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Paul Chambers - "Giant Steps"

As featured on "Giant Steps" by John Coltrane
Atlantic 1311-2 (1960)

John Coltrane - Giant Steps

There comes a time in every wannabe jazzer's life when he or she has to step up to the plate, take a sizeable swig of confidence-building single malt whisky, and grapple with one of the most challenging standards in the repertoire -- John Coltrane's "Giant Steps." Those who have emerged older and wiser from this rite of passage often talk of a deep sense of inner peace; bright new tomorrows; and a seething frenzy of tumbling changes that move faster than the human mind can possibly comprehend.

But take solace in the fact that great musicians, too, can only think so fast, as evidenced by Paul Chambers' repeated use of the same verbatim phrases throughout the original recording. However, as with all things, practice builds speed and confidence and -- eventually -- the "Giant Steps" changes can feel as familiar as a blues or rhythm changes-based number. (It just takes a little longer to get there...)

Due to the speed of this piece, it's perhaps unsurprising that Chambers' left-hand fingers occasionally miss the dead centre of his intended note, thus making the intonation a little, ahem, ambiguous at times. Previously, I did a transcription that used accidentals with tails that pointed slightly sharp or flat, but I realize now this was perhaps going too far (even though a desperate need for accuracy often keeps me awake at night). Anyway, by studying Chambers' phrasing and choice of notes in the other choruses, it's pretty easy to see which notes he actually intended to play.

For those not au fait with the theory behind this jazz milestone, Pat Martino has a guitar-based approach to learning the Coltrane changes at his site, and Dan Adler has written a useful PDF article on musical cycles that also helps shed light on the tune.

Transcription © Stevie Glasgow 2007