This Is Not Bebop, But It Is A Great Coltrane Solo

It is not surprising that a Coltrane solo isn’t bebop, but it is interesting to figure out why that is the case. Understanding what types of licks or melodies are typical for a style of music is a really good description of what is going on.

The solo that I am talking about in this video is John Coltrane’s solo on the F blues – Take the Coltrane off the Coltrane/Ellington album from 1963.

In the video I am presenting an analysis of the solo with a focus on the melodies, there placement and function in the form and not only the notes that are being used. I find that it takes a more detailed view to understand a solo than just what scales are being used.

Let me know what you think?

A few thoughts on this Coltrane solo Analysis

As always music is not an exact science so this solo has a lot of traits that are really not bebop sounding but it still contains examples of normal bop lines and chromatic passing notes etc. So clearly Coltrane is rooted in that tradition even if he is moving away from it.

I am going to talk about this using three examples from the solo but it can be a good idea to check out the whole solo. There are a lot of transcriptions online so you can easily find that and listen to the solo.

Some of the things that are different are about the choice of sounds, but in my opinion it is more about how the sounds are used and the melodies than what scale. I am curious what you think?

Melodies without direction and not playing blues

What is interesting about this first part of the solo: He doesn’t play the 3rd of the chord at all for the first 8 bars, that is very different from bebop where everything is tied much more closely to the chord. Here the melodic statement is very strong and fairly long but it is intentionally vague. If you play the melody it could fit on a Cm blues just as easily as a F blues which is not really going to be the case for a Parker or Stitt solo. There is a Wes solo that does this as well and Wes would often sit heavily on the “II” sound on a V chord.

The 2nd 4 bars is a development of the first 4 but then moving with the chords, still not playing the 3rd of the chords.

So this is really about what note he isn’t playing and it becomes even more clear when we don’t have the piano comping.

Unresolving Tensions and Angular melodies

This example illustrates how the approach is much more modal. Coltrane is very often playing melodies that fit the chord but are not really functional and moving forward towards the next chord.

This is clear in the first bars where there is first an angular statement just using an F7 arpeggio. In fact using the 2nd inversion F major triad which Coltrane seems obsessed with in this solo.

A great example of how the emphasis is on sound rather than function is the Altered dominant in bars 3 and 4 of this example. Here there is a clear altered or tritone sound and the b5 is really at the center of the line, but the line is not resolved. It stops before changing and the statement on the Bb7 is unrelated to the altered line.

The last part of this example is demonstrating how the chords are interpreted. The statement on the Bb7 is turned into a motief that is moved down in half steps to give us an Am7 Abm7 Gm7 progression.

Another thing that shows how this is less functional is that the final II V is replaced with C7 Bb7 in the song taking away the main cadence of the Jazz Blues.

Super-imposed Pentatonic Scales

Coltrane doesn’t really use normal blues phrasing a lot in this solo and here he does use Fm pentatonic in a way that is really typical for everybody who came after him. I think it is important to notice that using Fm pentatonic on a Blues in F is something that is quite rare with the bop guys. Pentatonic scales are not really a part of bebop in the way they are used as a sound here.
The blues phrases of Joe Pass and Charlie Parker are quite different and much more a mix of major and minor.

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Why Coltrane is not bebop

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