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Studio E • Friday evening, 7:30–10:30

Considering Coltrane: Analytical Perspectives After Fifty Years

Rich Pellegrin (University of Florida), Chair

Rich Pellegrin (University of Florida)

Chromatic-Third Relationships and Coltrane's Path to “Free” Jazz

Barry Long (Bucknell University)

“The Black Blower of the Now”: Coltrane, King, and Crossing Rhetorical Borders

Brian Levy (New England Conservatory of Music)

“Pursuance” and “Miles’ Mode”: Untangling the Complex Harmonic and Rhythmic Interactions of John Coltrane’s Classic Quartet

John O’Gallagher (Birmingham Conservatoire, UK)

Set-Class Usage and Development in Late-Period Improvisations of John Coltrane

Klaus Frieler (Hochschule für Musik, Franz Liszt Weimar)

Miles vs. Trane: Computational and Statistical Comparison of the Improvisatory Styles of Miles Davis and John Coltrane

Milton Mermikides (University of Surrey)

Changes over Time: The Analysis, Modeling, and Development of Micro-Rhythmic Expression through Digital Technology

Abstracts

From the mid-1950s until his death fifty years ago in 1967, John Coltrane progressed through three vastly different style periods. This special session highlights the multifaceted nature of his career by drawing on a wide range of methodologies. The six papers of the session break into three pairs of presentations, each occupying a one-hour block of time with its own discussion period.

Our initial pair of papers focuses on historical and textual analysis. Rich Pellegrin utilizes reductive and transformational approaches to help inform our understanding of Coltrane’s overall career trajectory. Barry Long examines Coltrane’s usage of text as musical device and the impact this had on subsequent black activism, focusing on his recording of “Alabama.”

The second hour of the session features detailed analyses of music from Coltrane’s middle and late periods. Brian Levy uses original transcriptions of “Pursuance” and “Miles’ Mode” to investigate the complex rhythmic and harmonic interactions among the members of the Coltrane Quartet. John O’Gallagher examines Coltrane’s late music—often assumed to be “free”—through the lens of set theory, demonstrating how pieces such as “Saturn” and “Iris” are in fact highly organized.

The papers in our third hour employ new and original software to observe, analyze, and illustrate numerous subtleties of Coltrane’s music. Klaus Frieler approaches Coltrane’s work by comparing it computationally and statistically with that of Miles Davis. Milton Mermikides analyzes micro-rhythmic aspects of Coltrane’s music via original software which capitalizes upon recent developments in digital technology and rhythmic perception research.

Chromatic-Third Relationships and Coltrane's Path to “Free” Jazz

Rich Pellegrin (University of Florida)

This presentation complements existing biographical accounts of Coltrane’s career trajectory by investigating theoretical explanations for his stylistic development. Methodological discussion demonstrates neo-Riemannian modeling of voicings rather than harmonies, and uncovers commonalities between reductive and transformational analytical approaches using the stable-norms/salient-deviations (SNSD) model (Pellegrin 2016).

Coltrane first used chromatic-third relationships during his vertical/change-running period to chromaticize simple tonal progressions and create greater harmonic density while improvising on jazz standards. These major-third cycles were ripe with implications that were logically realized in “Giant Steps” (GS), which pushes the limits of tonality and contains zero-sum voice-leading throughout.

GS itself had implications which Coltrane then pursued during his modal period. Unhappy with the ultra-clean sound of GS, Coltrane began superimposing major-third cycles over (implied) pedal points. The freer dissonances created a harmonically-richer sound, but also pointed towards fully chromatic music. In the late-period work “Venus,” Coltrane moves through chromatic-third progressions en route from diatonicism to free improvisation. This represents a microcosm of Coltrane’s career overall, evidencing the premise that for him chromatic-third relationships function as an intermediary—both historical and theoretical—between tonality and “atonality.”

This hypothesis is bolstered by drawing a parallel with the function of chromatic-third relationships in the development of Western classical music. For example, the fact that Coltrane’s chromatic-third cycles led him to compose GS, arguably a non-tonal work, recalls Cohn’s (1997) proposition that the parsimonious voice-leading properties inherent in—and specific to—the triad were “fortuitous” for the development of tonality, yet themselves also led to the “destruction” of tonality.

“The Black Blower of the Now”: Coltrane, King, and Crossing Rhetorical Borders

Barry Long (Bucknell University)

When Martin Luther King, Jr. described the “fierce urgency of now” at 1963’s March on Washington, he drew upon a shared cultural memory and social consciousness. In a manner as much musical as rhetorical, Dr. King explicated his theme through a series of calls and responses on the riff, “now is the time.” Such forms draw upon a century’s worth of practices embedded within the American musical and social fabric. When poet and activist Amiri Baraka cited John Coltrane as the “black blower of the now” in his 1979 poem “AM/TRAK,” he asserted the saxophonist’s contemporary cultural weight more than a decade after his passing. In ways similar to improvised performance, each example leverages the vitality and relevance of a forward-looking emphasis on “the now” against the blurred borders of jazz and spoken word.

Coltrane’s recording of “Alabama” following King’s eulogy for the four girls murdered in the Birmingham church bombing marked a seminal confluence of journalism, rhetoric, and improvisation. Similarities in their spoken cadences and melodic phrase lengths recall activist marriages of music and text dating back to the coded meanings of spirituals, yet the instrumental nature of the performance and the written word’s initial non-musical utility mark a significant departure. Coltrane’s next work, the landmark “A Love Supreme,” builds upon this model to offer extended phrases and a final movement that syllabically corresponds to his text, signaling the increased influence of extramusical source materials upon the exploratory freedom of his late career.

“Pursuance” and “Miles’ Mode”: Untangling the Complex Harmonic and Rhythmic Interactions of John Coltrane’s Classic Quartet

Brian Levy (New England Conservatory of Music)

The legacy of John Coltrane rests principally on the recordings of his Classic Quartet. But published analyses of these performances focus on Coltrane’s individual line, ignoring its relationship to the playing of other members of the Quartet. These analyses also tend to privilege harmonic and motivic connections that emphasize unity over formal aspects that reflect the performative nature of jazz. Looking instead at transcriptions of the playing of all members of the Quartet treats the music as a whole and reveals multiple layers of interaction.

Examining full transcriptions of “Miles’ Mode” (Coltrane, 1962) uncovers layers of harmonic conflict that an analysis of Coltrane’s line alone would miss—such as Tyner’s quartal voicings (inflected functionally and transposed chromatically) and Coltrane’s progressions based on third-relations, both of which conflict with the modal context. Similar examination of Elvin Jones’s and McCoy Tyner’s performance in “Pursuance” (A Love Supreme, 1964), reveals phenomena of the same sort in terms of rhythm and meter, illustrating a synthesis of rhythmic and harmonic layering. Analysis of both harmonic and rhythmic layers reveals a complexity of interaction that an analysis through the lens of functional harmony would miss.

The interactions in “Miles’ Mode” and “Pursuance” exemplify how the Quartet creates a rhetoric of tension and release by playing with and against prevailing harmonic substructures and rhythmic substructures in time. In addition, analysis of the rhythmic and harmonic interactions of Coltrane’s predecessors (e.g., Max Roach and Charlie Parker) reveals precedents for the innovative sound of the Classic Quartet.

Set-Class Usage and Development in Late-Period Improvisations of John Coltrane

John O’Gallagher (Birmingham Conservatoire, UK)

In this paper I shall argue, firstly, that there is strong evidence to suggest—contrary to lingering popular belief—that the late-period improvisations of the saxophonist John Coltrane are in fact highly structured; and secondly, that this structure is often achieved via a conceptual organizing principle in which melodic unity and clarity are manifest through the use of trichordal pitch collections. The presentation will focus on the track ‘Iris’ from the recording Stellar Regions (recorded 1967; posthumous release 1995) and ‘Saturn’ from the recording Interstellar Space (recorded 1967; posthumous release 1974) as exemplars of this improvisational approach.

Musical set theory will be employed as the main methodology through which to present evidence of such trichord pitch-class sets in Coltrane’s late work. Three small-scale case studies from ‘Iris’ and ‘Saturn’ will illustrate Coltrane’s use of set classes (013), (024) and (025) in support of my argument. En route, the potential influence of Nicolas Slonimsky’s Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns (1947) will be examined, showing not only Coltrane’s almost literal duplication of specific exercises during these improvisations, but also the larger implications of the segmentation of these exercises into trichordal subsets.

While the three examples to be discussed each have unique features, together they reveal Coltrane’s larger conceptual design, in which interval content is a unifying force and where trichordal pitch collections realize this interval content, both with clarity and melodic precision.

Miles vs. Trane: Computational and Statistical Comparison of the Improvisatory Styles of Miles Davis and John Coltrane

Klaus Frieler (Hochschule für Musik, Franz Liszt Weimar)

Much has been written about John Coltrane and Miles Davis, from autobiographical works over detailed musicological analyses up to cultural and sociological accounts of their life, work, and legacy. Fewer works are concerned with a direct comparison of both artists’ improvisatorial approach. Comparisons often boil down to the contrast of Coltrane being an “angry” player with a calm personality and Miles a “cool” player with an assertive personality. We like to add a new analytical perspective by using computational and statistical methods as developed in the context of Jazzomat Research Project. Based on a large set of solo transcriptions taken from the Weimar Jazz Database, spanning different stylistic phases for both artists (currently 13 solos by Coltrane from 1956-1963 and 8 solos by Miles Davis from 1954-1966), we identify concurrent and overlapping stylistic traits. This approach utilizes a large set of musical features extracted from the solos. Results indicate that both players differ in many aspects. The cliché of the “extroverted” style of Coltrane and the “introverted” style of Davis does indeed hold up as indicated by vastly different note densities and overall spacing of tones and phrases. Some surprising and subtle differences also showed up. For instance, Davis has a tendency to avoid the third of the underlying chord and also major and minor thirds as well as larger intervals. Furthermore, Coltrane based his improvisations to a larger extent on patterns than Davis and both players have no significant overlap in their respective pattern vocabularies.

Changes over Time: The Analysis, Modeling, and Development of Micro-Rhythmic Expression through Digital Technology

Milton Mermikides (University of Surrey)

This paper presents an overview of existing research – and offers novel perspectives - on expressive micro rhythm; the salient ‘deviations’ from the conventional lattice of rhythmic notation. Long advocated by practitioner-educators such as Mingus and Crook, this hugely important component of jazz expression and virtuosity is often obfuscated by unclear and contradictory terminology, and the welcome adoption of digital technology in its precise calculation remains largely in the realm of post-hoc description rather than offering practical implications in performance and pedagogy. However, recent developments in digital technology and our understanding of rhythmic performance and perception have created an excellent opportunity to improve research in this field. Original software is presented that engages with a range of micro-timing and micro- rhythmic analytical frameworks (from Mingus, Benadon, Butterfield, London, Biles to Mermikides) and with pre-recorded material as well as real-time performance. These rhythmic mechanics can be heard to operate on multiple musical time levels from the hyper-measure down to the tatum. The ‘feedback metronome’ demonstrated offers new analytical approaches as well as pedagogical opportunities that reconsider the metronome’s role in jazz learning, and our appreciation and understanding of this important but often under-represented feature of jazz virtuosity. New analyses of Coltrane performances are also presented including swing ratios of ride cymbal patterns, micro-rhythmic permutations in Acknowledgment, plasticity of ensemble grooves in Mr. Knight, and the use of hypermetric rotation.