As far as I can tell, tenor saxophonist John Coltrane recorded Speak Low only once in the studio, during Sonny Clark's Sonny's Crib album session for Blue Note on Sept. 1, 1957. What's notable about the recording session is that it took place 14 days before Coltrane's sole leadership date for Blue Note—Blue Train, an album widely regarding as one of his most important recordings. [Photo above, from left, of Curtis Fuller, John Coltrane and Donald Byrd on Sept. 1, 1957 by Francis Wolff]
What makes Speak Low special is Coltrane's fluid attack and the superb musicians on the date—Donald Byrd (tp), Curtis Fuller (tb), John Coltrane (ts), Sonny Clark (p), Paul Chambers (b) and Art Taylor (d).
The song opens with a two-bar Clark keyboard intro followed by Coltrane blowing the Kurt Weill-Ogden Nash song straight for a chorus, accompanied by a light Latin feel by Taylor on drums. Coltrane then uses the second chorus to solo, combining his cascading "sheets of sound" with improvised muscular lines. [Photo of Sonny Clark at Rudy Van Gelder's studio in Hackensack, N.J., by Francis Wolff]
Fuller solos on trombone for a chorus with a punchy, powdery J.J. Johnson-like attack. Byrd follows with his aluminum-foil toned wanderings on trumpet. Clark wraps it up neatly with a graceful, frolicking melodic solo for a final chorus before everyone returns. [Photo above of Curtis Fuller in 1957 by Francis Wolff]
Two complete takes of Speak Low were recorded that day. The sixth take became an alternate while the seventh became the master. Evaluating the two takes to figure out why one was accepted and the other was rejected is a fascinating exercise. To my ears, it came down to Coltrane's transition from the second verse to the bridge ("Time is so old and love so brief"). On the alternate, he dropped down to note starting the bridge while on the master he ascended, which added drama and exuberance. Give a listen and see if you can spot why one worked well and the other worked just a little less so. [Photo above of John Coltrane]
JazzWax track: You'll find Sonny Clark's Sonny's Crib (Blue Note) here.
JazzWax clips: Here's the master take of Speak Low...
And here's the alternate take...