John Coltrane’s Syeeda’s Song Flute: Analysis of Jazz Covers

John Coltrane's Syeeda's Song Flute lead sheet

John Coltrane‘s “Syeeda’s Song Flute” is a jazz masterpiece, its haunting melody and open form a catalyst for endless interpretation.

Dive into a critical analysis of how titans like Tommy Flanagan, James Carter, Medeski Martin & Wood, and Matt Wilson have reimagined this timeless composition.

Discover the unique approaches each artist brings to Coltrane’s enduring work, and see how a single composition can spark a boundless musical conversation.

Read Other Articles in Our ‘Best Song Covers’ Series!

John Coltrane’s “Syeeda’s Song Flute” (Alternate Take), Giant Steps (1960)

“Syeeda’s Song Flute,” a track from John Coltrane‘s seminal Giant Steps, possesses an almost childlike charm. Named for his daughter, its catchy melody hints at a playful lullaby. Intriguingly, the “Giant Steps” reissue offers both the original and an alternate take. For some listeners, the alternate version shines brightest. Tommy Flanagan‘s piano solo is a revelation, and the drums possess a richer quality. Of course, Coltrane’s sax work remains phenomenal on both versions.

The alternate version opens simply, drums hard-panned left, before Coltrane introduces the melody. The band shifts seamlessly through sections, Coltrane weaving melodic gems over Flanagan’s comping and Paul Chambers‘ walking bass. This deceptively simple structure showcases the band’s synergy.

Flanagan’s piano solo is a highlight. Effortlessly cool and groove-laden, it’s especially striking in headphones—Chambers’ bass thumps on the right, while Taylor’s drums anchor the left. Chambers’ own solo boasts a rich tone, tastefully supported by Flanagan and Taylor’s rhythmic interplay.

Coltrane’s return signals a melodic reprise, leading beautifully to the song’s close. While undoubtedly brilliant, the unexpected star of this version might be Flanagan. His captivating solo elevates this alternate take to a must-hear. “Syeeda’s Song Flute” is a testament to both Coltrane’s enduring melodies and the power of stellar sidemen.

Art Taylor’s “Syeeda’s Song Flute”, A.T.’s Delight (1960)

Art Taylor and Tommy Flanagan each revisited “Syeeda’s Song Flute” as bandleaders. Taylor’s 1960 album, A.T.’s Delight, features a lineup including Dave Burns (trumpet), Stanley Turrentine (sax), Wynton Kelly (piano), and Paul Chambers (bass) – a callback to the original Giant Steps session.

Taylor’s version adopts a slightly faster tempo, though maintains a similar structure. Turrentine’s sax leads the melody, later joined by the trumpet in unison. Burns takes the first solo, a laid-back affair despite the brisker pace. Taylor’s ride cymbal, Kelly’s masterful comping, and Chambers’ walking bass create a warm backdrop for both trumpet and Turrentine’s expressive saxophone.

Kelly’s subsequent piano solo is undeniable. His extended improvisation is a delight – the interplay with Chambers is pure sonic bliss. Chambers then takes over with a bass solo, Taylor shifting to hi-hat, accompanied by Kelly’s light comping. The band returns to the main theme, spearheaded by Turrentine, joined by the trumpet.

The arrangement—alternating choruses between Turrentine and Burns, followed by an extended Kelly exploration—offers a fresh perspective on the tune. While Flanagan’s iconic piano solo shines on “Giant Steps,” Kelly and Chambers prove just as captivating on this rendition.

Tommy Flanagan’s “Syeeda’s Song Flute”, Giant Steps (1982)

Two decades after Giant Steps and A.T.’s Delight, Tommy Flanagan revisited “Syeeda’s Song Flute” on his 1982 album, fittingly titled Giant Steps. Joining him were George Mraz on bass and Al Foster on drums.

Flanagan’s rendition retains the opening riff, but adopts a livelier tempo than the original. Foster’s drumming is more dynamic than Taylor’s, adding a propulsive energy to the performance. Flanagan leads with the melody, weaving improvisations over Mraz’s steady bassline and Foster’s swinging accompaniment. The solo maintains a spirited momentum, propelled by Foster’s insistent rhythm and accentuated phrasing.

Mraz’s bass solo emerges seamlessly from Flanagan’s exploration. The 1982 recording favors the bass in the mix, allowing the solo to shine. After this brief interlude, Flanagan returns with continued improvisations, supported by the rhythm section’s unwavering groove.

Foster claims the spotlight with a tom-heavy drum solo, the bass and piano subtly outlining the “Syeeda’s” changes. The trio reconvenes, Flanagan returning to the head as Foster shifts to hi-hat. They play through the melody, bringing this dynamic piano trio rendition to a satisfying close. The performance showcases Flanagan’s mastery, alongside Mraz and Foster’s stellar accompaniment and solo contributions.

Archie Shepp’s “Syeeda’s Song Flute”, Four for Trane (1964)

Archie Shepp‘s Four for Trane (1964) boldly reimagines Coltrane‘s work, including “Syeeda’s Song Flute.” Joined by John Tchichai (sax), Roswell Rudd (trombone), Alan Shorter (flugelhorn), Reggie Workman (bass), and Charles Moffett (drums), Shepp transforms the original melody.

His version opens with a heavily ornamented and re-harmonized take on the theme, though hints of Coltrane’s melody surface around the 0:35 mark. Shepp launches into a spirited sax solo, showcasing a raw energy and playful melodic twists. Rudd’s trombone adds texture, leading to a thrilling interplay between the horns, fueled by Workman’s dynamic bass and Moffett’s propulsive drumming.

Rudd takes the spotlight with a captivating trombone solo. Shepp weaves in subtle accompaniment, showcasing a remarkable group dynamic. Workman delivers an exceptional bass solo, filled with dissonance and rhythmic complexity, beautifully supported by Moffett.

As the drums intensify, the horns return with Shepp’s reconfigured “Syeeda’s” theme, closing the piece. This isn’t simply a cover; it’s a daring expansion of Coltrane’s composition. The collective synergy, particularly between Workman/Moffett and Shepp/Rudd, elevates this rendition to an essential jazz experience.

Medeski, Martin, and Wood’s “Syeeda’s Song Flute”, It’s a Jungle in Here (1993)

Medeski Martin & Wood (MMW) put their signature spin on “Syeeda’s Song Flute” for their 1993 album It’s a Jungle in Here. They kick things off with a funky backbeat and bassline. While inspired by Coltrane’s original, Wood adds an extra note to beef up the groove.

Medeski’s organ enters with the theme, swelling into the B section and returning to the main melody. Martin provides rhythmic breakdowns beneath the bridge, paving the way for Medeski’s organ solo. He cheekily quotes the opening of Coltrane’s iconic sax solo before launching into his own improvisation, fueled by Martin’s backbeat and Wood’s nimble bass.

Wood’s bass departs from the classic walking style, opting for richer textures. Medeski unleashes big organ chords, followed by a wild, playful run. Descending chords add a touch of cool before Wood takes over with a captivating bass solo.

His opening is particularly striking, with subtle hints of dissonance and a nod to the original bassline. Wood then delivers a melodically rich solo, showcasing his technical prowess. Medeski reenters with the familiar “Syeeda’s” theme, mirroring the opening and adding a sense of closure.

MMW’s rendition stays true to Coltrane’s spirit, with Medeski’s organ evoking Coltrane’s sax and Martin’s funky drumming adding a fresh dimension. This is a fascinating tribute that retains the essence of the original while showcasing MMW’s distinctive style.

Conrad Herwig’s “Syeeda’s Song Flute”, Osteology (1999)

Conrad Herwig‘s 1999 album Osteology features a distinctive take on “Syeeda’s Song Flute.” Herwig’s trombone is joined by Steve Davis (also on trombone), Dave Kikoski (piano), James Genus (bass), and Jeff “Tain” Watts (drums).

This version opens with the familiar bass/piano motif, punctuated by subtle hi-hats. A single trombone enters with the melody, followed by the second trombone for the B section. Interestingly, they play a unison line that echoes the opening of Coltrane’s iconic sax solo.

Returning to the “Syeeda’s” theme, Kikoski weaves in an improvisation behind the horns. A trombone solo (either Herwig or Davis) emerges, propelled by a swinging rhythm section. The comping is particularly noteworthy, with tasteful accents complementing the solo. Watts’ drumming drives the momentum as the lead shifts to the second trombone, delivering another melodic and engaging solo.

Kikoski then takes the spotlight with a captivating piano solo. Watts’ drumming remains a crucial element, maintaining the energy throughout the tune. The trombones add accents towards the end of the solo, referencing the opening bass/piano motif. They then return to the head over Watts’ energetic drum rolls, bringing the piece to a satisfying conclusion.

This version boasts a catchy, swinging feel, a unique two-trombone frontline, and Kikoski’s piano improvisation behind the melody. The rhythm section shines, with exceptional solos from all involved.

James Carter’s “Syeeda’s Song Flute”, Live Concert at the Jazz à la Villette Festival (2014) [01:11 mark]

Saxophonist James Carter‘s organ trio delivers a captivating take on “Syeeda’s Song Flute”. Joined by Gerard Gibbs on organ and Leonard King on drums, their rendition opens with the familiar riff expertly played on the organ. Carter adds tasteful saxophone accents before diving into the head, launching a swinging sax solo fueled by the trio’s propulsive groove.

The trio’s synergy shines, with Gibbs’ rich organ chords providing solid support. Carter’s soaring saxophone improvisations reach thrilling heights, and a playful nod to “Rhapsody in Blue” adds a touch of whimsy.

Gibbs takes center stage with a vibrant organ solo. After a brief showcase of unaccompanied virtuosity, King’s drumming rejoins, building momentum as Gibbs weaves melodic threads back towards the “Syeeda’s” theme.

Carter returns with a rhythmically loose interpretation of the head, swinging the phrases with a masterful flourish. They close the piece with a dynamic finish. This rendition showcases strong individual playing and a tight ensemble dynamic, making it a standout straight-ahead interpretation of “Syeeda’s Song Flute.”

Matt Wilson Quartet’s “Syeeda’s ABCs (Syeeda’s Song Flute)”, WeBop: A Family Jazz Party (2012)

…And finally, a tantalizing treat! Matt Wilson‘s WeBop: A Family Jazz Party features its own take on “Syeeda’s Song Flute.” Why settle for descriptions when you can experience it yourself? Click to discover their playful, vibrant, and potentially unexpected rendition of this iconic composition.


While “Syeeda’s Song Flute” may not have the cover-count of other Giant Steps hits, its legacy lies in its versatility.

Archie Shepp‘s bold 1964 rendition is a testament to its transformative potential.

As a jazz standard, it finds a home in the hands of greats like Art Taylor, Tommy Flanagan, Conrad Herwig, and James Carter.

Even MMW‘s funky approach proves the tune’s enduring adaptability.

The story of “Syeeda’s Song Flute” keeps evolving – keep listening!

Read Other Articles in Our ‘Best Song Covers’ Series!


How to pronounce Syeeda?

Syeeda was John Coltrane’s stepdaughter and is pronounced sai-ee-da.