May 21, 2018

Coltrane, Morton Gould, Francis Poulenc, and Harold Shapero

A friend (thanks, Carlos) just pointed me at a great "Deep Dive With Lewis Porter" article on the inspirations behind John Coltrane's composition "Impressions." Briefly put, Porter demonstrates that the melody of "Impressions" is a paraphrase of a section of Morton Gould's "Pavanne" (1938). The chord structure, of course, is borrowed from Miles Davis' "So What." For more detail on this, check out the Porter article. It's a great read, with plenty of sound clips. I'd heard about Coltrane's use of "Pavanne" before, but the following was news to me:

In a follow-up article, Porter cites the source of the melody to Coltrane's "Big Nick": Francis Poulenc's "Impromptu #3." See Porter's article for recorded examples.

In a comment below the second article, a reader points out that the source of the melody to the first half of "Giant Steps" was pretty definitely Harold Shapero's String Quartet (1941). Check the recording below! Shapero moves his theme through quite a few transpositions, including some chromatic third relations, though he doesn't follow "Coltrane changes."


The second half of the "Giant Steps" melody, as well as the chords, "Giant Steps" is definitely borrowed from Nicholas Slonimsky. This is widely known (see this previous post for an image).  It was a monumental achievement for Coltrane to combine the Shapero melody, Coltrane changes, and the Slonimsky example into a cohesive whole, not to mention working up the technique and applying the improvisational creativity necessary to perform it.

While checking other sources for this post, I ran across an assertion that the intro to "So What," written by Gil Evans, is borrowed from Debussy's "Voiles." I hear Debussy, but I don't particularly hear that piece in the "So What" intro. I also read in several places that "So What" derives in some way from Ahmad Jamal's recording of Gould's "Pavanne" - I'd have to be convinced. However, it's a fact that the horn riff in James Brown's "Cold Sweat" was derived from "So What" - as stated by Alfred "Pee Wee" Ellis, who wrote the horn parts.

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