Dec. 23, 2019

John Coltrane: Giant Steps

John Coltrane: Giant Steps

Ryan Gregg talks with Roger Boykin about the time he met John Coltrane, and why "Giant Steps" is the song jazz players must prove themselves by.

iTunes Playlist http://bit.ly/songs-of-note-coltrane
Spotify Playlist http://bit.ly/songs-of-note-ep9-coltrane

Transcript

Ryan Gregg  
Welcome to the songs of note Podcast, where we talk about the songs we love, and the stories behind them. I'm your host, Ryan, Gregg.

Thank you so much for listening. You know, I don't know where you're listening to this if it's driving or working out or at work, or who knows who knows where you're listening to it, but I appreciate it. I really enjoy get into talk about music and share some thoughts about it, and love getting feedback for you guys on different platforms like on Facebook and Instagram on what you're thinking about the episodes what you'd like about them. If you have questions or your that there's an episode you think I should do or anything at all, you can reach out to me via email. So my email is the songs of note@gmail.com. And if you're not subscribed to the podcast, I'd encourage you to take a minute to just click that subscribe button so you don't miss an episode. Today, we are talking about a guy that I may and I think he's so awesome in that's john Coltrane. So before you're like, oh, jazz, I'm out. Give me Give me a second, let me tell you why you should care about john Coltrane. So I heard a guy describe it once as when jazz got brought up. And he was like, um, I'm not talking about Kroeger jazz, I'm talking about real jazz. And I think that there is not not necessarily misconception because I personally don't listen to modern jazz. I only like older jazz. But these guys like john Coltrane and Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman, some of the people that we're talking about today are I mean, they're geniuses in their own right, I mean, from what they did for the genre to what they were able to perform a on their instruments and how they transform styles. I mean, it's equivalent to like what the Beatles did for pop music in my mind. So before you write off john Coltrane, just beg you give them give them give them a shot. Alright, so in the in today's playlist, you know, I'm always talking about the playlist, you can hear not only the songs that we talked about in the interview, but also some of my personal favorites, because he has so many so many great songs that are just beautiful. Let's head on over to the interview in this in the show notes. I'm going to give you a link to Rogers website, Roger actually wrote a whole book that kind of touches on some of the things he's talking about here in the interview, I'm going to link that in the in the show notes as well, as well as the playlist. So here we go. I'm so excited to have our next guest, this is Roger Boykin, Roger came to me through one of my best friends and he had worked with you, Roger, several years back, but he had the best things to say about you said you had so many good music stories and that you were just the kindest man. So I appreciate you being willing to kind of take a chance and take a phone call for me to talk about some music.

Roger Boykin  
Well, you know, it's my pleasure. I love talking about music, and I enjoyed my relationship with john. So everything's good. Awesome. Okay, so

Ryan Gregg  
your your email was one of the coolest emails I've gotten. And so to let other people know who are listening the way that this is kind of gone. As you know, I i've been reaching out to certain people asking, would you be interested in talking about an artists specific song? And so I wrote you saying, Hey, you know, I love the john Coltrane song, My Favorite Things. Would you like to talk about it? And your response back was very thoughtful. And I got so excited when I read it. Because you were like, yeah, you know, that's a good song. You said I'd rather talk about Giant Steps, Coltrane song. And then you had a number of reasons why we want to talk about about the thing I want to start with was the next thing you said. You said, Yeah, I got to see him live back in the 60s. And I met him. And man, my jaw drops. Can you tell me why? What? How did you how did that happen? How did that go?

Roger Boykin  
Well, I was I was living in San Francisco at the time attending San Francisco State College as it was known. Then. It's now San Francisco State University. I understand but I was a student there. And I used to go to jazz clubs, the Blackhawk and the jazz workshop, which is in North North Beach part of San Francisco and they brought in all of the major jazz bands from from New York. And, and I'm from Los Angeles. But on on a few occasions, Coltrane's group was out because I was in San Francisco for about a year. And I used to go on here in play, and my roommate at the time was was doing redmon I don't

Ryan Gregg  
know if you know that. Name. Sounds familiar, but I can't place why what

Roger Boykin  
Do it Do it was was a great jazz saxophonist himself. Okay. And he was associated with Ornette Coleman. Oh, that's

Ryan Gregg  
I love Ornette Coleman. That's why I know it.

Roger Boykin  
Yes. Oh, wow. And do Dooley and on that when high school together, you know, both from Fort Worth. And so do and I happen to have arrived in San Francisco about the same time. We both left Texas about the same time, he was kind of having some hard times in terms of filing some living quarters. And so I was staying with my grandmother who lived in Fillmore district. And she had this four level, big house. And so my brother and I had the basement. And when when do it needed a place to stay, she rented him some space in the basement for $15 a week. So do and I used to hang out a lot together. And we would go in here all the different groups. And one of those groups was, was john Coltrane's group with McCartan or on piano, and Steve Davis on bass and Elvin Jones on drums. And my favorite things, of course, was what was popular and he played loud soprano. And of course, he played tenor. And I had written a couple of jazz originals, I do a lot of lot of composing. That's how I happened to meet your friend john. And I had these two tunes that I wanted to present to him that I wanted him to listen to us if he would recall it. No way. And yeah, and so at the time he had, I guess it was his road manager, but the big, big guy who was kind of the blocker who, you know, I guess kept people from getting to him. Yeah. And so I approached the guys road manager and ask him if I could speak with will call trainees. He said, Well, let me go back and ask and so he did it. He said, as a young man out here, who college student who wants to wants to talk to you. And he said, Well, let him come on back. So I want this was on his animation, incidentally. So I went back, I went back to the dressing room, and he welcomed me into a dressing room and, and I introduced myself and he shook my hand, first thing I noticed was that he had kind of fat fingers been very soft hands as if he had perhaps never done a day's hard work. But a very, very soft dance and, and he was very cordial and very soft spoken. And he said, Well, what do you want to talk about? I said, Well, I have a couple of his, I have a couple of tunes that I would like to give you the see if you, you know, might be interested in playing them or possibly recording them. And so he he took the music from me, and he just kind of glanced at him. And he said, Well, I don't have time to look at them now, because I'm on tour is that I'm gonna be going back to New York, and he said, I will take a look at him when I get back to New York. But I just can't do it right now. And I said, Well, I appreciate it. And I know you're busy. So I'm not going to take up any more of your time. And he said, Well, okay, thanks for music. I left. I left the music, you know, the lead sheets. And I never heard from him. I never heard from again, never spoke to him again. But like I said, he was very cordial. And I noticed he was he had one hand on his left side on the stomach. And I don't know, I guess he was he was ailing at the time or whatever. And, but in a way, that was 1961. He never, he never called me back. I never heard from him again. When the jazz acts came through San Francisco, I would just go up to the guys man and and talk to him and ask them if I could get together with them and practice while they were in San Francisco. Well, I tried that with my Cortana he refused. Anyway, that was my meeting. Man,

Ryan Gregg  
what a cool story. You're the only person I've ever talked to who actually met Coltrane. And what a cool, what a cool experience even myself. I have a background as a songwriter, so I know what it's like to at least in a different sense. to present a song and, you know, try to pitch it to somebody hope that they like it. And so I can't imagine, you know, going up to somebody that you love, I think from what you say you love you love his music, and be able to me and that's some confidence to to be able to go off and do that. So I applaud your efforts. I think that's, that's really cool. It's a good story.

Roger Boykin  
Well, you know, it, you know, as a songwriter yourself is hard to pitch songs and unless you live in Nashville, or New York or Los Angeles, and you I mean, Dallas is not not a good place to do that. But I happen to have been in a city where these jazz acts came through town, you know, San Francisco was one of the main stops on it, too, is all of the leading guys came through there. Now, here's another interesting thing about I guess it was the same night. I was I was sitting on about the third row in front of the bandstand when when when trans band was playing. I'm so jealous. I left. Wow, on my left side was due at Redmond on my right side was Joanie cook. That is a two, you know, outstanding saxophonist themselves. Yeah. And, and trying played, I don't remember the tone, he played something on a tenor. And I mean, he played all the keys off the horn and, and when he got through with his solo, he reached his his horn as a junior cook. As it is to say, Okay, now you can come up, and what did he do? And jr threw up his hands. Oh, no. Oh, man. And, you know, both of these guys were genuine and, and do a remedy in the vein, pretty, pretty well known in the jazz communities for their talents on tenor saxophone, but nobody was nobody other than signing violins, maybe we could approach john Coltrane at that time, in terms of skills. And so the other thing that I alluded to, in my, in my email to you was like that. Giant Steps was probably my all time favorite of the other john Coltrane tones. Not because it was such a great composition, it's just that it was such an innovative approach to, you know, to write images. Not because it's so harmonically complicated, it's just basically the five chord or the one chord or 251. But the tempo makes it hard to play,

Ryan Gregg  
it's fairly fast.

Roger Boykin  
Yes, and the fact that those, those chord changes come at you so fast. And the fact that it's that it involves three major keys coming at you, in rapid succession, the key of B, the key of G and the key of E flat, which are major thirds apart. And that that idea, sparked my interest in and this what I call, revolve and chord progressions. The problem with john steps is the first half of it goes through that, that that cycle, in terms of major keys in thirds. And the first part of it, he goes down within major thirds. And then And then second part of it, he goes up with in major thirds, which means he does half a circle, and then he reversed himself goes back and it goes back in thirds. And so I think john Coltrane came up with the idea of Josh steps from two sources. Number one was the turn around, and Tadd Dameron please call ladybird. Okay. And I think the other source might have been Have you met Miss Jones? The standard, which in the bridge implies that kind of major third movement. And I think john step was a byproduct of what train attempted to do. And the Miles Davis term called tune up. Oh, yeah, I know that. I've assumed that. He did that because of a rivalry that he had with Sonny Rollins. Sonny Rollins had recorded tune up And he played it. So well, man. I mean, he just wow, it was just incredible. And I think because of that competition between these two giants of tenor saxophone, Coltrane, tempted to do something even more brilliant with tuna. And then he used a part of this tab damron turnaround and ladybird as the basis for going through the cause of, of tune up. And I think john steps was a byproduct of his experimentation with tuna. I think tuna probably came first, and he recorded a piece using what he came up with on tuna and a piece that he wrote called countdown. Yeah, which involves the same major, major third, what are called tonic movement. And I think john steps came after countdown. But john steps was was so revolution revolutionary, that just hadn't been any other musician writing anything like that. And at that particular time, the rage was, was was probably moving toward what Miles Davis did with kind of a boon, I believe, modal modal type stuff. And so that seemed to have been the way that everybody was gone. Not let me do an aside. Yeah, I think 1959 was the most important year. And jazz. So much happened in 1959. Cold friends, john steps, Miles Davis is kind of blue. They brew back to take five. Yeah. And I was on that first album, I think by on it Coleman, which I can't remember the name of it. But all of these came out in 1959. And I think all of those had a big impact on jazz. Because after after, after, take five a lot of people started experimented with odd meters. And a lot of people think they Brubeck wrote that but actually a saxophone player Paul Desmond wrote it and it was in five, four time, which really doesn't swing but they made it

and so a lot of people a lot of people started experimenting with with different time signatures. Miles Davis, of course, the modal approach, he and Bill Evans came up with what these great modal tones, I guess which were inspired by George Russell's Lydian chromatic concept. And prior to that, Nicholas damskie, his book, his pesasso, of scales, and animals, but anyway, yeah, wow, Coltrane, john steps, being such a fast tempo. Just that think, stirred up a lot of a lot of musicians. Because the temple made it so challenging, that they didn't really pay enough attention, I think to the actual fact that it was an implied circle. And I'm calling the circle, the way you move from one tonic key to another tonic key, not, not the five chord so much, but the one chords and since john steps was in three different keys coming at you, it seems that everybody focused on the root movement, which was up my third and end up before. And that's, that's all I heard musicians talk about. But I wasn't so concerned with the root movement as I was with the tonic movement is the way the major keys came at you. Rather than the way the roots move, of course, fact one is the strongest progression in music. So, you know, you can't modulate without going through the five chord or the key of onto any rate. So that's kind of technical. But you know, john steps continues to be a challenge for jazz improvisers.

Ryan Gregg  
That's cool. That's in so like for people that don't know Jazz so forgive me if I'm if I get this wrong. But what makes jazz interesting from an improvisational point of view, is you've got these unique chord changes that are happening. And so I think what's something that you're saying is the train brought in a whole new concept into the composition so not only is he going fast, which is what most people are focusing on, he's he's changed this the actual writing of the of the song in a way that is unique. And people are having to he's having to improvise over these unique chord changes. And so with each, you know, measure that's gone by he's moving between scales to hit the right notes in these unique chords that are composed in a different way than most other music had been to that point is that over simplification of that,

Roger Boykin  
that's, that's pretty well, it but if you if you took john steps and played it as ballerina played, it played it at a slow tempo is one of the easiest things to do. Oh, funny, because it's just, it's just five to one, or 251. The smallest unit of harmonic matter is five to one. And that's been true for 600 years. I mean, not maybe not that long, but certainly since back. And then the second shortest movement is two to five to one, which is movement and forwards. And, and so that's all you have is steps. That's the most basic thing in music is five to one, that's your, that's your cadence, you know, that's your conclusion. The way you establish a key is five to one. And so that's all john says is, but the way he wrote a melody across those chord changes, and tied it all together. Makes it very interesting and challenging at the

Ryan Gregg  
temple that he played it right, because it's so fast. Well, that cap countdown was even faster. I listened to that this morning. And I was like, Oh my gosh, that even he's even faster, the Giant Steps on this one. That's a great

Roger Boykin  
thing harder to play, having, I think countdowns even harder to play than Josh steps. You know, is, but now nowadays, every saxophone player who calls himself you know, a jazz player, feels compelled to learn to play Giant Steps I even saw on YouTube. And he's not a saxophone player. I found a recording on YouTube with Stevie Wonder plan. Jazz.

Ryan Gregg  
Cool, that's great.

Roger Boykin  
You can find it, it's on YouTube. Okay. And so everybody, everybody wants to wants to wants to play it. Now. The second best approach I've heard to it, or at least the second best solo I've heard on it is by Kurt Waylon and he's considered the smooth jazz play not even considered to be a straight ahead jazz player. But he on YouTube also very good version. Awesome. So everybody can play john steps now. And keep in mind that that, that john came out was that 60 years ago. Right. And it's still challenging. That's,

Ryan Gregg  
that's fantastic. That says something about that, that songwriting Wow.

Roger Boykin  
Yeah, I've heard vocal versions of beta kata did a vocal version of it. I wrote a lyric to it. And we used to do it. When I was teaching the jazz vocal class over over Booker T. Washington High School. Totally cool. Wow. And then, so the vocal group, saying my lyric to jazz steps, and we, you know, they performed it. So it's been a it's been a challenging piece in a lot of ways. And I'm sure that my book is just probably one of many that have been written on the subject as

Ryan Gregg  
well such just such a great song and he's got so many Coltrane has so many songs that I love. in the show notes for this episode. I'm gonna put links to some some of the some of these YouTube videos we're talking about. And also some of my favorite Coltrane songs because I just love introducing him to people that may not know his music. That's one of my favorite things. But I know you haven't. Well, I'll go ahead. Go ahead.

Roger Boykin  
No, my favorite things that Savile a bit about it's just basically to me a Christmas song.

Ryan Gregg  
Okay, how so? And

Roger Boykin  
I mean, you know that You know, the left to my feet, but he took it and made a jazz vehicle out of it. Yeah. And he played it. And the key of E, I guess, because he's playing an F sharp on on his horn, which is not an easy key, but it probably enabled him to do some of the tricks or whatever he was doing on the soprano saxophone. Now, I must admit, I didn't particularly apalis process. I didn't like Coltrane sound, tell the soprano saxophone. It sounded like an oboe. Yeah. You know, he made it sound like an oboe, which is fine, but I prefer a little bit harder. sound more like what Grove Washington got on the soprano. But, of course, I think my favorite things, probably Coltrane biggest hit. I think he probably sold more records on that and made more money on that than than anything else you've recorded.

Ryan Gregg  
I mean, yeah, that's that's certainly possible that's in I don't even like the original. I mean, I know everybody knows the original, not the Coltrane, but the one without singing and but I just took this basic pop thing and blew it up and made it into this explosive, long jazz. Man, just cool track. Okay, so about really specific question about the track. Do you know in this, if you don't remember this part, I'm just harping on one one part of the song. There's a note in there where and I can't remember which keyboard player was on this song. But he's soloing. And it sounds like a miss note. And it's like Danny and Dan bringing Dan but do you happen to remember this part of that? Well, the keyboard players in record time it is McCoy Tyner. Okay, so does that bother you? Is that on purpose? I mean, they is it? Does it fit the key? The song? I love that they kept it in but I always am like was that an accident? Or is it

Roger Boykin  
on paper? Well, that might have been that might have been but remember. Back in those days, we didn't have that digital recording and yeah, and Pro Tools and all these different techniques where you can take those mistakes at right. When you have mistakes. You had to take a razor blade and cut it out because you use a tape. Right? Right. And so if it was a bad note, they probably just left it in.

Ryan Gregg  
I don't know. I don't know if it is it's not something I'm talking about. So the thing that I like about it because it gives us some character and I just wonder I want it was that on purpose or numbers? Anyway, I know I know that you have to you've got an appointment in a couple of minutes. But I wanted to see if you could tell me a little bit about your story about you wrote some songs you are a songwriter like you're talking about and years later, in the past several years you had a popular pop artists reached out about using one of your songs. Do you want to tell you a story that Christina Aguilera is producing? fashion just sampled? One of the things that I record it on my label back in 1969 she took four words and and use it as a sample in her song. Ain't no other man. Oh, man. Yeah. Which was nominated for Grammy and it's very simple. That's it in that. Yeah, that's in that twice. And that was it. But that was your recording.

Roger Boykin  
Yeah, it was actually sampled from from my record. And that's so awesome. What

Ryan Gregg  
a cool what a cool call that must have been.

Roger Boykin  
Yeah, I think they took the sample from a reissue of original song because as I said, it came out in 69. But it was reissued by now again records must have been 2006 or seven somewhere back and I think she her producer grabbed that. I think his name is DJ Premier premier. But anyway, that song was nominated for Grammy That's crazy. And on the on the Grammy album they mentioned my name. How cool thank you inspection or whatever. But yeah, that was and then I've I've had last year, a sample from from another record I released on on on our album that was produced by Kanye West artist rapper named Pusha. T. Really on his latest album, yeah. Oh, and then I had one of one of one of my tones is is sampled on a TV show on ABC called suburgatory nan Oh And the last a lot of different things like that, but never a real hit for myself.

Got it?

Got it. And, and so you know, I'm, I'm still at it at age 79 I'm still trying to do some things

Ryan Gregg  
they love that I love that or Raja and I don't wanna take any more of your time but I just greatly really appreciate you sharing your wealth of knowledge on on jazz and your experience with Coltrane. And if anybody wants to go check out Rogers website, it's Roger Boykin music calm. Roger, thank you so much for chatting with me today about about music. It was great speaking with you.

Roger Boykin  
My pleasure, Ryan. Let's do it again whenever you want to. All right.

Ryan Gregg  
Thank you, Roger. Okay. Okay, take care. Thanks for listening to the songs and note podcast. Be sure to subscribe so you don't miss an episode. leave a rating and review so others can find the podcast as well. Music provided by Tyler Ramsey.

Transcribed by https://otter.ai