his “classic quartet” had come together. The song had become the ballad centerpiece of his performances, and he added a brilliant solo tenor cadenza to the end.
Turned out, there are many unreal performances of I WANT TO TALK ABOUT YOU from Coltrane’s European tour in 63, as well as a fine one from Newport with Roy Haynes. But WKCR was playing “Live at Birdland” that day, and that’s the cadenza that knocked me out.
The Newport version is arguably better still. That cadenza is wild and brilliant.