Coltrane Does Lehar

Either because Tin Pan Alley was running out of original melodies, or because songwriters secretly envied composers of serious music, it briefly became fashionable to turn well known classical themes into three-minute ballads.

Hence Rach 2 becomes “Full Moon and Empty Arms,” Tchaikovsky’s First Piano Concerto morphs into “Tonight We Love,” and Chopin’s Polonaise is miniaturized in “Till the End of Time.”

But even a progressive jazz musician like John Coltrane was not above raiding the classical canon for material, especially when a wistful tune like “Vilia” from Lehar’s “The Merry Widow” could serve as the perfect springboard for the saxophonist’s flights of fancy.

Here’s Coltrane’s take on Lehar, from 1963:

Of course with a melody like that you can’t go wrong — even in the hands of Lawrence Welk:

OK, maybe you can go wrong.

So let’s move on to Leo Reisman and this jaunty foxtrot rendition.

Perhaps Lehar’s best tenor aria, “Dein ist mein ganzes Herz,” from “The Land of Smiles,” here inspires another jazz great, Oscar Petersen.

Lastly we return to “Vilia” and how the song was originally envisioned by that swirling-melody master, sung by the superlative Elisabeth Schwarzkopf.

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