Giant Steps (composition)
|Composition by John Coltrane from the album Giant Steps|
|Giant Steps track listing|
"Giant Steps" is a jazz composition by John Coltrane, first appearing as the first track on the album of the same name (1960). The composition contains a rapid progression of chord changes through three keys (see Coltrane changes) shifted by major thirds, creating an augmented triad.
The song title comes from the relatively giant leaps between the roots of consecutive chords. From a transcription, one can easily infer that many of these are upward leaps of minor thirds, but they can just as easily be inverted as descending major sixths, the latter approach best accentuating the disconcerting nature of the progression.
The original recording features Coltrane (tenor saxophone), Paul Chambers (double bass), Tommy Flanagan (piano), and Art Taylor (drums). John Coltrane was known for coming into the studio with unrehearsed songs, and "Giant Steps" was no exception. On the original recording, Tommy Flanagan (piano) played a choppy start-stop solo where it sounds like he is struggling to improvise over Coltrane changes without adequate preparation. Flanagan would revisit "Giant Steps" on several recordings later in his career and mastered the progression. In some of the alternate takes, Cedar Walton is at the piano, declining to take a solo and also playing at a slower tempo than the takes with Flanagan.
From Giant Steps (1960)
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The saxophonist had previously used this technique on the LP Blue Train on the tunes "Moment's Notice" and "Lazy Bird". Coltrane continued in this vein on a recording with Cannonball Adderley of the standard "Limehouse Blues" and on his original "Fifth House". He continued to use this approach on other tunes, such as "Countdown", based on the Miles Davis tune "Tune Up"; "26-2" based on Charlie Parker's "Confirmation"; and a reharmonization of the jazz standard "Body and Soul". Songs such as "Naima" and "Like Sonny" also show some harmonic similarity to "Giant Steps". Coltrane continued to employ similar concepts in his soloing during his more open and modal middle period. A Love Supreme features examples of lines based on "Giant Steps" cycles over modal vamps, to create a polytonal effect (see modal jazz).
The progression continues to stimulate harmonic thinking in contemporary jazz. There are a number of different approaches to soloing on the song. While Coltrane favoured arpeggiation over the changes, other players have used different tricks and patterns to bring out the sound of the changes. The chord progression was later used by Freddie Hubbard as a basis for his composition "Dear John" (on Hubbard's 1991 album Bolivia). Covers have been recorded by such artists as Rahsaan Roland Kirk, Pat Metheny, Buddy Rich, Jaco Pastorius, Mike Stern, Greg Howe, Tommy Flanagan (who played on the original recording), McCoy Tyner, Kenny Werner, Kenny Garrett, Woody Herman, New York Voices, and Taylor Eigsti, Gary Bartz. The song was recorded by Chaka Khan in 1982 as part of the "Be Bop Medley" from her album Chaka Khan.
Fusion musician Sean Malone recorded the song on his solo album Cortlandt in 1996.
In 2006, pianist Rob Mullins played the song on his standards album Standards & More. The contemporary composer Osmo Tapio Räihälä makes a short quote of "Giant Steps" in his work "Piston" (2009) for two pianos.
Trio Globo (Howard Levy, Eugene Friesen, Glen Velez) recorded a re-arranged version of it on Steering by the Stars (Stonecutter Records, 2010)
- Demsey, David (1996). John Coltrane Plays Giant Steps. Milwaukee: Hal Leonard Publishing Co. ISBN 0-7935-6345-3. Contains musical analysis and transcriptions of every Giant Steps solo recorded by John Coltrane.
- "Giant Steps" at JazzStandards.com
- Giant Steps, Central Park West, and Modulatory Cycles