John Coltrane – Pilgrimage to Free


Coltrane was one of the first to push the boundaries. A famous story about Coltrane’s lengthy solos goes like this. Coltrane was playing in Miles Davis’ quintet and trading solos with Davis during the concerts. Davis, who was a master of succinctness, knowing, like Monk the pianist, when to play and when to wait and when to stop, was becoming irritated with the unending meanderings of the young Coltrane. “Once I get started,” the young sax player confessed, “I just don’t know how to stop!” Miles’ solution was simple. “Try taking the sax out of your mouth,” he said with characteristic brevity.

Coltrane’s solos are noteworthy for more than just their length. Following the pattern of Charlie Parker, Coltrane shifted keys constantly and incorporated wisps of musical ideas from classical and pop music. Borrowing from Stravinksy and Gerswhin, the solos became avant-garde musical expressions reflecting a “flow of consciousness” style of improvising. His solos leading into this time period have been described as “sheets of sound.”

It was understandable that the mainstream public didn’t take to it; it was too radical.  The populace often takes time to absorb the novel and innovative to see if there is anything that can be mainstreamed for them; unfortunately, there wasn’t.

It was even understandable that the critics and bop jazz fans didn’t like it.  If bop had no melody, at least it had a semblance of a melodic shape to its effort, but this was closer to splatterings of paint on a canvas than a series of lines which might represent something in the real world. In fact, the cover of Ornette Coleman’s first album, which gave the movement its title, “Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation,” incorporated a contemporary painting, Jackson Pollack’s White Light, on the cover. It was a visual representation of what was to be heard on the album, and what was to come.

It was the reception of free jazz by classically trained composers like Leonard Bernstein and jazz music academicians like Gunther Schuller, president of the prestigious New England Conservatory of Music, however, that was surprising. Rather than dismissing it as “noise” and “garbage” as critics and the public had, most understood the musical struggle that this style represented. In fact, many classical composers had been attempting similar avant-garde performances for almost a decade.

At the heart of the free jazz style is an emancipation from musical rules. Some of the most basic rules of music and jazz: chordal structure, melodies which extended from the harmonies provided, uniformity, and consistency of meter and rhythm – all those things that make music singable and dance-able, were simply rules. These jazz musicians viewed them as rules which hampered their creativity, tied them to the past, and stifled the sounds crying to be let out.

The improvisational solos of the swing, bop, and hard bop eras were based, at least loosely, on an established pop melody which was traditionally presented in the first verse and brought back in the last verse.

The free jazz solos of Coltrane and Coleman, however, are never built around a pre-existing melody, so no reference is made to previous musical material. Everything is created “free from”: free from pre-existing melodies, free from keys, free from meters, free from chords which only hold the soloist back from free-flight musical soaring.

John Coltranes’ “Giant Steps” was an important musical bridge between bop and free jazz styles.

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Study Units

An Overview

Ch. 1: Understanding Pitch

Ch. 2: Understanding Musical Pulse

Ch. 3: Understanding Volume

Ch. 4: Understanding Tone

Ch. 5: Understanding Melody

Ch. 6: Understanding Harmony

Ch. 7: Understanding Rhythm

Ch. 8: Understanding Bass

Ch. 9: Understanding Countermelody

Ch. 10: Understanding Structure

Ch. 11: Understanding Instrumentation

Ch. 12: Understanding Tempo

An Overview

Ch. 1: 19th Century: Pre-Foster

Ch. 2: Folk Music by the People

Ch. 3: Popular Music in its Infancy

Ch. 4: Stephen Foster – “Father of American Popular Music”

Ch. 5: The Importance of Stephen Foster

Ch. 6: Scott Joplin – “King of Ragtime”

Ch. 7: The Player Piano – Automated Music

Ch. 8: John Philip Sousa – “The March King”

Ch. 9: John Philip Sousa – Recording Artist and Activist

An Overview

Ch. 1: John Lomax – Recording American Roots Music

Ch. 2: Woody Guthrie – “Father of Modern American Folk Music”

Ch. 3: Leadbelly & Pete Seeger: End of the First Wave

Ch. 4: The Kingston Trio – Beginning of the Second Wave

Ch. 5: Joan Baez – “First Lady of Folk Music”

Ch. 6: Peter, Paul & Mary – Balancing the Message

Ch. 7: Robert Zimmerman – The Beginning of an American Icon

Ch. 8: Dylan in New York City

Ch. 9: Dylan after Newport

Ch. 10: The Importance of Dylan

Ch. 11: Folk Music in the 21st Century

An Overview

Ch. 1: The Roots of Country

Ch. 2: Bristol Beginnings

Ch. 3: The Grand Ole Opry

Ch. 4: Cowboys and the Movies

Ch. 5: Western Swing

Ch. 6: Bluegrass: Hillbilly on Caffeine

Ch. 7: Honky-tonk: Merging Two into One

Ch. 8: The Nashville Sound: Country-Pop

Ch. 9: Rockabilly – Country meets R&B

Ch. 10: Country Feminists Find Their Voice

Ch. 11: The Bakersfield Sound

Ch. 12: Austin “Outlaw” Country

Ch. 13: Neo-Traditionalists at the end of the 20th Century

Ch. 14: Mainstreaming Country in the ‘90s

Ch. 15: Redesigning Country in the 21st Century

An Overview

Ch. 1: What is Jazz?

Ch. 2: Before It Was Jazz

Ch. 3: Jazz is Born!

Ch. 4: Early Jazz Musicians

Ch. 5: Louis Armstrong

Ch. 6: Chicago and Harlem – Hub of 1920s Jazz

Ch. 7: Big Band – Jazz Swing!

Ch. 8: Big Band Musicians and Singers

Ch. 9: Jump Blues and Bop

Ch. 10: Cool Jazz

Ch. 11: Hard Bop

Ch. 12: Free Jazz – Breaking the Rules

Ch. 13: Fusion – The Jazz-Rock-Funk Experience

Ch. 14: Third Stream and World Jazz

Ch. 15: New Age & Smooth Jazz

Ch. 16: Summary – Jazz Lives!

An Overview

Ch. 1: Blues – The Granddaddy of American Popular Music

Ch. 2: Where Did the Blues Come From?

Ch. 3: What Are the Blues?

Ch. 4: How to Build the Blues

Ch. 5: Classic Blues – The Early Years

Ch. 6: Delta Blues – Authentic Beginnings

Ch. 7: Blues in the City – Migration and Power

Ch. 8: Blues in Britain – Redefining the Masters

Ch. 9: Contemporary Blues – Maturity and Respect

Ch. 10: The Relevancy of the Blues Today

Ch. 1: Timelines, Cultures & Technology

Ch. 2: Pre-Rock Influences

Ch. 3: Rock is Born!

Ch. 4: Rock is Named

Ch. 5: Doo-Wop

Ch. 6: Independent Record Labels

Ch. 7: Technology Shapes Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 8: The Plan to Mainstream Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 9: Payola – Rock ‘n’ Roll’s First Scandal

Ch. 1: Crafting Sound in the Studio/Producers and Hit Songs

Ch. 2: West Coast Sound: Beach, Surf, and Teens

Ch. 3: The British Invasion: Two Prongs – Pop & Blues

Ch. 4: Motown and the Development of a Black Pop-Rock Sound

Ch. 5: Soul Music: Gospel and R&B in the Deep South

Ch. 6: The Sounds of Bubble Gum Pop-Rock

Ch. 7: The Arrival of Folk-Rock

Ch. 8: Psychedelic Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 9: Early Guitar Gods of Rock

Ch. 10: Rock Festivals: The Rise and Fall of Music, Peace, and Love

Ch. 11: Anti-Woodstock and Shock Rock Movements

Ch. 1: Technological Breakthroughs

Ch. 2: Electronic Dance Music

Ch. 3: Hip-Hop & Rap – An Introduction

Ch. 4: The Beginnings of Rap

Ch. 5: Old School Rap – Up From the Streets

Ch. 6: Rap’s Golden Age

Ch. 7: East Coast – Political Rap

Ch. 8: West Coast – Gangsta Rap

Ch. 9: The Fragmentation of Rap – Pop, Party & More

Ch. 10: Further Fragmentation – Different Directions

Ch. 11: The Importance of Rap

Ch. 1: Musical Stage Productions in America before the 1800s

Ch. 2: Minstrel Shows and Melodramas

Ch. 3: Stage Presentations in the Late 19th Century

Ch. 4: Early 20th Century: Revues and Operettas

Ch. 5: The Arrival of the Modern American Musical

Ch. 6: Great Partnerships in Book-Musicals

Ch. 7: Musical Theatre Composers in the mid-Century

Ch. 8: Fresh Voices on the Stage in the 1960s

Ch. 9: Two Dominant Forces at the End of the Century

Ch. 10: New Voices at the End of the Century

Ch. 11: New Voices, New Sounds in the New Century

Ch. 12: Musical Theatre Glossary

Ch. 13: Is it “Theatre” or “Theater”?

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