Archive for Giant Steps

The Blue of the Night: Giant Steps from Ondine

Posted in Jazz, Music with tags , , , , , , on October 17, 2018 by telescoper

Time for a quick lunchtime post before I settle down to an afternoon of marking coursework.

On Monday evening after finishing preparing my lectures and things for Tuesday, I decided to tune in for a while to The Blue of the Night on RTÉ Lyric FM which is presented by Bernard Clarke. This is a programme that I listen to quite often in the evenings as I enjoy its eclectic mix of music.

Anyway, the Blue of Monday Night included a recording of the movement Ondine from the piano suite Gaspard de la Nuit by Maurice Ravel. As I listened to it, I started to think of an entirely different piece, the jazz classic Giant Steps, by John Coltrane (which I’ve actually posted on this blog here). Not really expecting anything to come of it, I sent a message on Twitter to Bernard Clarke mentioning the fact that the Ravel piece reminded me of Giant Steps. A few minutes later I was astonished to hear Giant Steps playing. Bernard had not only replied to me on Twitter, but had slipped the Coltrane track into the programme. Which was nice.

That confirmed the similarity in my mind and I did some frantic Googling to see if anyone else had noticed the similarity. Of course they have. In a rather dense article about music theory (most of which I don’t understand, having never really studied this properly) I found this:

I didn’t know at first what the up and down arrows annotating the two pieces were, but they represent the harmonic progression in a very interesting way that I had never thought about it before. The assertion is that in some sense the (sub-dominant) IV and (dominant) V chords which very common in popular music are closely related. To see why, imagine you play C on a piano keyboard. If you go 7 semitones to the right you will arrive at G, which is the root note of the relevant V chord. That’s up a perfect fifth. But if instead you go 7 semitones to the left you get to F which is a fifth down but is also a perfect fourth if looked at from the point of view of C an octave below where you started. In this way `up’ arrow represents a perfect fifth up (or a perfect fourth down) while the `down’ arrow is a perfect fifth down or a perfect fourth up. This is deemed to be the basic (or `simple proper’) chord progression.

Single or double arrows to left or right represent substitutions of various kinds (e.g. a minor third), but I won’t go further into the details. The key point is that while the actual chords differ after the first few changes because of the different substitutions, the chord progression in these two piece is remarkably similar judged by the sequence of arrows. The main exception is a different substitution in bar 3 of the Coltrane excerpt. Both pieces end up achieving the same thing: they complete an entire chromatic cycle through a sequence of basic progressions and substitutions.

I don’t know whether Coltrane was directly inspired by listening to Ravel or whether they both hit on the same idea independently, but I find this totally fascinating. So much so that I’ll probably end up trying to annotate some of the chord changes I’ve worked out from other recordings and see what they look like in the notation outlined above.


Giant Steps, from Astrophysics to Jazz

Posted in Jazz, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , on January 21, 2012 by telescoper

I’m indebted to Alan Heavens (currently of Edinburgh University, shortly to move to Imperial College) for drawing my attention to outstanding young jazz pianist and composer Dan Tepfer. I’ve been listening to quite a lot of Dan’s music, over the past few days and I think he’s brilliant. What’s even more interesting about him from the point of view of this blog is his background:  he is a former Astrophysics student (at the University of Edinburgh). He changed direction away from academic studies in order to focus on his music, relocated to New York and has subsequently received rave reviews for his performances both live and on various albums. He tours extensively in the USA and worldwide; next time he’s in the UK I’m definitely going to check out one of his live gigs. Do visit his website; as a taster here’s his  highly original (and pretty long) live version of the John Coltrane classic Giant Steps..

Giant Steps

Posted in Jazz with tags , on August 21, 2009 by telescoper

After all the griping about musical taste  in two of my earlier posts this week (here and here), it’s probably good to put something up which I think is a masterpiece. You may, of course, disagree….

I came across this on Youtube a while ago. It made me think of the hours I spent trying to transcribe a Johnny Dodds clarinet solo from an old record, and that came out as a single page of music!

Here’s what the incredible virtuosity of John Coltrane‘s tenor sax playing looks like when written down. Or not quite. For some reason, the transcription is done as if the instrument is in Concert Pitch (C) whereas the tenor saxophone is a transposing instrument (B-flat). This means when you play what is written as C on the stave what actually comes out as B-flat, etc. Music for such instruments has to be written taking this into account, but this transcription doesn’t do so. There used to be (and probably still are, here and there) C-melody saxophones but they’re not very popular, and John Coltrane certainly wasn’t playing one on this track!

Neverthless, the speed and inventiveness of his playing is just amazing to behold. The tune is a Coltrane original which involves an unusual (and difficult to play) chord progression based on three keys shifted by major thirds.

It’s  called Giant Steps