Tag: John Coltrane

Kenny Drew Solo Break In Two Minutes Or Less

Some cool things are brewing here at thejazzlanguage.com. I recently heard about a new app called Anchor that is designed around sharing mini podcast-like “waves” of audio and thought it could be an interesting platform to share some ideas about music.

Here is me, trying to explain Kenny Drew’s solo break on Moment’s Notice (from John Coltrane’s Blue Train, 1957) in less than 2 minutes.


John Coltrane on I Hear A Rhapsody

John Coltrane - Lush Life.jpg
John Coltrane – Lush Life. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia

From: Lush Life (Red Garland, piano; Paul Chambers, bass; Al Heath, drums)

This cut of I Hear a Rhapsody is from Lush Life, one of Coltrane’s earliest albums as a bandleader. He recorded it in late 1957 and early 1958.

There are plenty  of things to analyze melodically and harmonically in what he plays, but it’s just as valuable to look at what he doesn’t play. Like all great improvisors, Coltrane uses space. When you listen closely to this and other solos, you can hear his intense, clear ideas punctuated by rest. 
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John Coltrane on Giant Steps, Part 1

Coltrane Giant Steps.jpg
Coltrane Giant Steps.” Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.

The first time I saw this solo analyzed, it was like a veil had been lifted and I could suddenly see more clearly.

This tune has a (deserved) reputation for being devilishly difficult, in part because of the rapid harmonic motion through seemingly unrelated chord changes. Harmonic analysis reveals that there are really just three basic key centers happening here, and the standard ii-V and V-I and progressions are used throughout.

But what is perhaps more interesting from a language perspective, is how simple the melodic/rhythmic material is. The vast majority of the excerpt here is made up of chord arpeggios or diatonic scalar patterns.

In language learning, an important concepts is “comprehension,” or the ability to understand the message that is being communicated. In musical terms, we want to be able to understand how the melody and harmony are related so that we can truly learn and apply this vocabulary in other contexts.

This excerpt, despite its supposed complexity, might be easier to comprehend than many other solos. Lets look at a few examples.

Bar 2 (first bar of the form):

  • the first chord Bmaj, and the melody notes are F#, D#, B—a simple 5-3-1 arpeggio of a Bmaj triad
  • the second chord is D7, and the melody notes D, E, F#, A are simply the scalar pattern 1, 2, 3, 5 of the D7 chord.

Bar 3

  • Over a Gmaj chord, melody notes are G, D, B—a simple 1-5-3 descending arpeggio of a Gmaj triad

Bar 9

  • Even longer runs like bar 9 are comprehensible. A descending Bb Dominant Bebop scale over Bb7 chord (and it’s related Fmin7).


Just like learning a spoken language, try this simple approach for developing fluency with this material:

  1. Pick a word or phrase you like
  2. Try to comprehend it
  3. Begin using it in other contexts.

Check out this excerpt that begins at about 0:26 into the tune.

John Coltrane on Giant Steps pt1