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michael leibson : thinkingMusic


Giant Giant Giant Giant Steps Steps Steps Steps, , , , Central Park West Central Park West Central Park West Central Park West
and and and and
Modulatory Modulatory Modulatory Modulatory Cycles Cycles Cycles Cycles
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Along with his intellectual and creative gifts, John Coltrane obviously had a knack
for finding just the right titles for his compositions. Giant Steps and Central Park
West both employ modulatory cycles but they do so quite differently. His Giant
Steps are the bold, breath-snatching modulations by which he audaciously displays
the songs underlying conceptual structure. By contrast, Central Park West is a
sensuous, reflective walk in the park, in which structure quietly serves poetic
expression. What the song titles dont tell us, is the how and why for these, we
must look to the music itself.
Both Giant Steps and Central Park West owe their structures to equal subdivisions
of the octave. Since an octave spans twelve semitones, it can be divided into two,
three, four or six equal parts: divided by two, it produces two tritones; by three, it
produces three major thirds; by four, it produces four minor thirds; by six, it
produces six whole tones. Such equal subdivisions of the octave have been around
for some time Franz Schubert in 1825 based a series of modulations on
them, in his Symphony in C major. However, for most of its history, western music
has not used such symmetrical subdivisions, simply because most of the elements
in our diatonic system of music divide the octave asymmetrically.
Giant Steps partitions the octave into three major thirds, so that it moves through
the keys of B major, G major and Eb major. The tonics of these keys form a
descending cycle of major thirds, that, when completed, form an equally-subdivided
octave: B-G-Eb-B. Coltrane draws this cycle out, over two phrases: the songs first
phrase progresses through B, G and Eb; the second phrase returns to G, and then
cycles down through Eb to B:
Central Park West divides the octave into four, producing an ascending cycle of
minor thirds: B D F Ab B. Coltrane makes these the keys of his tune, and
moves through the cycle one and a half times during its course. He slightly alters
the cycles order, so that it becomes B D Ab F B:
share
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None of these keys are closely related: each stop in Giant Steps' cycle of major
thirds has four fewer sharps than the last, and there are three fewer sharps in each
stage of Central Park West's cycle. If brusquely juxtaposed, these distantly-related
keys produce jarring, angular modulations. Skillfully place them within a well
thought-out design, though, and they can create profound and surprising beauty.
Coltrane does both, applying the former approach in Giant Steps, and the latter in
Central Park West. By examining his technique, we can learn how to go beyond the
idea of modulatory cycles, to actually using them with artistic intent.
Giant Steps Giant Steps Giant Steps Giant Steps
The giant steps of Giant Steps are the actual transitions from key to key, in which
the distances between these disjointed tonalities are highlighted, rather than eased.
Although there are ten modulations in the piece, all are derived from one of two
basic designs one for descending through the cycle of major thirds, and another
for ascending through it:
Lets begin with the ascending modulations, which retain features of more
traditional harmony, and are therefore easier to grasp. The first of these connects
the tonic of Eb major (bar 3) with the tonic of G major (bar 5):
The two keys are related via Eb majors tonic chord, which is simultaneously the VI
chord in the key of G minor. Using mixture , the progression moves from G minor
to G major, making the change at the ii chord:
The same procedure is used to modulate from B major to Eb major (bars 7-9), and
G major to B major (bars 11-13), these being simple transpositions of the
prototype.
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The descending cycle presents a different picture. Here the tune wastes no time,
completing the first step of this cycle, from the key of B major down a major third
to the key of G major, in three chords:
The modulation is stripped down to almost nothing: apart from giving G major its V,
Coltrane has done little to smooth the connection between the two keys. (In fact,
the D7 prevents the use of a relatively effective smoothing technique, called
common-tone modulation.) The transition between B majors five sharps and G
majors one is sudden, drastic, and unmitigated.
Degrees of relation could be established between the chords involved for
example, the chord of G major is related to the key of B minor, where it is the VI
chord but Coltrane eschews any such attempt: he removes all possibility of key
relation by immediately modulating to an even more distant tonality:
G is but a transient stop in the modulatory cycle, which immediately moves on to
the key of Eb major, via that keys dominant. This second modulation is an exact
transposition of the first, and is just as abrupt and unadorned. The same pattern is
repeated in two subsequent descending modulations, from G to Eb (once more, in
bars 5-6), and Eb to B (bars 6-7).
At the end of the piece (bars 15 1), Coltrane employs a variant of this modulatory
design. While performing a descending modulation from Eb to B, he borrows from
the ascending cycles design, by giving B major both its ii and V:
There is now an opportunity for key relation, in that C#-7 suddenly casts Eb (=D#)
as V of G# minor. Since G# minor is the relative minor of B major, there is
potential for a closer relation between Eb major and B major:
This potential could be clearly realized were the melody to borrow a feature of
common-tone modulation, and sustain one note so that it is common to all chords:
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Here, the exposed, common-tone D# (the top-most note in the voicings) unifies all
parts of the modulation, allows us to hear the tonal implications of pivot chords, and
smooths out the transition between the keys.
Coltrane works against this calming effect, though, giving his melody a prominent
leap at the very moment when it should maintain its pitch. Even more, the notes of
his leap (Bb F#) threaten to create a cross relation with the third of the
immediately preceding Eb chord.
Why does Coltrane refrain from smoothing out these jarring modulations? Why does
he sidestep those techniques and melodic changes that would produce more fluid
transitions? Here we arrive at the crux of the matter: technique should always serve
artistic intent. By exposing the rough edges and clashing tonalities, Coltrane lays
his conception bare: the song is its harmonic structure, with its three-fold division
of the octave. Coltrane wants its structure to show, and purposefully eliminates any
effect that could interfere with that revelation. Giant Steps is his experiment, and
his intention. The unmitigated, brusque, tonal juxtapositions serve that intention,
and to have done otherwise would have been to undermine his goal.
Artistic intent is entirely different in Central Park West, and there Coltrane applies
different techniques.
Central Park West Central Park West Central Park West Central Park West
In tone, Central Park West couldnt be more different than Giant Steps. Where the
latter is audacious, exhilarating and wild, the former is gentle, sensitive and
meditative. Structurally, however, they are very close: both employ potentially
harsh modulatory cycles, that divide the octave into segments of equal size; both
consist almost exclusively of concise modulations, that are themselves mere
transpositions of prototypical designs; and both have melodies that are developed
almost entirely by tranposition. Given these structural similarities, what does
Coltrane do to give Central Park West so different a spirit?
The six modulations of Central Park West are based on three prototypes:
modulation up a minor 3
rd
modulation down a minor 3
rd
modulation by tritone
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As in Giant Steps cycle of major thirds, these modulatory intervals produce
somewhat distant key relations: modulation up a minor third produces a key with
three fewer sharps; modulation down a minor third adds three sharps; modulation
by tritone produces a staggering difference of six sharps, to say nothing of the
dissonance of the tritone relationship itself.
And yet, from this same structural material, Coltrane creates an astonishingly
different aesthetic. For each type of modulation, he finds a wonderful, inventive way
to transmute the aggressiveness of Giant Steps into a musical gesture of
breathtaking tenderness.
To enable these changes, Coltrane alters the order of his structural material; in the
process, he builds an elegant, symmetrical tonal design. He changes the cycles
pattern of ascending minor thirds:
. . . to one of alternating thirds and tritones:
This order fixes B at its centre, and transforming the cycles uniformity from
obstacle to asset creates an abstract symmetry of tonal relations:
Where the first modulation moves up a minor third from B, the second modulation
creates a symmetry, by moving to the key that is down a minor third from B. The
third modulation takes us to F, which, being a tritone from B, forms its own
symmetry with that central key. Finally, Fs modulation to B completes the cycle.
Through simple arithmetic (3+3 = 6), Coltrane ingeniously creates tonal order in a
system that is normally antithetical to it. By combining two minor third steps of the
cycle to produce one step of a tritone, he arranges all keys into a tonally
symmetrical relationship to B.
Of course, the song doesnt end there: the symmetry established, the remaining
bars oscillate between B and D, to finally end the piece with a codetta-like passage
that lends even more stability to the key of B.
Lets look at how Coltrane exploits this re-ordering to create modulations that are
so different in effect from those of Giant Steps. Well begin where the song begins
with modulation by minor thirds.
Mo d u la t io n E y m in o r t h ir d s
Our cultural intimacy with the major minor environment of diatonic music
prepares us for a special relationship with modulation by minor third. We are
habituated to the use of parallel modes most commonly those of major scales
and their parallel minors and these modes are related by minor thirds. The
parallel minor of the key of C major is, of course, C minor, and C minor shares the
same key signature as Eb major. Since the keys of C major and Eb major are a
minor third apart, so too are the parallel keys of C major and C minor or, for that
matter, the parallel majors and minors of any key.
Accordingly, modulation up a minor third produces the same relationship as that of
a major key to its parallel minor: modulating up from B major to D major (the first
modulation in Central Park West) is the same as moving from B major to B minor.
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Modula t ion down a minor third s imply r e e r s e s t ha t or de r : modula t in g Irom ma or
down t o ma or t he s i t h modula t ion in Central Park West, in a r s - is t he
s a me a s mo ing Ir om minor t o ma or .
s t he pr in ciple oI mi t ur e pe r mit s t he udicious us e oI chor ds Ir om a pa ra lle l s ca le ,
modula t ions y minor t hir d oIIe r ge ne r ous oppor t unit y t o dis co e r pi ot ch or ds y
which t o e IIe ct t he t r a ns it ion Ir om ke y t o ke y.
h e modula t ions y minor t hir d in Central Park West rillia nt ly illu s t r a t e t his :
Colt r a ne r e pe a t e dly Iin ds us t t he r ight pa r a lle l- mode chor d t o t r a ns Ior m a
pot e nt ia lly dis s ona nt r e la t ions h ip int o a ge s t ur e oI e a u t y.
Modulation up a minor third
h e s ong e gins wit h a n e le ga n t , s pa cious modula t ion, mo ing up a minor t hir d
Ir om ma or t o ma or :
Colt r a ne knows t ha t modula t ing up a minor t h ir d is t he s a me a s cha nging t he Iir s t
ke y s mode Ir om ma or t o minor . e ca us e a pi ot chord is not ot he r wis e a a ila le ,
he us e s mi t ur e t o mo e t o t he pa r a lle l minor minor , whe r e t he r e is a n
a unda nce oI s uit a le chor ds . minor s i m is s imult a ne ou s ly ma or s ii,
a n d is t he r e Iore ide a l Ior t he r ole oI pi ot chord. Since t he pr ogr e s s ion I iv
minor commonly occur s in ma or ke ys e . g. , min or pla ga l , t he m will a ls o Ilow
na t u ra lly Ir om t he ope ning M chor d, a n d t hus ma ke good mus ica l s e n s e in ot h
ke ys .
h e s hiIt Irom ma or t o pa r a lle l minor is oIt e n e pe r ie nce d a s a ch a nge oI t one ,
colour , or mood. e ca us e it is a s e d on t he s a me r e la t ions hip, modula t ion up a
min or t hir d a ls o con e ys s uch t r a ns Iorma t ions , ut t he t ona l dis pla ce me nt a dds
e e n mor e dime ns ion, a n d a s in t his wonde r Iul pa s s a ge a n e le me n t oI wonde r.
n a s u lime ge s t ur e , Colt r a ne roa de ns t he e pe rie nce y ca lling in a t e chni ue
nor ma lly a s s ocia t e d wit h common- t one modula t ion : h e s us t a ins his me lody s
t hr ough out t h e e nt ire pr ogr e s s ion. t is , in t urn, a r a s h IiIt h, a poign a nt nint h, a
Iloa t in g t hir t e e nt h, a nd s t r a ight - Ior wa r d t h ir d, e a ch cont r i u t ing t o t he ca s ca de oI
nua nce a nd colour . Common t one s , s us t a ine d t h rough modula t ions in t his wa y, ot h
s t a ili e t r a ns it ions a nd a dd dime ns ion.
n cont r a s t wit h his ha nds - oII a ppr oa ch in Giant Steps, Colt r a n e ha s dra wn he a ily
upon t e chni ue t o ma ke t his modula t ion ge nt le , r e Ile ct i e , a n d e a ut iIul. e r e pe a t s
it , not e - Ior - not e , a s t he me lody e gins it s a ns we r ing phr a s e , in a r s .
Modulation down a minor third
lt hough it modula t e s down a min or t hir d, not up, t h is t hird ke y ch a nge Ir om
ma or down t o ma or ha s much in common wit h t he t o modu la t ion us t
o s e r e d:
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Colt r a ne r e pe a t s t he t e chni u e oI s u s t a ining his me lody not e t hr ough most oI t he
modula t ion, r a t he r t ha n a ll oI it , a nd looks t o t he pa r a lle l minor t his t ime oI t he
goal key, a s t his modula t ion is down a minor t hir d Ior his pi ot chord.
h e ke y oI ma or h a s lit t le in common wit h ma or , u t e e r yt hing in common
wit h minor, it s r e la t i e minor . Since modula t in g Irom ma or down t o ma or is
e ui a le nt t o mo ing Ir om minor t o ma or , Colt ra ne plucks h is pi ot chor d Ir om
t he ke y oI minor , a nd r e lie s on mi t ur e t o ma ke t h e t ra ns it ion t o t he pa r a lle l
ma or.
n t he t o modu la t ion, Colt r a n e us e d a pi ot chor d t ha t could s e r e a s t he ii
chor d oI h is goa l ke y. n t his modula t ion y de s ce nding minor t hird, he us e s t he
first keys tonic chord a s pi ot , Ior ma or is s imult a ne ous ly t he t onic oI a nd
t he chor d oI minor . e could ha e us e d ot he r chor ds m or ma or , Ior
e a mple ut his de s ir e Ior s ymme t ry, t he idioma t ic us e oI t he ii V I Ior mula ,
a n d t he e a ut y oI ma king a n e a r ly mode ch a nge , ha ppily le d t o t his choice .
h e re a r e t wo e s pe cia lly ma gica l t ouche s t o t his modula t ion: t he Iir s t is t h e
light ne s s , or re le a s e , oI it s r e s olut ion, pr oduce d a s a r e s u lt oI t he mo e Ir om a ke y
wit h Iou r Ila t s t o a t ona lit y wit h on ly one a n e IIe ct ge n e ra t e d y modula t ion down
a minor t hird. h e ot h e r is t he s e rie s oI s u s pe ns ions or, re a lly, one e le e nt h a nd
one s us pe ns ion cr e a t e d y t he int e rpla y oI Colt r a ne s me lody a nd chor d
pr ogr e s s ion:
. . . t ha t is , t he int e r a llic pla y e t we e n - C G- C, a nd G- C- .
e re , a s in t h e Iirs t modula t ion, Colt r a ne us e s ha rmonic t e chni ue t o cre a t e a
s oIt e r , mor e in t r os pe ct i e e IIe ct t ha n t h a t produce d in Giant Steps.
h e pie ce s s i t h modula t ion, Ir om ma or t o ma or a r s - , is ide nt ica l in a ll
r e s pe ct s , s a e one : it s me lody is mor e a ct i e .
Modulation by tritone
e ys a t r it one a pa r t ha e a lmos t not hing in common , a nd a re e t r e me ly diIIicult t o
lin k y a n y us u a l mode oI r e la t ion. e n mi t ur e Ia ils t o produce a ny common
chor ds .
h e re a r e t wo t r it one modula t ion s in Central Park West: t h e s e con d modula t ion,
t ha t de s ce nds Ir om t o a r s 2- , a nd t he Iou rt h, y which r e t ur ns t o t h e
ce nt ra l ke y oI a r s 4- . Colt r a ne us e s a diIIe re nt modu la t or y de s ign Ior e a ch. n
mo ing Ir om t o , h is a ns we r t o t he r iddle oI ke y re la t ion is or igin a l, inge nious
a nd ma y, in Ia ct , ha e cont r i ut e d t o his choice oI t on a l de s ign. e r e s t h a t
modula t ion s hown, in cont e t , wit h t he ope nin g pa s s a ge :
h e re is no a ppa r e nt link e t we e n t he t wo ke ys : s ii m e a r s no r e la t ion t o
t he ke y oI ma or or minor , no ot he r ch or d a ct s a s pi ot , a nd t he r e is no
common t one uniIyin g t h e pr ogre s s ion. nd ye t , y t he t ime we he a r t h e , we
Ie e l a s e ns e oI r e t ur ning , oI mo ing t owa r d s ome t hing ine it a le a nd Iit t ing a s
t hough t his s t r a nge modula t ion ma de pe r Ie ct s e ns e . We ll it does ma ke pe r Ie ct
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s e ns e , e ca us e we are r e t urning: t he end oI t his modula t ion t he ii - V - I in
r e la t e s Ia r mor e t o t he ke y oI ma or , which ope ne d t he t une , t h a n t o . is t e n t o
how na t ur a lly t he t une Ilows Ir om t o , wit h t he modula t ion t o removed:
e r e mo e d e e r yt hin g Ir om a r 1 , e a t , t o a r 2, e a t , le a in g t he chor d
pr ogr e s s ion a s it would s ound ha d t h e re e e n no modula t ion t o ma or t he
me lody, oI cour s e , ca n not e s imila r ly a r idge d . he re s ult is a e a ut iIu l, pe r Ie ct ly
na t u ra l pa t t e r n, in which s ii - V - I s moot hly Iollows s ii - V - I, in a ha r monic
s e ue nce t ha t de s ce n ds y minor t hir d. o e t t e r pe r ce i e t ha t de s ce nding minor
t hir d r e la t ion, he r e s t he s a me pr ogr e s s ion, e nha r monica lly a lt e r e d:
We ca n e a s ily s e e t ha t t he ha r monic s e ue nce pe rIorms a modula t ion y
de s ce nding minor t h ir d. t is e a ct ly t he s a me kind oI modula t ion wit h e a ct ly
t he same design a s t h e t o modula t ion we s t udie d e a r lie r click h e re t o
r e ie w it . e n mor e , t he e nt ire s e ue nce ca n e ie we d a s one dia t onic
pr ogr e s s ion in , which e gins in t h e minor mode a nd t he n mo e s t o t he pa r a lle l
ma or, in t h e progre s s ion ii of III V of III | III pa r a lle l ma or : ii V | I .
t is e ca us e oI t he unity oI t h is s e ue nce t he int ima cy e t we e n it s ha l e s t ha t
we e pe r ie n ce a s e n s e oI r e t u rn a s we modula t e Irom t o , Ior we r e cogn i e in
t he ii - V - I oI t he comple t ion oI a pa t t e r n e gun in t he ii - V - I oI . Colt r a n e
cre a t e s t he init ia l pa t t e r n, interrupts it wit h a t a nge nt ia l mo e t o , a nd t he n
restores a nd completes it ia t rit one modula t ion Ir om t o . a t he r t ha n he a r t he
t r it one modu la t ion s s t r a nge ne s s , we a r e ca pt ure d y t he r e cognit ion oI t he init ia l
pa t t e rn s re t ur n. t s ma gica l inge nious a nd uit e Ia r r e mo e d Ir om t he
r us ue modula t or y a ppr oa ch oI Giant Steps.
he la s t t r it one modu la t ion a r s 4- , y which t he comple t e d cycle now a t
r e t ur ns t o it s s t a r t ing t ona lit y oI , is e e n mor e e nigma t ic:
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e re , t h e re is no imme dia t e ly pre ce ding pa s s a ge or ke y t o which t he modula t ion
r e la t e s except the end of the cycle itself, and its return to B. t s uit e pos s i le
t ha t , Ior Colt ra ne , t his wa s s u IIicie nt a s is Ior t h e modula t ion. ha t h e r e pe a t s his
me lody s e ginning, he re de s pit e t h e t rit one le a p r e uir e d t o do s o a dds
we ight t o t ha t pe r s pe ct i e . n t he ot he r ha nd, a compos e r who is s t imula t e d y t he
ide a oI cyclica l modula t ion pr o a ly wouldn t s hr ink Ir om t h e cha lle nge oI t r it one
r e la t ions hip, a nd s o Colt r a n e ma y ha e ha d ot he r conne ct ing r e la t ions h ips in mind.
e re a r e t wo pos s i ilit ie s :
FM7 as bII of E
e re , M s e r e s a s ot h in a nd in . n t ur n, M is s imult a n e ous ly in
a n d in . Colt r a n e s us e oI C m , r a t he r t ha n , ca n e ie we d a s a s imple
chor d s u s t it ut ion, t ha t pr e s e r e s t he s ong s ii V I Ior mula .
FM7 as chromatic passing chord
e re , ma or s t onic is s t ill t he pi ot chord, ut t his t ime a s a chromatically raised
IV in t he ke y oI ma or , le a din g dir e ct ly t o t he oI t ha t ke y.
Wit h t his r e t ur n t o , t he Iour - Iold di is ion oI t he oct a e is comple t e d, a nd
Colt r a ne s s ymme t r ica l t ona l de s ign IulIille d.
e t s n ow t a ke a s t e p a ck, t o pla ce t he de t a ils oI t he s e t wo pie ce s wit hin t h e
Ir a me wor k oI our la r ge r ue s t .
Put t ing it Put t ing it Put t ing it Put t ing it all t oge t her . . . all t oge t her . . . all t oge t her . . . all t oge t her . . .
We s e e t ha t , in Giant Steps a nd Central Park West, Colt r a ne ha s wor ke d t he s a me
s t r uct ur a l ma t e ria l in t wo e r y diIIe re nt wa ys , a pplyin g di e r ge nt t e chni ue s in his
t r e a t me nt oI t he modula t or y cycle , a n d in his a pproa ch t o t ona lit y. e t s s umma r i e
t hos e diIIe r e nce s :
Treatment of the modulatory cycle
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Giant Steps
Colt r a ne e s ch e ws a ny t e chni u e t ha t would s oIt e n t he ha r s hne s s oI h is
modula t or y cycle : he a oids pi ot ch or ds a nd common t one s , choos ing ins t e a d
t o highlight t he cycle s a wkwa r d ke y r e la t ions , y le a ing t he m e pos e d.
Central Park West
Colt r a ne goe s t o gr e a t le ngt h s t o mit iga t e a nd, inde e d, t r a ns Ior m t he
cycle s na t ura l a r a s i e ne s s . n modula t ions y minor t h ir d, he u s e s mi t ur e t o
pr oduce e IIe ct i e a nd e le ga nt pi ot chor ds , a n d s us t a in s his me lody not e s t o
cr e a t e t he s moot he s t pos s i le t r a ns it ion. Wh e re t h e s e a re n t a a ila le , he
cr e a t e s t he illusion oI s e a mle s s n e s s , y ma king t he modula t ion it s e lI int o a
pa re nt he t ica l in s e r t ion t ha t s e pa r a t e s t h e t wo ha l e s oI a e r y clos e ly re la t e d
s e ue nce .
Treatment of tonality
Giant Steps
he compos e r de li e ra t e ly a oids a ny t e ch ni ue s t ha t would more Iir mly
e s t a lis h one t ona l ce nt re . hough t he pie ce cyclica lly r e t ur ns t o , t ha t ke y is
gi e n lit t le mor e pr omine nce t ha n a ny ot he r . he la ck oI a s t r ong ce nt r a l t ona lit y
me a ns t ha t we he a r all t he ke ys e ua lly which in t u rn e pos e s t he
compos it ion s unde r lying s t r uct ur e , in wh ich t he oct a e is di ide d int o t hre e
equal ma or t hir ds . he s uppre s s ion oI t ona lit y is a n impor t a nt me a ns y which
Colt r a ne re a li e s his a r t is t ic in t e n t ion.
Central Park West
Colt r a ne goe s out oI his wa y t o cr e a t e a s ymme t r ica l t ona l de s ign t ha t pla ce s t he
ke y oI ma or a t it s ce nt r e . n ce t he s t r uct ur a l cycle is comple t e d, he r e s t r ict s
his modu la t ions a nd progre s s ions t o t hos e t h a t s t r e ngt he n a s t onic. ot h
a ct ions minimi e t he modu la t or y cycle s t on a lit y- dis r upt ing t e nde ncie s , a nd
s ucce s s Iully e s t a lis h a ce n t r a l ke y. his cr e a t e s t he uniIie d a s e Irom which we
ca n mor e ca lmly e pe r ie nce t he cycle s t ona l t r a e ct ory, a nd de ligh t in it s
unIolding. he e s t a lis hme nt oI a ce nt r a l t on a lit y u ilds t he pe r s pe ct i e t hr ou gh
which Central Park West ca n e pr ope r ly e pe r ie nce d.
h e s um oI t he s e diIIe r e nce s is t h e r e a li a t ion oI t wo dis t inct a r t is t ic int e nt ions .
h rough Giant Steps a nd Central Park West, Colt r a ne s hows us t ha t t he s a me
ma t e r ia l ca n e ma de t o pr oduce t ot a lly diIIe r e nt re s ult s if used differently:
, t , t , t , t s not s n ot s not s n ot wh at wh at wh at wh at you u s e , E u t you u s e , E u t you u s e , E u t you u s e , E u t h ow h ow h ow h ow you us e it . you us e it . you us e it . you us e it .
Wha t wa s a s our ce oI a r r ing a ggr e s s ion in Giant Steps e come s t he s t a r t ing poin t
Ior ut t e r ch a r m a nd e a ut y in Central Park West. Wh a t Colt r a n e ma ke s
a ioma t ica lly t e nde r in one , he r e nde rs r us ue a nd a ngula r in t he ot he r a nd it is
a ll in t he how: how t he compos e r e limina t e s a ll s moot h ing t e ch ni ue s , s o a s t o
e pos e t he unde r lying s t r uct ur e in Giant Steps, a nd how he Iinds wonde r Iul,
in e nt i e wa ys oI t r a n s Ior ming t he dis cor da nce oI dis t a nt ly- r e la t e d ke ys int o
r e a t ht a king cha r m a nd de light in Central Park West.
While t h e s e ins ight s de a l wit h compos it ion, t he y a pply e ua lly t o impr o is a t ion,
whe r e t he r e a li a t ion oI a r t is t ic int e nt is us t a s impor t a nt . o s olo we ll, one mus t
unde r s t a nd t he s t r uct ur e s upon which one cr e a t e s .
h is lit t le t our ne ce s s a r ily t ouche d on ut a Ie w pa r a me t e r s t he re is Ia r mor e , in
Colt r a ne s cr e a t ions , Ir om which we ca n le a r n a n d gr ow. t s my hope t ha t our r ie I
e plor a t ion will ins pir e Iur t he r is it s t o h is wor k.
Micha e l e i s on
Ma y, 2 00
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Micha e l / e iE s on is a compos e r , mus ic con s ult a nt , a nd mus ic e duca t or , who
s pe cia li] e s in M a ] ] a n d cla s s ica l ha r mony. 7 o le a r n more a E out him, click he r e
for infor ma t ion a E out s t u dyin g wit h him, click h e re a nd for copyright
infor ma t ion, click he r e .
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discussion
Analysis
John Coltrane wasnt the first
to experiment with equal
subdivisions of the octave
(experiments go back to at
least 1825), but his Giant Steps
placed this radically different
approach to harmony front and
centre within the jazz world.
Its unusual beauty and power
still exert an influence, half a
century later.
However, in our fascination
with the what of Coltranes
octave subdivision, we can at
times forget that its how is
equally important. That
Coltrane himself subjected it to
vastly divergent treatments
attests to the importance he
placed on exploring its
technical means.
Both Giant Steps and Central
Park West were constructed
using its methods, and yet
these classics couldnt be more
dissimilar in tone and artistic
effect. Their difference bears
witness to the fact that
Coltrane ceaselessly sought to
discover the how of octave
subdivision, so that he could
learn to master its inherent
characteristics, and use it with
deliberate, artistic intent.
This analysis explores those
discoveries, as they are
embodied within the
techniques used to create these
masterpieces.
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