Giant Steps (4:46)

Cover of The Heavyweight Champion: The Complete Atlantic Recordings (disc 2)

From The Heavyweight Champion: The Complete Atlantic Recordings (disc 2) and 103 other releases

“‘Giant Steps’” is a jazz recording by John Coltrane, on tenor saxophone, which is the first track on the album of the same name and is 4 minutes and 49 seconds long. The composition is a milestone for jazz musicians’ progress, given the difficulty of improvising its rapid progression of chord changes that progress through three keys shifted by major thirds.

The saxophonist had previously used this technique on the LP Blue Train on the tunes Moment’s Notice and Lazy Bird. Coltrane continued in this vein on a recording with Cannonball Adderley of the standard “Limehouse Blues,” and on his original “Fifth House.” He continued to use this approach on other tunes, such as “Countdown”, based on the Miles Davis tune “Tune Up”; “26 2” based on Charlie Parker’s “Confirmation”; and a reharmonization of the jazz standard “Body and Soul.” Songs such as “Naima” and “Like Sonny” also show some harmonic similarity to “Giant Steps.” Coltrane continued to employ similar concepts in his soloing during his more open and modal middle period. A Love Supreme features examples of lines based on “Giant Steps” cycles over modal vamps, to create a Polytonal effect.

The progression continues to stimulate harmonic thinking in contemporary jazz. There are a number of different approaches to soloing on the song. While Coltrane favoured arpeggiation over the changes, other players have used different tricks and patterns to bring out the sound of the changes.

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