January 1960: John Coltrane Releases 'Giant Steps'

John Coltrane
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Herb Snitzer/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty Images/Getty Images

With the release of his debut LP Giant Steps with Atlantic Records, John Coltrane established himself as one of modern jazz's most controversial saxophonist.

As he wrapped his work with Miles Davis for Kind of Blue, Coltrane took a giant step forth from his life as a sideman to take on his bandleader role in full stride. 

He did so musically speaking, utilizing the iconic Coltrane changes, an advanced harmonic technique that transitions from minor thirds to fourths, to create an album full of beautiful, unconventional blues progressions. An album comprised solely of Coltrane's own compositions, Giant Steps revolutionized jazz to its core, challenging the structural, rhythmic and harmonic conventions of jazz technique to create one of the most influential albums in the history of jazz.

Giant Steps

Recording with Tommy Flanagan on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Art Taylor on drums on the title track "Giant Steps" and following songs "Cousin Mary," "Countdown," "Spiral" and "Syeeda's Song Flute," Coltrane worked alongside music moguls Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun at Atlantic to showcase his musical complexities through famously difficult chord progressions. (Paul Cham serviced the bass, Wynton Kelly on piano and Jimmy Cobb on drums for the main take of "Naima.")

With its release, not all critical reception of the album was positive. In 1960, H.A. (Henry) Woodfin reviewed the improvisation of the title track as "rhythmic stiffness sand melodic tameness." Atlantic Records used such controversy to compliment Coltrane's progressive vision with advertisements that described Giant Steps as "adventurous, imaginative, daringly experimental...the kind of album that involves ears, mind and heart." 

In leaping forth with such newfound improvisational lengths, Coltrane not only created one fo the most talked-about LP's of 1960, but a modern album full of jazz standards that are viewed today as a rite of passage for young jazz musicians. 

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