April is Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM), and this year marks the 60th anniversary of the most influential year in jazz, 1959. Each week we've highlighted one of the game-changing albums that left an indelible mark in jazz history, and changed the course of its future.
Mere weeks after wrapping the final studio session for Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, jazz giant John Coltrane started recording Giant Steps. Like Davis, Coltrane had become displeased with the landscape of jazz music. Giant Steps became on outlet for new techniques he picked up through his studies, and was the first preview of the “sheets of sound” for which Trane is celebrated. It seems that dissatisfaction is one of the factors that made 1959 such a behemoth.
Change is good, and a lot had changed for Coltrane with this record. It was his first album as a leader with Atlantic Records, and he was working with a different band. It is only on “Naima” that he was joined by the rhythm section from Kind of Blue (Wynton Kelly and Jimmy Cobb) for that little bit of added magic.
Not only was Giant Steps a hit record for Coltrane, but it brought forth two jazz standards (“Giant Steps and “Naima”). Learning “Coltrane changes” has since been a rite of passage for music students, and “Giant Steps” is known as the most feared song in jazz (which is a good thing).
Giant Steps went on to be added to the National Jazz Registry by the Library of Congress. In 2018 it acquired gold record status by reaching 500,000 copies sold. It also helped John Coltrane to take that giant step to free jazz, which, due to his musical path, was a natural progression.