Laszlo Gardony reinterprets a Coltrane classic with “Naima”

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Pianist and arranger, Laszlo Gardony, is set to release his 12th album this summer. “Serious Play” showcases Gardony’s talents as he thoughtfully presents original and interpreted songs, one of the most nuanced and beautifully realized songs being “Naima.” “Serious Play” is set for release on July 14, 2017.

 The raw truth of “Naima”

“Naima” (1965) is a John Coltrane song about one love the jazz great lost and regretted. In Coltrane’s version, the saxophonist plays a lonely line for just over a minute. During that time, the drums keep a soft clatter going that sounds almost out of time with the rest of the instrumentation. Bright notes of hope are struck at the piano. Then, a series of fast piano notes plays, and every musician sounds as if he is playing faster. The upright bass adds complexity to the piece.

Halfway through the seven-minute, 24-second song, the saxophone returns. The saxophone’s emotive quality is sad as before. The piano and drums work together to build a shimmering crescendo before the song’s eventual end.

Listeners can hear the trajectory of the loss of a romantic relationship. But other interpretations can be applied. What even first-time listeners can hear, is the element of self-expression. The move from lolling sadness to kinetic happiness, can mimic a myriad of human experiences. This is what potentially makes jazz so intimate. Few genres of music express emotion so effectively without words.

Laszlo Gardony and his interpretation of “Naima”

In Gardony’s version, there is only piano. Listeners familiar with Coltrane’s version might wonder how one piano will capture all the nuances that Coltrane and three other musicians did. However, the song’s arrangement for piano allows it to move in much the same way as the quartet.

There is something strident and mournful about Gardony’s piano work. He has created a new arrangement for the song. The resultant sound is that of many notes, each vying to convey exactly what the performer means. The measures and notes are determined to repeat themselves until an audience understands. Even when the song speeds up, it is never at the near-frantic pace of the original.

Gardony’s version of “Naima” is intimate, sometimes quiet. In addition, it is determined to make something of itself in the context of each listener’s life. The arrangement pulls audiences in, and behaves in much the same way as the original. Gardony’s take on the Coltrane classic makes emotional expression via jazz new for another generation of listeners.

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Dodie Miller-Gould is a native of Fort Wayne, Indiana who lives in New York City where she studies creative nonfiction at Columbia University. She has BA and MA degrees in English from Indiana University-Purdue University, Fort Wayne, and an MFA in Fiction from Minnesota State University, Mankato. Her research interests include popular music and culture, 1920s jazz, and blues, confessional poetry, and the rhetoric of fiction. She has presented at numerous conferences in rhetoric and composition, and creative writing. Her creative works have appeared in Tenth Muse, Apostrophe, The Flying Island, Scavenger's Newsletter and elsewhere. She has won university-based awards for creative work and literary criticism.

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