Saturday, February 26, 2011

John Coltrane's Giant Steps

John Coltrane's Giant Steps (Richard Jackson Books (Atheneum Hardcover))John Coltrane’s Giant Steps remixed by Chris Raschka, “A Richard Jackson Book,” Atheneum Books for Young Readers, 2002

This is a book I’ve wanted to get my hands on for a while, and it did not disappoint. I love the simplicity/complexity of it, the way words and art synchronize to describe Coltrane’s music. This book doesn’t come with a CD, but I highly recommend listening to a performance of John Coltrane playing “Giant Steps.” (The text stands on its own, but it is about the music, after all. I shared this video with my children; they enjoyed the animation and were impressed with the music, even though they have much less experience with jazz than with classical.)

In explaining the piece, Raschka turns the book into a performance, one which doesn’t go perfectly the first time through. The performers are unusual: a box, (bass), a snowflake, (piano), some raindrops, (drums), and a kitten (saxophone). He sets things up, describes the role of each performer, and layers in the music, but things go awry on pages 18 and 19. Suddenly it feels as if we are sitting in on a rehearsal, and the author’s/director’s instructions to the musicians help us, the readers/audience, to understand the music even better. (And really, if I want to know a piece of music really well, I learn how to play it—it gives you the chance to interact with it on an entirely different level than you get to as an audience member.)

Mysterious TheloniousWhat a brilliant introduction to a jazz great. Author Chris Raschka has two other books I love about jazz musicians, Charlie Parker Played Be Bop, and Mysterious Thelonius. These, too, display a genius for capturing the essence of the music with words and artwork.

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