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June 7, 2009 9:27 PM   Subscribe


 
Coltrane had chops, but for my money, its this guy.
posted by Dia Nomou Nomo Apethanon at 9:37 PM on June 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


This Maya-created animation/visualization of the same piece has been a fave for some time.
posted by now i'm piste at 9:43 PM on June 7, 2009 [8 favorites]


That's great! It's unreal the number of chord changes. Forgive my ignorance, but is that typical in modern jazz pieces?
posted by blahblah at 9:45 PM on June 7, 2009


On preview, beaten to the punch by now i'm piste.
...serves me right for taking the extra seconds to dig up the metafilter post on it (also).
posted by juv3nal at 9:46 PM on June 7, 2009


Thanks to juv3nal, I now know how long it's been a fave as well.
posted by now i'm piste at 9:52 PM on June 7, 2009


blahblah: The number of chord changes is above average, but not by much. The nature of the chord changes is, although explained calmly and rationally by music theorists, a little difficult to work out in practice. That is, although it makes sense, it is difficult to improvise on the changes and make it sound melodic, natural and beautiful. I've been trying for thirty years. The speed doesn't make it easier! I love it, though, and never tire of the piece, as played by the composer.

The note-by-note realization offered here is really nice, since that corresponds with the way I think while I play. The second post (seen here before) is also fantastic.

The first post makes me want to drop a hand grenade down the bell of the poor sax wired up to that stupid computer. Please.
posted by kozad at 9:59 PM on June 7, 2009


That's really neat, but I wish the animator had kept the pace even by scrolling through the longer notes and the rests.*

I recently watched the Music Animation Machine video for Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D minor (via this thread, and see also this post). It's so much easier with the colored blocks.

*You have to listen to the notes he's not playing, man.
posted by hydrophonic at 10:00 PM on June 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Another amazing "Giant Steps" animation: a visualization of the iconic chord progression. [previously]
posted by the_bone at 10:05 PM on June 7, 2009


While watching this, kaiserin remarked "Yeah, he pretty much deserves a religion."
posted by the_bone at 10:18 PM on June 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Poor Tommy Flanagan. Getting reduced to a little graphic that says "Piano Solo." As if his flubbed take wasn't humiliating enough.
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:20 PM on June 7, 2009 [4 favorites]


OK, I swear this will be my last post in the thread: "Giant Steps" as played by a robot
posted by the_bone at 10:21 PM on June 7, 2009


hydrophonic: I could do that at home!

I wish someone would do some neato graphics for "Offering" off of Stellar Regions. For my money, one of the most intense Coltrane solos I've ever heard.
posted by Saxon Kane at 10:26 PM on June 7, 2009


Needs a Guitar Hero interface. Simplify it to fit on four colored buttons and watch kids heads 'splode.
posted by hal9k at 10:40 PM on June 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


Needs a Guitar Hero interface. Simplify it to fit on four colored buttons and watch kids heads 'splode.

My wife was just commenting that this had shades of DDR to it, yeah. It's a very neat presentation; I love the sort of sudden lag in the animation on the held notes.
posted by cortex at 11:03 PM on June 7, 2009


blahblah: That's great! It's unreal the number of chord changes. Forgive my ignorance, but is that typical in modern jazz pieces?

kozad: blahblah: The number of chord changes is above average, but not by much.

blahblah: the trick isn't that it has a lot of chord changes; as kozad points out, it's a fairly standard number of changes.

The trick about the song, and the thing that makes it a jazzbug anthem and clarion call to virtuosity, is the fact that the key changes so much. Most songs, even songs with half a dozen chords, stay in the same key all the way through; but in “Giant Steps,” Coltrane wrote it so that the song, resolving downward rapidly by trading fifths and ones continuously, was in a different key every bar.

What that means for the jazz soloist on the ground playing this (Coltrane here, of course, and poor Flanagan, who was a fantastic piano player) is that, instead of concentrating on any given key, he has to switch the key he's thinking about and soloing in maybe twice every second. Ugh.
posted by koeselitz at 11:08 PM on June 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Great visualization and excellent way to learn to read music, which had always totally baffled me. I enjoyed that a lot and all the other links in this thread.

Until I watched that wonderful animation now i'm piste linked, I didn't know I really needed to 'see' jazz to enjoy it more. Now I can 'see' it, I think I will hear it with a whole different and deeper enjoyment.

Adding this charming musical notes and jazz animation.

Thanks for the post pyramid termite.
posted by nickyskye at 11:26 PM on June 7, 2009


kaiserin remarked "Yeah, he pretty much deserves a religion."

You have heard of this place, right?
posted by rkent at 12:05 AM on June 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


There's some notes in parentheses, anyone know what this is supposed to mean?

Don't bother playing unless you are John Coltrane, is my guess
posted by Dr Dracator at 12:07 AM on June 8, 2009


There's some notes in parentheses, anyone know what this is supposed to mean?
Those are Ghost Notes, essentially they're notes that are just barely played
posted by timelord at 12:44 AM on June 8, 2009


the_bone: While watching this, kaiserin remarked "Yeah, he pretty much deserves a religion."

I've been meaning to saunter on down to this place some Sunday, and experience the 'jazz liturgy' myself: http://www.coltranechurch.org/ This church is really superfluous however; all of us sax men are true believers.
posted by StrangerInAStrainedLand at 12:56 AM on June 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


There's a pretty interesting story behind that recording of Giant Steps. Coltrane had written the material for the record and distributed charts to the musicians before the recording session, but the songs weren't rehearsed before the recording. I think the quote from one of the guys on the session was something like "We knew what he wanted to play, we just didn't know he wanted to play at that tempo."

The song Giant Steps didn't have a title before the recording session and the title came from the large intervalic steps in PC's bass line. Tommy Flanagan get's lost towards the end of his solo and Coltrane has to come back in to rescue the song. The song Countdown, which has similar changes, is just tenor and drums until the chorus come is to close the song because PC and Tommy Flanagan couldn't play the tempo Coltrane wanted to play for more than a chorus or 2.

Looking at the solo transcribed was pretty interesting because it shows just how much music you can make in mostly a one octave range.

From my own experience, it's hard to solo melodically over Giant Steps changes, but they are some of the easiest changes to learn to solo over. For more common chord structures, you have to balance mechanical and melodic styles which is hard to learn if you can't do it naturally. On Giant Steps changes, you can sound pretty good by playing strictly mechanically.
posted by mexican at 1:10 AM on June 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


I love Coltrane and this tune, but this record sparked a revolution that now oppresses the jazz musicians of this age and sentences them to the cruise ships and dinner theaters of our great land. I don't think Coltrane meant to cause such a stir with Steps.

Also, The video lagged behind the audio rather egregiously. Still great fun to see.
posted by dagosto at 2:42 AM on June 8, 2009


My dear young man, don't take it too hard. Your work is ingenious. It's quality work. And there are simply too many notes, that's all. Just cut a few and it will be perfect.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:24 AM on June 8, 2009


*You have to listen to the notes he's not playing, man.

You mean both of them?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 5:07 AM on June 8, 2009 [5 favorites]


I am not yet to the point where I have convinced myself that this is anything I actually enjoy listening to, the slightest bit.
posted by fleacircus at 5:51 AM on June 8, 2009


So don't listen to it, moron!
posted by ChickenringNYC at 6:13 AM on June 8, 2009


There's listening for enjoyment and there's listening for education, ChickenringNYC. Just like there's reading for pleasure and reading for expansion of one's mind. Cut the dude some slack.
posted by spicynuts at 6:43 AM on June 8, 2009


Just cut a few and it will be perfect.

Which few did you have in mind, Majesty?
posted by shakespeherian at 6:47 AM on June 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


spicynuts: "There's listening for enjoyment and there's listening for education."

We're not talking Sein und Zeit here. I've whistled "Giant Steps" (inaccurately, of course) in the shower. It's entertaining music.

On the other hand, fleacircus's favorite band sucks.
posted by Joe Beese at 6:51 AM on June 8, 2009


I am not yet to the point where I have convinced myself that this is anything I actually enjoy listening to, the slightest bit.
posted by fleacircus at 8:51 AM on June 8


I don't mean to pick on you, but the reason this statement (not you, the statement) comes across as ignorant is because there is undoubtedly music that you do enjoy listening to, but that music is undoubtedly of the pop variety, no? I mean, it isn't as if you don't like "Giant Steps" in particular, but you can't get enough of "Epistrophe" or even Birth of the Cool. The statement objects to this entire class of music, implicitly in favor of another class of music that is simpler, less meaningful, and ultimately less rewarding.

But it's a legitimate statement, not to be dismissed lightly. If jazz music is important, if it is worthwhile art, than it's worthwhile to try to show other people how to see its beauty.

So what is it about Jazz that people don't like, that repels them, when those same people like pop, hip hop and classical? I believe it is simply that while all music, jazz but also classical and some of pop, operates on multiple levels, with jazz very often but not always the most superficial, initial, or most obvious layer lacks conventional meaning. The beat, melody and rhythm are so heavily buried in the syncopation, tempo, modes, key and chord changes, that there is no hook for the ear to grab hold of initially. There is so much happening so fast and among the musicians, and so much of it is interlocking but not overlapping that it becomes a struggle for the untrained ear to get a foothold in the music. There are many layers of meaning and composition, but the primary layer is least meaningful of them all. It is like listening to poetry in a language you don't understand.

I was in a modern art gallery the other week, one I had never been to, and I was thinking about this same problem in the context of art. I can't paint, draw or sculpt, so modern art has always been opaque for me in a way that even esoteric modern music hasn't. What I found is that I squinted at piece, or closed one eye, the piece, the sculpture or painting, made more sense. I was obscuring one layer of meaning to amplify another. When you squint you lose the ability to resolve detail, so shape and contrast become more prominent. You close one eye, and you lose depth perception. Layers of meaning are obscured by other layers, but if you take in art the way to take in conventional information about the world, you are going to miss something, and it the case of modern art, you often miss a lot. This is because the artists were so often working so many different layers at once that the result requires some parsing, so deconstructing. I understood from that experience that the phrase is "a work of art" also because the audience must do a little work to see the art, to receive the artist's communication. I must have looked like a psychopath walking around this museum with one eye closed, squinting, cocking my head, etc. but it was, for me at least, revelatory.

So for the untrained ear, the best advice I can give you when it comes to listening to jazz is to squint your ears. Try to listen to only a layer of the song, an instrument, the chord, the rhythm, and try to block out the rest, then go through it again and listen for something else. Ask yourself what the music makes you think of, and ask yourself why it makes you think that.

Listen to the Miles Davis song "Generique" and John Coltrane's "Alabama" They are two works that have many layers of art and craft working together, but in the case of both there is a primary layer that is "conventionally" accessible.
posted by Pastabagel at 6:53 AM on June 8, 2009 [4 favorites]


We're not talking Sein und Zeit here. I've whistled "Giant Steps" (inaccurately, of course) in the shower. It's entertaining music.

I did not say it was not entertaining music. I was responding to an assholish comment.
posted by spicynuts at 6:57 AM on June 8, 2009


But it's a legitimate statement, not to be dismissed lightly. If jazz music is important, if it is worthwhile art, than it's worthwhile to try to show other people how to see its beauty.

How do we know from the statement that this isn't exactly what he's trying to do. He uses the word 'yet'. I think Fleacircus should elaborate before we start getting on our high horse edumacatin him about be bop. How do we know that he's not saying 'I am teaching myself about jazz, and I'm not yet at the point where I am convinced I like this for entertainment's sake, but I am certainly getting there and learning alot along the way?'
posted by spicynuts at 7:00 AM on June 8, 2009


While charitable, "the slightest bit" pretty much demands an interpetation of "This band sucks."
posted by cavalier at 7:04 AM on June 8, 2009


How do we know from the statement that this isn't exactly what he's trying to do.

I don't know that. I'm simply saying that the sentiment "I don't get jazz" or "I can't stand jazz" is so common that it may be worth trying to understand why it is that so many people don't get this one particular kind of music. I wasn't picking on fleacircus, sorry if that's how it sounds.
posted by Pastabagel at 7:05 AM on June 8, 2009


spicynuts: "I did not say it was not entertaining music."

My bad. I didn't make it clear that I was addressing people who might be scared off by the idea that it was "bad tasting but good for you".
posted by Joe Beese at 7:07 AM on June 8, 2009


The statement objects to this entire class of music, implicitly in favor of another class of music that is simpler, less meaningful, and ultimately less rewarding.

hang on sloopy is more meaningful and rewarding to me than giant steps could ever be - coltrane's exuberance is obvious, but it's still cerebral music that exists to be thought about more than it's meant to make someone feel something

that fleacircus senses this and dislikes it doesn't make him ignorant, nor does it make the kind of music he likes less rewarding

in this song, i think coltrane's intended audience was other jazz musicians - and to really "get" this music, you've got to be able to hear things like key changes and chord voicings

Ask yourself what the music makes you think of, and ask yourself why it makes you think that.

"hey, bird never played like this, look at me!"

which is perfectly legit for coltrane to do, seeing as he had the monster chops to pull it off

technical note - the "head" is transcribed in straight treble clef but the solo is transcribed for Bb tenor sax
posted by pyramid termite at 7:28 AM on June 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


The statement objects to this entire class of music, implicitly in favor of another class of music that is simpler, less meaningful, and ultimately less rewarding.

Wow. Just...wow. I've not sure I've ever heard a pretense that was quite so blind.
posted by nosila at 7:29 AM on June 8, 2009 [2 favorites]


I am not yet to the point where I have convinced myself that this is anything I actually enjoy listening to, the slightest bit.

There were points in my life when I would have said the same thing (swapping "listening" for the appropriate verb) about tea, coffee, beer, scotch, asparagus, and cigarettes. I can still say it about beets and kale.

I'm not much of a jazz guy, but, yes, I've been annoyed at obnoxious jazz dismissiveness before too. That thing up there, that fleacircus said? It's not that. It doesn't merit the reaction, as much as I can understand the reaction. Jazz is interesting in part because it's not as self-evident and obvious a form, and really liking and getting into and being able to move with and whistle along to Coltrane doesn't make that not so—all it means is you've crossed a dispositional barrier and gotten comfortable with one of the less accessible styles of music out there.

Cf. the "I don't like rap" dynamic, adjusting for specifics.

Geek out on the music you like, please—talk about why you love it, crack open the shell and explain what's awesome about it, put it in an edifying context so folks who aren't familiar or haven't gotten it can have a chance of better understanding this thing that they're not on good terms with. Do that, it's awesome. But don't go looking for an excuse to paint someone as the bad guy or read jerkish implications into neutral statements when you're doing it.
posted by cortex at 7:52 AM on June 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


The visual representation of Coltrane's "Giant Steps" made me say out loud, "Fucking A." within hearing of the technician in my basement who is replacing the transformer on my currently hosed furnace/ventilation system.

Which is to say that for me, who has heard this track hundreds of times, the music is not cerebral or studied. I listen to it and my response is an immediate smile and an involuntary expression of an encounter with sublimity.

I haver experienced the same with pop music, heavy metal, and classical recitals.

I'm amazed that people can hear stuff like this and not have a reaction. I believe fleacircus when fleacircus admits to not having the ears to get this music.

It's really a condition to be lamented to the exact proportion that those of us who do get should be thankful.

Rock the fuck out.
posted by mistersquid at 7:54 AM on June 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


People break my balls for saying one has to know/understand music theory to fully appreciate the music of Bach, for instance (mind you, ANYONE in the world can still love his music and be deeply moved by it, and cherish it their entire life without knowing anything about the theoretical underpinnings).. that said, the same holds true for modern jazz, as we can see when moronic imbeciles flaunt their ignorance or lack of understand regarding the music. My mother loves Benny Goodman but if you put Miles on, to her it sounds like they're just playing whatever they want with no meaning, rhyme or reason. So it's fine if fleacircus won't ever understand/enjoy this music, but what is his point in flaunting it?
posted by ChickenringNYC at 7:58 AM on June 8, 2009


I'm simply saying that the sentiment "I don't get jazz" or "I can't stand jazz" is so common that it may be worth trying to understand why it is that so many people don't get this one particular kind of music

I actually like this song in particular and jazz in general, but the whole genre is over my head since I know next to nothing about music theory. To someone who doesn't know anything about jazz, listening to a song like this is like watching someone solve a rubik's cube in ten seconds. You immediately recognize the technical ability that goes into it, but without more knowledge about the techniques and shorthand involved the whole thing seems strange and arbitrary.

The statement objects to this entire class of music, implicitly in favor of another class of music that is simpler, less meaningful, and ultimately less rewarding.

Aside from the fact that people are free to dislike any kind of music, I don't think it's a given that jazz is necessarily better than any other kind of music. Complexity isn't always a positive (hence the concept of minimalism), music can be meaningful for different reasons, and people can find any kind of music rewarding. A sixteen-year-old kid, for example, would have valid reasons for finding his local music scene more accessible and rewarding than a style that reached its peak before his parents were born.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:13 AM on June 8, 2009


"Play jazz, drive a cab".

answer given to me by a NYC taxi driver in 82.
posted by pianomover at 8:23 AM on June 8, 2009


I have a decent jazz collection. I hosted a jazz radio show in college. I would never call anyone who didn't agree with me on jazz or any music for that matter a 'moronic imbecile' and I wish the whole jazz fan base would be purged of this ridiculous attitude. Just cuz my someone doesn't want to hear my Sun Ra records doesn't give me leash to expel them from the category of 'intelligent, tasteful' people. Rather, people who fling insults at others who dislike this stuff make me want to push the eject button on the their invitation to society.
posted by spicynuts at 8:30 AM on June 8, 2009


I'm glad so many of us can feel free to slag on John Coltrane. What sacred cow can we demolish next? I can't wait. Metafilter is so iconoclastic.
posted by blucevalo at 8:31 AM on June 8, 2009


You know, I'm not so sure that hearing the key modulations and chordal structures as changes in the jazz sense is that important. You don't need to know music theory to enjoy this stuff. Changes can be heard as a structured difference, as contour, as movement. This is what music is made of, this is enough.

People perceive patterns. You can get a sense of the geometry of the thing without having the vocabulary to describe it. This is why the "Coltrane is too cerebral, all chops and no heart" line doesn't resonate with me. You really can just listen for variation and difference, from phrase to phrase, from breath to breath, from sound to sound, and hear that a person is behind this movement and just dig on that.
posted by avianism at 8:46 AM on June 8, 2009




And by Giants, I mean Giant. Giants Steps are more like this.
posted by SpiffyRob at 8:53 AM on June 8, 2009


I generally don't get jazz; like Pastabagel said, the hook that my ear normally listens for is buried so deep that I generally lose interest in listening to it. These visualizations, though, are exactly the type of information that is "missing" from my experience of jazz music that lets me enjoy it. I'm astonished, really, that I watched these videos three times last night, and got up this morning to watch them again. I just got it, you guys. Maybe I can continue getting it with other jazz music now, too.
posted by andeles at 9:24 AM on June 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


it's still cerebral music that exists to be thought about more than it's meant to make someone feel something

Says you!

****

Re: The Coltrane Church

I went there this last December on my first ever trip to the Bay Area. It was a pretty amazing experience. The new location (I guess they moved a few years back) is a small little room in a community center type building. There's room for about, oh, 40 people, I guess? They have these amazing icons on the wall -- you can see some of the images on their icon postcards (scroll down).

The service was about 3 hours total, maybe a bit longer. The various members of the church come out and start playing -- the archbishop plays sax and drums, there's another priest (the only white member, at least when I was there) who also plays sax and drums. The archbishop's daughter plays bass (she's the main minister too). Someone else on drums (most of the time) and another person on keys. Also there were a number of other people (many who came in a bit late) who would sing or play percussion (tambourines and the like), most of them youngish kids (anywhere from 10-16, I'd say). They were playing in a later Coltrane style (think Ascension), and there were various religious hymns/chants that they would sing along to the music. After playing for about 2 hours or so, they paused, and the bass-playing minister gave her sermon. Then the Archbishop gave a brief sermon. Then, back to the music; this time, they allowed anyone who had brought an instrument or wanted to join in to come up and play with them. One guy was an older white guy who had his tenor sax. There was also a group of high school kids who had brought some of their stuff. Overall, the musicianship was very high; none of them were world-class musicians, but they were very good, especially the bass player and they keyboard player (although his electric keyboard didn't sound great in the small space).

The whole experience was really amazing, although I have to admit to feeling a bit awkward. About 50-60% of the people there were clearly members of the church; almost all African-American, dressed in their Sunday Best, most likely from the neighborhood (which seemed to be a primarily African-American neighborhood from what I saw when I walked downtown after the service). The rest of the people there were there for the show; almost all white, hipsters or music fans, not members of the church, or perhaps even like me, non-believers. I felt strange being there, seeing as I am an atheist. I felt a bit like an anthropologist or tourist, just there to watch it for my "entertainment" and not getting the same religious significance out of it that the members do. But, even if I am not a Christian, I still had a pretty remarkable experience. Music is a central part of my life, and Coltrane is one of my favorites, and it really was like a personal pilgrimage for me -- I'd been wanting to go since I first heard about it 16 or so years ago. The people there are very friendly and nice, and they seem to be OK with people coming to the church out of non-religious motives; I would assume to them it just presents another chance to spread the Word. While I didn't have a religious conversion to Christianity, I did feel something that transcends the everyday. If I lived in San Fran, I would definitely go on a semi-regular basis, and if you go visit the city, it is something you must do -- it's unlike any concert or church I've ever been to.
posted by Saxon Kane at 9:35 AM on June 8, 2009 [3 favorites]


It annoys me when people assume not enjoying a kind of music necessarily means you don't get it. For those of us who like to dissect music technically, jazz offers unique and plentiful rewards. But the real reward is in feeling good about music, and if jazz doesn't make someone feel good, assuming it goes beyond their basic taste is pretty patronizing.

Jazz made me feel great and stimulated my mind long before I studied how it works; now that I have, it's a different dimension of appreciation, but my basic enjoyment of it has not changed a bit.
posted by jake at 9:58 AM on June 8, 2009


I would like to add:

I just got it, you guys. Maybe I can continue getting it with other jazz music now, too.

This makes me so happy. Maybe we can start a jazz talk thread over on Mefi Music, and get some good recommendations going?
posted by jake at 10:05 AM on June 8, 2009


jake: Here's an AskMefi post on experimental music and jazz.
posted by Saxon Kane at 11:38 AM on June 8, 2009


...And I thought he was doing all that off the top of his head:P

I'd like to see him do the same thing with Coltrane and Dolphy.
posted by Flex1970 at 2:10 PM on June 8, 2009


Wow - this is phenomenal. I love Coltrane and I love jazz, but reading music has never come easily to me. This video solves that problem.
posted by Digital_Man at 8:51 PM on June 8, 2009


Thanks, Saxon Kane. Fascinating stuff.

I used to work with this guy at a big garden center. One day, I asked him, "So, what kind of music do you like?"

His response was, "I don't... like music." For some reason, I still find this very entertaining on several levels. One of which is that he's the only person I've ever met who honestly doesn't like music.
posted by sneebler at 10:03 PM on June 8, 2009


His response was, "I don't... like music."

I heard there was a secret chord...
posted by flapjax at midnite at 3:14 AM on June 9, 2009


I think jazz is amazing stuff - as a violinist I've often felt like a nerdy outsider with jazz musicians. I can emulate their key on my instrument, but playing two notes at once puts me somewhere between a clarinet and an accordion, I suppose.

I really sympathize with jazz-defenders, even if they often come across as geeks of the most gigantic proportions (see Pastabagel's comment above.) The frustration is almost palpable - like taking someone to the Grand Canyon and marveling at their luke-warm reaction. "Meh, it's just a big hole in the ground."

Nevertheless, I feel the same way about Bartok... my internal monologue is something like, "If you can't understand why this is amazing then you're an idiot." I get that sense from Pastabagel's comment... It's just that different things move us in different ways, based on our experiences. FWIW Dave Brubeck colored my high school experience in an unforgettable way - I owned a discman with one cd and listened to it on repeat for a couple years.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 9:02 AM on June 9, 2009


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