String Theory with Jimmy Brown: An Effective Strategy for Soloing on John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps”

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In 1959, tenor saxophonist John Coltrane invited an ensemble of elite jazz musicians to join him in the studio to record a track for his forthcoming album, 1960’s Giant Steps.

The brilliant improviser and composer threw his rhythm section a curveball by springing on them the title track, a tune characterized by a fast tempo and a complex and highly unusual chord progression…and giving them no time for rehearsal. (This scenario was not uncommon during that era and usually did not present a problem for anyone involved, as the jazz scene’s A-list musicians were all very accomplished players and well versed in the style.)

Coltrane himself had already spent hours alone soloing over the tune’s progression and had a bunch of ideas worked out and ready to string together in seemlingly endless, fluent combinations.