On Green Dolphin Street John Coltrane

John Coltrane fronts a “Miles Davis-less” Miles Davis Quintet who couldn’t make the gig…

A televised performance before a live audience in Germany, 1960. Composed in 1947 by Bronislaw Kaper, “On Green Dolphin Street” was made a jazz standard by Miles Davis’ recording it in the late ’50s. It’s also been covered by Chick Corea, Eric Dolphy, Billy Eckstine, Ella Fitzgerald, Joe Henderson, Oscar Peterson, McCoy Turner, Johnny Hodges and Keith Jarrett. Personnel: John Coltrane, saxophone Wynton Kelly, piano Paul Chambers, bass Jimmy Cobb, drums.

“On Green Dolphin Street” was introduced as the main theme of the 1947 MGM film Green Dolphin Street. The movie was based on British novelist Elizabeth Goudge’s 1944 book Green Dolphin Country, published that same year in the United States as Green Dolphin Street.

Elizabeth Goudge (1900-1984) enjoyed a prolific career writing both fiction and nonfiction, including seventeen novels for adults and children. Green Dolphin Street was her sixth effort and told the story of a young man in 1800’s New Zealand who sends to the British Isles for the woman he loves. In an act of carelessness, he addresses his letter to her sister with whom he also shares a past. The story centers on the trials of the young man and his bride as they attempt to make the marriage work. Critics routinely praise Goudge for her ability to graphically portray characters and landscapes, but, as a New York Times reviewer said, Green Dolphin Street lacked “the sterner virtues of good literature.”

Those “sterner virtues” were not at the top of the motion picture company’s list when MGM awarded Goudge $200,000 as the winner of its annual Novel Award. It was the only such winner, however, to find its way onto the silver screen.

At a lengthy two hours and twenty minutes, Green Dolphin Street starred Lana Turner, Van Heflin, Donna Reed, Richard Hart, and Frank Morgan. In his book, The MGM Story, John Douglas Eames says of the film,

It had everything, i.e. too much for a single movie: a glorious wallow in family conflict, triangle romance, Maori uprising in old New Zealand, earthquake, tidal wave, pathos and bathos.

The movie is generally panned by today’s critics, but war-weary audiences were ready for an extravaganza. It was the top box office draw of 1947 and won Academy Awards for visual and sound effects.

In 1947, with a string of successful songs and movie scores behind him, Bronislau Kaper was enlisted to write the soundtrack for the production. Suprisingly, the theme was not a hit, even with Ned Washington’s lyrics. It would be a decade before Miles Davis’ recording would establish the composition as a jazz classic.

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