My all time favorite jazz composer is DukeEllington. He’s known mostly for Big Band compositions, but occasionally he recorded reduced the size of his band to a six to nine pieces. Here he records his big band classic, “In a Sentimental Mood,” with a just quartet. I’m no expert but I don’t recall Ellington ever recording with that small a group. But this is not just any quartet. This quartet features John Coltrane on saxophone. The album from which this recording comes from, Duke Ellington and John Coltrane, has its own Wikipedia entry.
On a small group arrangement you want to highlight the virtuoso and John Coltrane (“the Trane”) is one of the greatest sax virtuosos ever. The arrangement of piano and sax almost has the feel of a sonata in classical music. [If you get a chance and are so interested compare this with Leonard Bernstein’s “Sonata for Clarinet and Piano.” You can find it on youtube.]
Here's Ellington and Coltrane in one of the most moving pieces I've ever heard.
Now that you’ve heard the quartet featuring Coltrane, here’s the Big Band version. What I think I hear is alternative takes at the melody by a clarinet, sax, trombone, and trumpet. And there is a lot more accompaniment by the rest of the orchestra.
It is very lovely in its own way—it’s just a lovely composition—but either Coltrane is just so superior or it works so much better as a quartet. What do you think?