Best of Jazz Editors’ Picks Review

REVIEW: Plays Music By John Coltrane and Pete Seeger by David Berkman

Artist: David Berkman

Album: Plays Music By John Coltrane and Pete Seeger

© Copyright 2020 – David Berkman

Label: Without Records

Reviewed by Scott Yanow

Jazz Artistry Now – Pianist David Berkman, who grew up in Cleveland, gained early experience playing in local clubs and accompanying such visiting musicians as Sonny Stitt and Hank Crawford. He moved to New York in 1985 and has since led ten albums. Along the way he has worked with many top players including Cecil McBee, Tom Harrell, the Vanguard Orchestra, Joe Lovano, Dave Douglas, and Chris Potter plus the New York Standards Quartet.

Photo Courtesy of

            While he has mostly been heard at the head of medium-size combos, David Berkman’s new release is only the second solo piano album of his career. He remembers that some of the songs associated with John Coltrane and Pete Seeger were among the tunes that made a major impression on him while growing up, so he alternates his repertoire between songs that they played. Never mind that Coltrane and Seeger never performed together and that they come from two very different areas of music. Mr. Berkman does not form a bridge between the pair but instead finds fresh ways to interpret their songs. 

            David Berkman performs six numbers apiece from the repertoires of Pete Seeger (including second versions of “The Bells Of Rhymney” and “Where Have All The Flowers Gone”) and John Coltrane during a set that is filled with surprising interpretations. He begins by giving “Where Have All The Flowers Gone” a tender and melodic treatment that one could imagine Pete Seeger singing over. A relatively brief version of Coltrane’s haunting blues “Equinox” is taken a bit faster than usual and played with soul. After the first melody statement of “The Bells Of Rhymney,” Mr. Berkman constructs a slow and very melancholy version of “This Land Is Your Land” that one could not imagine Seeger singing with.

Photo Credit: Tim Armacost

            Coltrane’s “Moment’s Notice,” one of his finest originals, is at first taken as a moody ballad before it becomes medium-tempo. Seeger’s “There Are Mean Things Happening In This Land” is turned into swinging and quite joyful jazz; the same can be said for “You Don’t Know What Love Is” which Coltrane recorded but did not write. After the second “The Bells Of Rhymney,” Leadbelly’s “Goodnight Irene” (which Seeger helped to popularize) is played with affection and warmth.

            Much more unusual is a rather brief version of “Impressions” which could really be retitled “Impressions Of Impressions.” The piece is largely unrecognizable in this rendition. Much more melodic are “Body And Soul” (a slightly reharmonized version of Coltrane’s reharmonization of the standard), the second “Where Have All The Flowers Gone,” and a tasteful and quietly emotional “We Shall Overcome.”

Photo Credit: Shinsuke Shinohara

            Easily the longest performance, Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” (which is usually taken at a racehorse tempo) is recast as a very slow ballad with an emphasis on the chords, as if Mr. Berkman was thinking aloud at the piano.

            David Berkman’s solo recital is a thought-provoking set of moody music with enough variety and unusual interpretations to keep listeners guessing throughout.”

— Jazz Artistry Now

1. Where Have All the Flowers Gone – 5:03

2. Equinox – 2:12

3. The Bells of Rhymney 1 – :53

4. This Land is Your Land – 2:33

5. Moment’s Notice – 3:56

6. There Are Mean Things Happening in This Land – 3:06

7. You Don’t Know What Love is – 5:56

8. The Bells of Rhymney 2 – 1:57

9. Goodnight Irene – 3:33

10. Impressions – 1:20

11. Body and Soul – 3:38

12. Where Have All the Flowers Gone 2 – 2:43

13. We Shall Overcome – 3:56

14. Epilogue: Giant Steps – 12:35


David Berkman, piano

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Mr. Yanow

The Jazz Artistry Now review of Plays Music By John Coltrane and Pete Seeger was written by Scott Yanow.

Mr. Yanow has written 11 books on jazz, over 800 liner notes, and more than 20,000 recording reviews through the years.

His writing has graced virtually all of the top jazz magazines and he is happy to be a featured contributor to Jazz Artistry Now.