Music Voice Borders John Coltrane's Innovation Exemplified Essay

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Music Voice Borders

John Coltrane's Innovation Exemplified in the piece "In a Sentimental Mood"

"John Coltrane's brief career was one of constant evolution and the innovations of each period of his development have had ramifications for the playing of virtually every contemporary jazz player;" Coltrane's level of innovation was unprecedented, and still is to this day (Baker 1990 p 11). He is now one of the most well-known artists in Jazz music in general, yet he did not always embody the traditional styles of his day. Although there are some clear similarities between "In A Sentimental Mood" and the overall genre, the piece most often stands out as one of great innovation and change; Coltrane's implementation of complex chord changes and progressions, along with incorporating international themes within the piece, prove the song to be incredibly unique when compared to the overall genre in general.

The song itself is am impressive piece of musical synergy between the different instruments used. John Coltrane performed using his soprano saxophone along side Duke Ellington, creating the masterpiece that is "In A Sentimental Mood" in 1962. The most impressive part of this entire piece is often thought of that it was recorded in a single take (Ratcliff 2008). The song itself hails off the album Duke Ellington & John Coltrane. In fact, the piece was originally composed by Duke Ellington in 1935, written after being influenced by a dance. For this particular recording, Ellington had used his own bassist and drummer for the album, and features Duke Ellington on the piano. John Coltrane is seen on the soprano saxophone, one of the earliest elements that makes one realize just how different this piece is from other Jazz that was being produced at the time. The song features a very slow rhythm, with the bass helping carry the sixteen notes, rather than eight. The low lull of the walking bass help slow the tempo down, while the complexities of the solo bring incredibly depth to the piece itself.

There are so many subgroups within the larger Jazz genre, it is important to help place John Coltrane in the genre he was typically assigned at the time to get a better understanding of how he either upheld or destroyed its common characteristics within the piece "In A Sentimental Mood." Coltrane was originally within the Hard Pop genre that began in the 1950s and began to carry into the sixties as well. Within this genre of Jazz, there are also a number of characteristics which can be drawn out to show the common elements. It had originally developed from Bebop yet, with a more intense rhythmic drive. Other common elements of the genre show the style as less complex and easier to sing along to, with a greater inclusion of gospel and blues influences.

Understanding these more general characteristics help show that the piece does use some of the common elements within the overall genre. These characteristics the two shares are from a more basic standpoint, but still exist to show a relative link between them. First, the piece is focused on using the saxophone to mimic the human voice. In this, the song does share common characteristics of Jazz in general, where musical instruments often aim to emulate the tones the human voice is capable of producing. Saxophones and other horned instruments, like the trumpet, are often used to stand in place of human voices singing in similar modal structures. Listening to the piece, it is clear that Coltrane's saxophone solos emulate the sound of singing. They do copy the actual lyrics of the song in certain areas of the piece where the chorus would have stood. In this, Coltrane is using traditional elements of the genre to present the piece. Additionally, there seems to be instances of syncopation between the saxophone and the piano. This also follows a much older, traditional structure of Jazz overall. For generations Ragtime, Swing, and Jazz and all employed elements of syncopation, using call and response themes between the various instruments within a single piece. Although the call and response is not the peak of the song, "In A Sentimental Mood" does prove to have a number of instances where Coltrane and Ellington are clearly communicating via their musical instruments within the context of the song itself. Finally, there is the presence of the low, walking bass to bolster the backbone of the song, which was also common in Jazz at the time. Therefore, Coltrane shows use of traditional techniques of the larger Jazz genre.

Still, Coltrane seemed to be pulling away from the more specific genre of Hard Pop that he had previously belonged to. Here, Coltrane presents some differences to the basic genre within this piece as well. It is clear that this Coltrane's own version of the piece written decades earlier by Ellington; he is not trying to copy it exactly. This was often a theme of Coltrane later in this period, and another example is his work "My Favorite Things," which was a remake of a classic Disney movie ballad. As Coltrane moved further from his roots in Hard Pop, he began to put his own spin on his pieces, which is clearly shown in the example of "In A Sentimental Mood." Here, Coltrane revised it to better encapsulate his own style and emotions at the time. The research puts it beautifully when it states that "He plays it so well, and so deeply, that it seems the best kind of tribute -- one acknowledges the aim of what's being celebrated but it doesn't at all sound like it," (Ratcliff 2008 p 135). Part of the differentiation from his old genre comes from this unique nature that is translated into his musical work. The differences seen in this piece represent Coltrane moving from one genre of jazz into another, from Hard Pop into a more modal style of contemporary Jazz (Giddins 2000). Coltrane is essentially stepping away from his prior roots in order to create a more unique style of his own, one which would catapult him into international fame, even today.

Specific melodic and instrumental strategies within piece itself also go to show the differences seen in "In A Sentimental Mood" and other examples of Hard Pop. The most obvious issue here is that Coltrane had abandoned his tenor saxophone for the recording of the piece. Rather, the song features the use of the soprano sax, in comparison of the traditional use of the tenor saxophone. This move towards experimenting with other types of sounds from the saxophone is said to have began in the 1960s, when, after finally being on his own, Coltrane began moving further and further away from the genre (Ratcliff 2008). This was a strange move for Coltrane to make, but proved successful in the end with the execution seen in "In A Sentimental Mood." However, at the time, many within the genre were worrisome because the soprano saxophone was relatively unpopular at the time (Baker 1990). In fact, the soprano sax was last used forty years prior to Coltrane's adoption of it, by Sidney Bichet (Giddins 2000). Moreover, Coltrane implored much more complicated elements than seen in other examples of Hard Pop artists and musical pieces. . In this regard, the research highlights the fact that "Coltrane would build a new lexicon, using Indian and pentatonic scales," (Giddens 2000 p 150). Coltrane had also worked with a wider range of scales, including scales from other traditions, like Indian and Oriental music (Baker 1990). Unlike other musicians of the Hard Pop period, Coltrane often fused these very different cultural traditions and tendencies into the jazz he was later so famous for playing.

Through listening to songs like "In A Sentimental Mood," the listener can see how obsessed Coltrane was with using chord changes in innovative ways. He "tended to use a greater quantity of chords in a given span of time," (Baker 1990 p 10). Still, oddly enough, these dramatic changes in the piece do not affect the overall order and feel of the mood. It is a strange technique, but one which is executed marvelously by Coltrane in the piece. According to the research, "The change brought nu bombarding the listener with vertically dense sections was not merely one of degree but in fact a change of kind or order," (Baker 1990 p 10). The constant sound of change deepens the nature of the song itself. There were several major ways that this was accomplished in the larger piece. Essentially, Coltrane played multiple notes on a single instrument. The solo elements were complicated through this immense changing arsenal of sounds coming from the single unit of Coltrane's saxophone. Therefore, Coltrane dramatically changed the nature, rhythm, and emotive properties of the saxophone within his works. This developing style would eventually lead Coltrane to become one of the more well-known artists in contemporary Jazz. He is infamous for implementing greater sophistication in how he linked his notes together. Here, the research suggests…[continue]

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