Bing Crosby introduced “Love Thy Neighbor” in a scene with Ethel Merman and Leon Errol when Crosby co-starred with Carol Lombard (both pictured left) in the 1934 motion picture We’re Not Dressing. Crosby followed up with a hit record of the song for Brunswick. The record was on the charts for weeks and on the radio and jukeboxes for years. It seems unlikely that John Coltrane (born in 1926) would have missed hearing it in an era when radio was omnipresent in American lives. By the time his family moved from North Carolina to Philadelphia in 1944, Coltrane had been a saxophonist for about three years.
Here’s Crosby’s recording.
Coltrane’s 1950s discography is packed with standard songs, some—like “Love Thy Neighbor”—rarely used for jazz improvisation. In addition, as the scholar Carl Woideck has pointed out, Coltrane and pianist Red Garland recorded so often for Prestige that to assure variety, they maintained a constant lookout for unusual material. Coltrane’ solo on the song has plenty of variety, and a few hints at stylistic changes he was germinating that would flower a year or two later. It is one of his happiest solos of the 1950s. Coltrane with Garland, Paul Chambers, Jimmy Cobb and flugelhornist Wilbur Harden on July 11, 1958.
Less than a year later, Coltrane and Cobb joined Miles Davis, Bill Evans and Cannonball Adderley to record the first session for Davis’s Kind Of Blue, one of the most influential of all jazz albums. With his quartet, Coltrane had recorded “Giant Steps.” He had only a few years to live, but Coltrane’s innovations were already helping to set jazz on a new path.