John Coltrane’s masterpiece, Giant Steps, turned sixty in 2020 and this was celebrated with an anniversary deluxe edition LP. Let’s have a brief look at how the album came to life and how Coltrane developed, personally and musically, before being able to compose one of the most influential jazz albums of all time.
John Coltrane went through a lot before he was ready to create his masterpiece Giant Steps. Starting his musical journey in 1949 under the spell of Charlie Parker, and later Dizzy Gillespie, he felt dissatisfied, even dejected. In 1954, Coltrane joined The Miles Davis Quintet where he was encouraged to think more harmonically. This was an important milestone in the yet-to-be-written composition of Giant Steps as he was introduced to new possibilities in chord progressions.
Coltrane had a drug addiction and was dismissed from the band (together with drummer Philly Joe Jones) in 1957. Being sacked by the number one musical influencer, Miles Davis, was a wake-up call. With the help of friends and family, Coltrane took steps to get his life back in order. He started rehearsing with the celebrated Thelonious Monk and this not only helped him recover from his addiction but also helped him develop artistically.
“Working with Monk brought me close to a musical architect of the highest order”John Coltrane in an interview with DownBeat (1960)
Fully recovered and evolved, Coltrane rejoined Miles Davis’ band in 1958. The following year, they recorded Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, an album that is claimed to be the most important album in jazz history. Giant Steps was recorded less than a month after the sessions for Kind of Blue (1959). Giant Steps, consisting entirely out of Coltrane’s original compositions, was released in 1960, and despite being a perfect contrast to Kind of Blue, it became a mighty equal.
Working with Thelonious Monk, and recording Kind of Blue with Miles Davis, were both giant steps John Coltrane took before he mastered the skills to compose and record the album that innovated jazz harmonically and rhythmically.
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