Michal Levy’s Giant Steps (2001)

August 24, 2006

I think that at one point or another in the past five years, every jazz student has received an email saying, “Check this out!” with a link to Michal Levy’s animated adaptation of Giant Steps. So maybe this will be new to animation folk. If you’ve lived with the original recording and can sing along to the melody, or even a chorus or two of Coltrane’s solo, it’s really something see the music come to life. Levy describes her concept for the animation on her website:

When I listen to music I see colors and shapes and when I watch visual art I hear sounds. I wanted to express my sensing of shapes colors and music in this short movie.

I have chosen a short Jazz piece, which I have known for many years of my playing the saxophone: “Giant Steps” by John Coltraine [sic]. Coltrane made a major break through with his album “Giant Steps” in the year 1959. It was the first time in the history of Jazz music that someone based his music on symmetrical patterns, which stemmed from a mathematical division of the musical scale.

The structural approach of John Coltraine [sic] to music is associated with architectural thinking. The musical theme defines a space and the musical improvisation is like someone drifting in that imaginary space.
For musicians interested in the actual mathmatical architecture of Giant Steps, I highly reccomend checking out Don Adler’s article, The ‘Giant Steps’ Progression and Cycle Diagrams, originally published in Jazz Improv Magazine Volume 3, No. 3. He suggests using shapes as a way of understanding how “Coltrane changes” function.

from “‘Giant Steps’ and Cycle Diagrams” by Dan Adler