Wed, Dec. 3, 9pm EST - 'Giant Steps' by John Coltrane

John Coltrane was a sax virtuoso.  I've said nothing new there.  In fact I don't think I can write much of anything here that hasn't already been said of the genius of Coltrane or the brilliance of this album.  Giant Steps finds Coltrane introducing himself as a composer and bandleader after playing with and learning from other jazz greats like Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk in previous years.

Res ipsa loquitur might simply be the best way to describe Giant Steps. But even if "the thing speaks for itself", what's the fun of listening to an exquisite and elaborate piece of art if we can't write about its amazingness and share our excitement for its genius? Enter "Album Night" to alleviate the problem! :)

Join me for "Album Night" on Wednesday, December 3rd as we delve into the world of jazz for the first time with John Coltrane's 1960 release, Giant Steps


One last thought and point for discussion for December 3rd.  Do you think Coltrane's solos on Giant Steps contain his legendary "sheets of sound" improvisational techniques, or were they absent from this recording??? Make your case during "Album Night" as we ride the "Trane".

38 comments

  • John Banrock

    John Banrock NY

    Hello All, Thank you for joining the final "Album Night" of the year! Here's a few quick items before we kick off this evening. 1.) My constant reminder: Please make sure to periodically refresh your browser during the event to make sure that you are seeing all the comments as they are posted. 2.) Have any suggestions for improving "Album Night" in 2015? Please let me know in the blog post on the main "Album Night" page. http://johnbanrock.com/album-night 3. Here's a couple of links to read through about tonight's album and John Coltrane in general: http://www.allmusic.com/album/giant-steps-mw0000604243 http://chemicalbrains.hubpages.com/hub/Ten-Coltrane-Albums 4. Lastly, as you listen tonight, see if you think Coltrane is utilizing the "sheets of sound" technique on this album. Here's a link to some info on the technique: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheets_of_sound Happy Listening! And thank you for joining "Album Night"!

    Hello All,

    Thank you for joining the final "Album Night" of the year! Here's a few quick items before we kick off this evening.

    1.) My constant reminder: Please make sure to periodically refresh your browser during the event to make sure that you are seeing all the comments as they are posted.

    2.) Have any suggestions for improving "Album Night" in 2015? Please let me know in the blog post on the main "Album Night" page. http://johnbanrock.com/album-night

    3. Here's a couple of links to read through about tonight's album and John Coltrane in general:
    http://www.allmusic.com/album/giant-steps-mw0000604243
    http://chemicalbrains.hubpages.com/hub/Ten-Coltrane-Albums

    4. Lastly, as you listen tonight, see if you think Coltrane is utilizing the "sheets of sound" technique on this album. Here's a link to some info on the technique:
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sheets_of_sound

    Happy Listening! And thank you for joining "Album Night"!

  • John T

    John T NY

    The first jazz entry in the Album Night series is one the great classics and one I am looking forward to experiencing again this evening. I wanted to make few comments before the listening "officially" begins. John Coltrane is one of those rare artists who underwent a very clear and distinct evolution in his career and one that was readily apparent to the public. There are not many other artists who went through a similar set of changes - the Beatles and Dylan are the most obvious examples. It can be said these artists grew literally before our eyes whether we agreed or liked the direction they were taking. For John Coltrane the changes began with Giant Steps his first album as a leader and where he composed all the compositions. It was a radical departure from his more conventional playing as a sideman with Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk and it represented an almost fierce improvisational technique referred to as "sheets of sound" which we will all hear later on. But he quickly moved to other forms afterwards - his playing became more spiritual (A Love Supreme), then to longer improvisations (Live at the Village Vanguard with Eric Dolphy) and finally to the atonality and complex torrents of sound with a larger group (Ascension). It is this last phase that people most negatively reacted to - and it is not for everyone - but typical of Coltrane it was uncompromising and challenging as he explored the limits of jazz and music. He tragically died shortly after he reached this last phase and jazz has been left ever since with the question of where he would have taken his music next. Giant Steps represents that first major step and after all these years (it was recorded in 1959) and it still feels new and exciting.

    The first jazz entry in the Album Night series is one the great classics and one I am looking forward to experiencing again this evening. I wanted to make few comments before the listening "officially" begins.

    John Coltrane is one of those rare artists who underwent a very clear and distinct evolution in his career and one that was readily apparent to the public. There are not many other artists who went through a similar set of changes - the Beatles and Dylan are the most obvious examples. It can be said these artists grew literally before our eyes whether we agreed or liked the direction they were taking. For John Coltrane the changes began with Giant Steps his first album as a leader and where he composed all the compositions. It was a radical departure from his more conventional playing as a sideman with Miles Davis and Thelonious Monk and it represented an almost fierce improvisational technique referred to as "sheets of sound" which we will all hear later on. But he quickly moved to other forms afterwards - his playing became more spiritual (A Love Supreme), then to longer improvisations (Live at the Village Vanguard with Eric Dolphy) and finally to the atonality and complex torrents of sound with a larger group (Ascension). It is this last phase that people most negatively reacted to - and it is not for everyone - but typical of Coltrane it was uncompromising and challenging as he explored the limits of jazz and music. He tragically died shortly after he reached this last phase and jazz has been left ever since with the question of where he would have taken his music next.

    Giant Steps represents that first major step and after all these years (it was recorded in 1959) and it still feels new and exciting.

  • John Banrock

    John Banrock

    John T- thank you as always for your insightful commentary for yet another classic album. Admittedly I've only listened to about a half dozen or so Coltrane albums and therefore don't necessarily have the full scope of the different phases of his career. I've heard much commentary before though, regarding good and bad phases of his career, some even saying "no junk, no soul" (not certain which phase he kicked the heroin habit though). I think that it is important as an artist to constantly try new things and push the boundaries. Obviously not every experiment succeeds, but if there is no experiment to begin with then certainly there is no chance to discover something new and bold. I think Coltrane, and Dylan and the Beatles, (as you mention) definitely understood that. As for the Coltrane records, 'The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings' to me is absolutely superb. His playing on those tracks are amazing. And although I wasn't crazy about 'Love Supreme' the first few times I listened, I have grown to love it. I'm really looking forward to listening to 'Giant Steps' again tonight, though this time with a much closer ear. One thing I will certainly be listening for is the "sheets of sound" technique. There seems to be some debate as to whether he was using it on this album. I assume we'll put that debate to rest tonight while we listen, but then again if it was that simple there would likely be no debate. By the way, here's an article with some background commentary from Ira Gitler who coined the phrase in the liner notes of Coltrane's 1958 release 'Soultrane' http://www.jazzwax.com/2009/06/ira-gitler-sheets-of-sound.html

    John T- thank you as always for your insightful commentary for yet another classic album. Admittedly I've only listened to about a half dozen or so Coltrane albums and therefore don't necessarily have the full scope of the different phases of his career. I've heard much commentary before though, regarding good and bad phases of his career, some even saying "no junk, no soul" (not certain which phase he kicked the heroin habit though). I think that it is important as an artist to constantly try new things and push the boundaries. Obviously not every experiment succeeds, but if there is no experiment to begin with then certainly there is no chance to discover something new and bold. I think Coltrane, and Dylan and the Beatles, (as you mention) definitely understood that.

    As for the Coltrane records, 'The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings' to me is absolutely superb. His playing on those tracks are amazing. And although I wasn't crazy about 'Love Supreme' the first few times I listened, I have grown to love it. I'm really looking forward to listening to 'Giant Steps' again tonight, though this time with a much closer ear.

    One thing I will certainly be listening for is the "sheets of sound" technique. There seems to be some debate as to whether he was using it on this album. I assume we'll put that debate to rest tonight while we listen, but then again if it was that simple there would likely be no debate. By the way, here's an article with some background commentary from Ira Gitler who coined the phrase in the liner notes of Coltrane's 1958 release 'Soultrane'
    http://www.jazzwax.com/2009/06/ira-gitler-sheets-of-sound.html

  • John Banrock

    John Banrock

    Album Night officially starts now! Start track 1 (hit play or put the needle down on side A) of 'Giant Steps' by John Coltrane. Share your thoughts right here as you listen! Thanks for joining "Album Night"!

    Album Night officially starts now! Start track 1 (hit play or put the needle down on side A) of 'Giant Steps' by John Coltrane. Share your thoughts right here as you listen!

    Thanks for joining "Album Night"!

  • Steve S

    Steve S Pleasantville NY

    I hear this is the place for good music! :) Happy to be back for another album night. Always wanted to get more into jazz, liking the first track so far. I love the improvisation in jazz. Always sounds like the guys are just jamming out having a good time.

    I hear this is the place for good music! smile Happy to be back for another album night. Always wanted to get more into jazz, liking the first track so far. I love the improvisation in jazz. Always sounds like the guys are just jamming out having a good time.

  • John T

    John T NY

    The first thing that strikes you is the astonishing speed of Coltrane's playing. At first it seems somewhat abstract but the sheer physical intensity of the playing draws you into every note. There is no space or silence between the notes he is playing which is why I think it was referred to as sheets of sound.

    The first thing that strikes you is the astonishing speed of Coltrane's playing. At first it seems somewhat abstract but the sheer physical intensity of the playing draws you into every note. There is no space or silence between the notes he is playing which is why I think it was referred to as sheets of sound.

  • John Banrock

    John Banrock

    And we're off with "Giant Steps". Steve - thanks for joining. Hope you're impressed with Coltrane as much as me by the end of the evening!

    And we're off with "Giant Steps".

    Steve - thanks for joining. Hope you're impressed with Coltrane as much as me by the end of the evening!

  • John T

    John T NY

    Good point Steve about the guys jamming. Since there are no vocals you start paying attention to all the instruments. For me I always focus on the bass - in this case Paul Chambers who is obviously a master.

    Good point Steve about the guys jamming. Since there are no vocals you start paying attention to all the instruments. For me I always focus on the bass - in this case Paul Chambers who is obviously a master.

  • John T

    John T NY

    Once again on Cousin Mary Coltrane's solos take center stage. I don't know a lot about music theory but it sounds like he has abandoned any form of harmony and is focusing on notes and meter.

    Once again on Cousin Mary Coltrane's solos take center stage. I don't know a lot about music theory but it sounds like he has abandoned any form of harmony and is focusing on notes and meter.

  • John Banrock

    John Banrock

    John - I thought I read that "sheets of sound" referred to a run of 16th notes being played in succession. Is that the case (which would mean the success of the feat would vary based on the tempo of the song)? Or is it simply successive notes that being played extremely fast, regardless of the tempo of the song? I had "Giant Steps" in the range of 190 bpm. If it's based on the tempo, I'm not sure he succeeded, since the song was already so fast. Regardless of "sheets of sound" or not, the two opening tracks have been brilliant thus far

    John - I thought I read that "sheets of sound" referred to a run of 16th notes being played in succession. Is that the case (which would mean the success of the feat would vary based on the tempo of the song)? Or is it simply successive notes that being played extremely fast, regardless of the tempo of the song? I had "Giant Steps" in the range of 190 bpm. If it's based on the tempo, I'm not sure he succeeded, since the song was already so fast.

    Regardless of "sheets of sound" or not, the two opening tracks have been brilliant thus far

  • SteveS

    SteveS Pville

    Nice little drum into on"Countdown" and into a crazy sax part by Coltrane.

    Nice little drum into on"Countdown" and into a crazy sax part by Coltrane.

  • John Banrock

    John Banrock

    Coltrane is playing like a machine gun in the opening of Countdown. Amazing!

    Coltrane is playing like a machine gun in the opening of Countdown. Amazing!

  • John T

    John T NY

    Listening to Countdown I am struck by the sheer emotion of Coltrane's playing even in light of all the technical aspects that have been written about by jazz critics in the links John has provided. The ability to connect so directly with the listener is what makes Coltrane such a great artist in my opinion.

    Listening to Countdown I am struck by the sheer emotion of Coltrane's playing even in light of all the technical aspects that have been written about by jazz critics in the links John has provided. The ability to connect so directly with the listener is what makes Coltrane such a great artist in my opinion.

  • John Banrock

    John Banrock

    "Countdown" was only about 2 & half minutes, but it was great. Virtuoso And now we're on the the jazzy laid back feel of "Spiral". Great bass on this one

    "Countdown" was only about 2 & half minutes, but it was great. Virtuoso

    And now we're on the the jazzy laid back feel of "Spiral". Great bass on this one

  • Steve S

    Steve S Pville

    Yeah, John T, I have to agree with you, Coltrane is definitely able to connect with the listener very effectively. He takes you a on ride with his playing.

    Yeah, John T, I have to agree with you, Coltrane is definitely able to connect with the listener very effectively. He takes you a on ride with his playing.

  • John T

    John T NY

    John you might be right on your sheets of sound analysis. I was focusing on the total impact on the listener as if there was almost no room to breathe in his playing. In terms of his speed and articulation - the ability to play the notes and ideas so clearly - is what is so amazing. Only Charlie Parker on alto has had the ability to perform at this level.

    John you might be right on your sheets of sound analysis. I was focusing on the total impact on the listener as if there was almost no room to breathe in his playing. In terms of his speed and articulation - the ability to play the notes and ideas so clearly - is what is so amazing. Only Charlie Parker on alto has had the ability to perform at this level.

  • Steve S

    Steve S Pville

    Digging the piano on "Spiral"

    Digging the piano on "Spiral"

  • John Banrock

    John Banrock

    I find it hard to focus on anything but Coltrane's sax when he is playing. I want to listen to the other artists too, but I agree with John's opinion of Coltrane's ability to connect so directly with the listener. He's mesmerizing

    I find it hard to focus on anything but Coltrane's sax when he is playing. I want to listen to the other artists too, but I agree with John's opinion of Coltrane's ability to connect so directly with the listener. He's mesmerizing

  • John T

    John T NY

    Besides Coltrane the group has had no problem keeping up which is another marvel. Tommy Flanagan on piano is almost effortless in his playing.

    Besides Coltrane the group has had no problem keeping up which is another marvel. Tommy Flanagan on piano is almost effortless in his playing.

  • John T

    John T NY

    Wow Syeeda is great! There is absolutely no let up in any of these tracks. His genius keeps coming through the speakers.

    Wow Syeeda is great! There is absolutely no let up in any of these tracks. His genius keeps coming through the speakers.

  • John Banrock

    John Banrock

    I agree John T. There hasn't been a let up at all. The record's been flawless thus far, to say the least

    I agree John T. There hasn't been a let up at all. The record's been flawless thus far, to say the least

  • John Banrock

    John Banrock

    Nice bass solo in Syeeda's Song. And now the back and forth of the band and Coltrane's sax is great stuff

    Nice bass solo in Syeeda's Song. And now the back and forth of the band and Coltrane's sax is great stuff

  • John T

    John T NY

    Naima is a beautiful ballad and I have to admit a welcome relief. Dedicated to his first wife and very much a good example of his classic straightforward playing. Tuneful but hardly smooth as you can hear the deep feeling coming out of the sax.

    Naima is a beautiful ballad and I have to admit a welcome relief. Dedicated to his first wife and very much a good example of his classic straightforward playing. Tuneful but hardly smooth as you can hear the deep feeling coming out of the sax.

  • Steve S

    Steve S Pville

    Yeah John, I was liking that bass solo also. Sweet intro to "Naima".

    Yeah John, I was liking that bass solo also. Sweet intro to "Naima".

  • John Banrock

    John Banrock

    I like the way they've explored all areas of the tempo spectrum, from really slow to really upbeat. I find that it balances the album well and also helps set apart each composition in its own way

    I like the way they've explored all areas of the tempo spectrum, from really slow to really upbeat. I find that it balances the album well and also helps set apart each composition in its own way

  • John Banrock

    John Banrock

    yeah, "Naima" is a really soulful tune. Every bit as expressive as a vocal line, if not more

    yeah, "Naima" is a really soulful tune. Every bit as expressive as a vocal line, if not more

  • John Banrock

    John Banrock

    and now we're back to a blazing tempo with "Mr. P.C.", the closing track. I'm glad it's 7 minutes. I'd like this album to last longer. Loved every minute so far

    and now we're back to a blazing tempo with "Mr. P.C.", the closing track. I'm glad it's 7 minutes. I'd like this album to last longer. Loved every minute so far

  • John T

    John T NY

    I guess Mr. PC refers to the bassist and his playing is ferocious. By the way Chambers played with him on Kind of Blue (the Miles classic). Art Taylor on drums has done a good job keeping up and driving the music.

    I guess Mr. PC refers to the bassist and his playing is ferocious. By the way Chambers played with him on Kind of Blue (the Miles classic). Art Taylor on drums has done a good job keeping up and driving the music.

  • John T

    John T NY

    John as an FYI the CD reissue of this album has several alternate takes which are all of very high quality. Worth checking out and I intend to keep playing tonight after this last cut since I too don't want the music to end.

    John as an FYI the CD reissue of this album has several alternate takes which are all of very high quality. Worth checking out and I intend to keep playing tonight after this last cut since I too don't want the music to end.

  • Steve S

    Steve S Pville

    Can't believe we're on the last song already. Great bass work going on behind that piano which is just killing it. Sounds like they're having a lot of fun. Can picture them on stage in lounge, jamming out. I'll have a martini please.

    Can't believe we're on the last song already. Great bass work going on behind that piano which is just killing it. Sounds like they're having a lot of fun. Can picture them on stage in lounge, jamming out. I'll have a martini please.

  • John Banrock

    John Banrock

    If you close your eyes you really feel like you're at a jazz club. The sound is so fat and real. How do we obtain that sound on our records Steve???

    If you close your eyes you really feel like you're at a jazz club. The sound is so fat and real. How do we obtain that sound on our records Steve???

  • John T

    John T NY

    Wow what great album to close out the year John. Excellent choice and hopefully we can have more album night jazz in the 2015.

    Wow what great album to close out the year John. Excellent choice and hopefully we can have more album night jazz in the 2015.

  • John Banrock

    John Banrock

    Thanks John. I have that CD reissue too and am keeping on listening as well. On Giants Steps (alternate 1) now. Can definitely hear a difference. The mix and the panning is different right off the bat. Drums are on the left now and Coltrane is down the middle

    Thanks John. I have that CD reissue too and am keeping on listening as well. On Giants Steps (alternate 1) now. Can definitely hear a difference. The mix and the panning is different right off the bat. Drums are on the left now and Coltrane is down the middle

  • Steve S

    Steve S Pville

    I know right! Record on tape. It's that analog sound! I'm sure everything was more streamlined too. Not as many options as today!

    I know right! Record on tape. It's that analog sound! I'm sure everything was more streamlined too. Not as many options as today!

  • John T

    John T NY

    John congrats on a very successful 2014 album night series. Looking at your list you certainly covered a lot of ground across genres and periods. It goes to prove that the album is still a very vibrant and relevant art form don't you think. What's on tap for 2015? How about starting off with the Beatles. Sgt. Pepper anyone?

    John congrats on a very successful 2014 album night series. Looking at your list you certainly covered a lot of ground across genres and periods. It goes to prove that the album is still a very vibrant and relevant art form don't you think.

    What's on tap for 2015? How about starting off with the Beatles. Sgt. Pepper anyone?

  • John Banrock

    John Banrock

    Thanks John. And thanks Steve too. Thank you for supporting "Album Night" this year. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to great music with you guys, and everyone else who joined in, this year. I look forward to listening to more great music in 2015 with all of you. By the way, if you have any suggestions for ways to improve "Album Night" you can add them on this blog post here: http://johnbanrock.com/album-night/blog/album-night-will-return-in-2015-any-ideas And also let me know what things you liked and/or disliked from this year's format. I hope to bring back an even better version of "Album Night" in the new year!

    Thanks John. And thanks Steve too. Thank you for supporting "Album Night" this year. I thoroughly enjoyed listening to great music with you guys, and everyone else who joined in, this year. I look forward to listening to more great music in 2015 with all of you.

    By the way, if you have any suggestions for ways to improve "Album Night" you can add them on this blog post here:

    http://johnbanrock.com/album-night/blog/album-night-will-return-in-2015-any-ideas

    And also let me know what things you liked and/or disliked from this year's format. I hope to bring back an even better version of "Album Night" in the new year!

  • Steve S

    Steve S Pville

    Enjoyed "Giant Steps" tonight! Look forward to Album night in the new year. Great album suggestion John T! Certainly one my favs.

    Enjoyed "Giant Steps" tonight! Look forward to Album night in the new year. Great album suggestion John T! Certainly one my favs.

  • John Banrock

    John Banrock

    Thanks John. Sgt Pepper would be a great way to start off the new year! I have a couple of other albums in mind too, including one recommended by Steve, but I think Sgt Pepper would be a great one to jump start the new year. Thank you both for your musical recommendations. We will get to them both in the new year. The 'Album' as a work of art endures!

    Thanks John. Sgt Pepper would be a great way to start off the new year! I have a couple of other albums in mind too, including one recommended by Steve, but I think Sgt Pepper would be a great one to jump start the new year.

    Thank you both for your musical recommendations. We will get to them both in the new year. The 'Album' as a work of art endures!

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