Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Profiles in Jazz: John Coltrane - Lush Life

The title track of "Lush Life" begins at the 16:30 mark, but listen to the whole thing. So worth it.

The jazz album that I find myself listening to more than any other is Lush Life by John Coltrane. The record was actually an assembly of studio sessions not intended for release, but when Prestige Records saw how big Coltrane was getting in the early '60s (after he had left their label) they released it to try and take advantage of his popularity.

Thank GOD they did, because it's a masterpiece. The smokey, melodic sax of Coltrane is hypnotic... almost dream-like. The more experimental, avant-garde jazz stylings that defined his later years I find hard to listen to, but early in his career he was so sultry and smooth it was like listening to butter melt.

Just a 5 track EP, the first three songs were without pianist Red Garland (who was allegedly so hung over he couldn't make the session on time), and are beautiful works featuring Coltrane on his signature tenor sax with Early May on bass and Art Taylor on drums. If you think music needs a lot of production bells and whistles in the studio to be brilliant, well, take a listen and see what great sounds are possible with total simplicity.

That said, the last two tracks, particularly the title track "Lush Life", is when the album soars from brilliant simplicity to orgasmic heights.

"Lush Life" (song) is a 14 minute instrumental that to me is the most perfectly named and composed song you'll ever hear. Lush, luscious, velvety jazz with 'Trane on the sax, Garland on piano and Donald Byrd on the trumpet, the song takes you on a hypnotic journey through a smokey jazz club with a drop-dead gorgeous woman, dressed to the nines, after a deliciously romantic dinner. You have a glass of top shelf scotch in your hand, an arm around your woman, and both of you are swaying with closed eyes just breathing in the music like it's oxygen.

In 1963, Coltrane released the version of Lush Life (song) that most people are familiar with featuring Johnny Hartman on vocals. Much as I appreciate that version, I feel adding vocals actually detracts from the song's beauty. The instrumental version is the definitive masterpiece in my opinion.

Take a listen to the album for yourself. Below is the track listing:
  1. "Like Someone in Love" (Jimmy Van Heusen, Johnny Burke) — 5:00
  2. "I Love You" (Cole Porter) — 5:33
  3. "Trane's Slo Blues" (John Coltrane) — 6:05
  4. "Lush Life" (Billy Strayhorn) — 14:00
  5. "I Hear a Rhapsody" (Jack Baker, George Fragos, Dick Gasparre) — 6:01

~ Kenny Poo


  1. You got great taste in jazz, man. Been playing Lush Life for years with my quartet. We also do the instrumental version...the sax don't need any words to speak for it.

  2. Thanks, Willy. Appreciate the comment. Let me know if your group has any music uploaded to YouTube. Would love to check it out.

  3. Kenny--
    Very nice, and out-of-the-norm. Much as I listen to Trane's music, I've never heard this stuff. Always good to be (re)educated!
    Also, if you get a chance, check out my newest book--for kids--on the Man himself.

    GARY www.garygolio.com

  4. Thanks for the comment, Gary. Glad I unearthed a new Coltrane gem for you to enjoy. Will definitely check out that children's book of yours.