The next cut also became a jazz standard, but of a completely different sort. From John Coltrane’s landmark album Giant Steps, this is the title track. Again, as was the case with “Take Five”, the title is somewhat of a play on words. Coltrane had begun experimenting with finding new ways to approach harmonic progression, even as a sideman, substituting chords in his improvisations over standard tunes. He found a new way to approach harmonic speed dating progression, by using the interval of a minor third, combined with the motion of the 5th, into a sequence that forever changed jazz harmony, and has been often considered the “benchmark” by which jazz musicians today are judged. The title,”Giant Steps”, many have written, could refer to these unorthodox chord changes ( the interval of the minor third, which contain three ½ steps, being a “giant step”, as a normal
“step” in musical terminology, is a major 2nd, containing two ½ steps) Along with this revolutionary idea of harmonic progression is an absolutely blisteringly fast tempo, which makes the harmonic progression even more of a challenge for the musicians on the date ( except for Coltrane, of course, who had been living, and breathing these particular chord changes). Indeed, on this date, the pianist Tommy Flanagan appears at times to simply give up during his solo, and who can blame him, really? Coltrane was known for bringing new, unrehearsed material often to recording sessions, and in this case- his new ideas of harmonic progression are not easily mastered ” on the spot”, even by musicians as brilliant as Flanagan! In any case, the track remains an iconic song that has befuddled, and inspired many a jazz student. Coltrane’s solo here exemplifies his forward thinking approach, as he seemingly flies through the chord changes effortlessly, arpeggiating them, and offering a solo that has become studied and a model of modern tenor saxophone playing that is marveled by musicians, fans, and jazz enthusiasts everywhere.