Giant Steps, Central Park West, and Modulatory Cycles

John Coltrane wasn’t 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 Coltrane’s 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 couldn’t 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.

Danny Grissett: invention, design, and technique

A condensed version of this article first appeared in the April, 2010 issue of DownBeat Magazine.

Pianist/composer Danny Grissett plays with a naturalness and ease that can readily deceive his audience. Swept up by his beautiful tone and expressive lyricism, we can all too easily fail to register just how astonishingly inventive his music really is — there are gems of creativity and design at every level.

This in-depth analysis traces two measures of a Grissett solo, to uncover a world of complex design, invention, and technique. It is accompanied by Grissett’s own comments.

Just Friends

Borrowed from the thinkingHarmony section of thinkingMusic.ca, this analysis takes a close look at Just Friends' harmonic structure. While the tune itself is a venerable standard, its harmony contains some unusual moves. Along the way, the analysis discusses sequence, mode change, modulatory technique, back-relating secondary dominants, and various uses of the common-tone°7 chord.

Rising Sun

A long-forgotten gem by Dave Brubeck, this elegant and sensitive composition truly deserves more widespread appreciation. Coming soon!

Modern Classical

L'Histoire du Soldat

L'Histoire du Soldat, by Igor Stravinsky, is a masterpiece of originality in relation to both musical time and tonality. While there are compositional riddles hidden in almost every measure, for me its biggest enigma lies within its very first bars — in the ‘fanfare’, that so archly launches the Soldier's Story. This analysis begins as a response to that puzzle, and goes on to explore the tonal and metrical aspects of Marche, the piece’s opening movement.

Marche is a musical landscape in which events have multiple meanings, and musical objects simultaneously possess more than one identity. At its allegorical heart, L'Histoire du Soldat is a story about truth and illusion — and Marche poses that question musically. Coming soon!


So much beauty, so little time! This section of the site is simply 'reserved' for future analyses.