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Demsey - Chromatic Third Relations 1


by David Demsey

"I've been devoting quite a bit of my time to harmonic studies of

my own, in libraries...I'm not finished with these studies because I
haven't assimilated everything into my playing. I've found
you've got to look back at the old things and see them in a new

- John Coltrane1

In the "modern" jazz era (since the late forties), the composer who is
often most closely associated with the use of chromatic third-relation
techniques is saxophonist John Coltrane. First appearing in the late fifties,
this aspect of his compositional and improvisational style had incredible
repercussions among members of the jazz community. Suddenly, it seemed,
Coltrane had created a very different-sounding musical language. After his
premature death in 1967, some came to believe that his preoccupation with
third relationships was solely the product of a religious awakening he
experienced during that period. Coltrane's chromatic third-relation
compositions have been interpreted as a result of his search for perfection in
life and music, with three equal key areas having numerological importance
representing the trinity, or God, or unity.
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This study will propose that although the structure of these pieces had
some religious significance for Coltrane and his listeners, his important early
work in the area of third relations had a much more "earthly" origin. We will
see that the appearance of chromatic third-relations in Coltrane's music was
not new to jazz, but existed previously in jazz compositions and popular song
forms of the thirties; furthermore, we will see that Coltrane's compositions are
structurally as similar to nineteenth-century European models as to jazz
literature, in at least one case through surprisingly direct influences. The
main part of the study will analyze several of Coltrane's best-known pieces
containing chromatic third relationships.


Western harmonic practice is usually divided into chronological

segments, such as "tonal" and "atonal," or the periods of "common practice"
and "after common practice." These labels are, of course, far from being
entities separated by discrete dividing lines. The terms "tonal" and "common
practice" refer to the centuries of exploration by the master composers which
led to the stretching, and finally the breakdown, of tonality. It is generally
agreed that while the twentieth century has seen the development of atonality
and new compositional systems, the nineteenth century represents the period
when tonic-dominant tonality was altered and blurred to the point at which it
ceased to be the most important factor in composition.
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One of the most powerful tools in the nineteenth-century expansion of

tonality was the chromatic third relation. Third relationships provided
freedom from root motion by fifth, a technical basis that had shaped tonality
by dividing the octave unequally into fourths and fifths. Use of the third as a
structural unit allowed, as will be described below, for equal division of the
octave into three parts (by major thirds) or into four parts (by minor thirds).
Early use of the chromatic third relation as a harmonic device in Western
music coincides with the beginnings of the Romantic era, and appears in the
works of such composers as Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms. A chromatic
third relation should be distinguished from simple root movement by third,
which occurred throughout the common practice period. Here, the third
motion from the tonic triad to the iii or the vi often acts as a weaker auxiliary
progression in relation to stronger root movement by fourth or fifth; or, the iii
or vi may function as a divider or mid-point between the tonic and dominant
poles of the tonality. All of this can exist on a number of structural levels:
locally as a simple harmonic progression or on a larger scale as distinct key
areas which are established by cadential material. These key areas may be
short in duration, spanning a phrase or stanza of a smaller song form, or they
may last for over a hundred measures as a section of a large sonata form
The chromatic third relation also may function on any one of a number
of structural levels. However, there is a striking aural difference between
common practice motions by third and chromatic third relations: in the latter,
chromatic pitches occur which are often foreign to the home major key or any
of its related minor scales. Figure 1 compares diatonic third motion to
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chromatic major and minor third relationships. In a major third relationship

(Fig. 1B), the major triads built on the III# and the bVI (E major and A-flat
major respectively) both contain pitches which are not diatonic to the major
scale, and which occur in a different context from their appearance in the
relative or parallel minor. The major triad on the third scale degree contains a
G-sharp, which occurs as the third of a tonic-function triad (a stable context)
rather than as the leading tone (an unstable context) of a dominant-function
triad in the relative minor. When this technique is elevated to a larger level in
which E major and A-flat major are key areas, these new areas have key
signatures which are a considerable (and equal) distance on the cycle of fifths
from the home tonic key, C major. A minor-third relationship (Fig. 1C) also
contains pitches which are unrelated to the home key: in the E-flat major
triad, E-flat and B-flat are foreign to C major; the C-sharp of the A-major triad
does not exist in any C scale or mode. The overall effect of the simple motion
by third is to strengthen the implication of the home tonality through the
emphasis on purely diatonic pitch material; in contrast, the chromatic third
relation acts to weaken or blur the tonality because it changes the function
and harmonic/melodic tendency of the pitches involved.
In instances where the tonic triad moves to both the major III# and the
major bVI in the same composition, the possibility of a cyclic relationship
between these three chords or key areas exists. In C major, for example, not
only do both E major and A-flat major lie a major third from the home tonic;
they also lie an enharmonically equivalent major third (literally a diminished
fourth) from one another. Precisely because of this equidistancy, the roots of
these three chords can produce a destabilizing effect; if C, A-flat, and E
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appear as the tonic pitches of three key areas on a larger level, the identity of
the composition's tonal center can only be determined by the closure of the
Gregory Proctor points out that "nineteenth-century chromatic tonality"
(which he differentiates from "classical diatonic tonality") allows for this
relationship because equal temperament is assumed: "enharmonic
equivalence equates the distance between some note and any of the
enharmonic spellings of some other note against which it is measured."2 In
"diatonic tonality," successive ascending major thirds from C will not return
to C, but to its enharmonic equivalent, B-sharp; B-sharp has a much different
tendency for resolution, and therefore a very different harmonic implication,
than does C. In "chromatic tonality," however, B-sharp is potentially identical
to C, and differs only in notation.


There is a large body of nineteenth century music which utilizes

chromatic third relations, including lengthy forms composed for large
performing forces; however, smaller examples show similarities to Coltrane's
compositions in more respects: with regard to their medium, their short
length, and the structural role of their third relations.
For further study, three nineteenth-century songs by Hugo Wolf provide
models which are similar to Coltrane's thirds pieces with respect to chromatic
third relationships which form thirds cycles; they are studied in depth in
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Deborah Stein's book Hugo Wolf's Lieder and Extensions of Tonality.3 These
pieces are "Das Stndchen," "Und steht Ihr frh am Morgen" ("When in the
Early Morning Thou Dost Rise"), and "In dem Schatten meiner Locken" ("In
the Shadow of My Tresses"). All three serve well as models for three reasons:
first, they are for solo voice with accompaniment, which is identical to the
format of popular and jazz tunes. Second, they a relatively short in length;
although chromatic third relationships may occur over long periods of time in
larger forms, it is difficult to establish direct relationships between these and
local occurrences in Coltrane's works. Finally and most importantly, the
structural role of the third relationships in these three songs is surprisingly
similar to those found in the music of Coltrane and earlier popular song

Jazz and popular harmony has a structure and history surprisingly

similar to that of European art music -- a similarity that often goes
unrecognized since it is disguised by the unique stylistic traits of those
performance genres. Beginning in the 1920s, jazz and popular song
composers and improvisers have rapidly retraced the "classical" chronology
of harmonic development using European models.
Because of this condensed development and the absence of historical
viewpoint, it is difficult as yet to identify periods in modern jazz
corresponding to a "common practice." It is undeniable, however, that
tonality has undergone a process of expansion in jazz since 1950; as in
nineteenth-century European art music, a major factor in that expansion has
been the chromatic third relation leading to equal divisions of the octave.
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Charles Hamm suggests that the early bandleader Paul Whiteman "may
have been the first to call attention to the dependence of popular song of the
1920s on classical music" in the following dry observation on early jazz: "Do
you not know that more than half the modern art of composing a popular
song comes in knowing what to steal and how to adapt it - also, that at least
nine-tenths of modern jazz frankly stolen from the masters?"4
While this is perhaps an overstatement, it is certain that early composers of
popular and jazz tunes were deeply affected by nineteenth-century European
There are a number of examples of early jazz compositions or popular
songs containing chromatic third relations.5 Many of these pieces
subsequently became jazz standards, such as Jerome Kern's thirties songs "All
the Things You Are" and "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes," and the mid-twenties
standard "Tea For Two." Some of these techniques are similar to those which
John Coltrane utilized in his improvisation and compositions. We will study
a Richard Rodgers song which contains a striking example of a thirds cycle.

"Have You Met Miss Jones?" employs a cycle of equal major thirds
nearly identical to those used by Coltrane. It was composed by Richard
Rodgers (words by Lorenz Hart) in 1937, for the musical "I'd Rather Be
The fact that this piece contains chromatic third relationships
reminiscent of nineteenth-century compositional techniques is not surprising:
Richard Rodgers had a great degree of familiarity with the European
tradition. Although Rodgers was largely self-taught, he studied at Columbia
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University in 1919-21, and at the Institute of Musical Art in 1921-23 (now the
Juilliard School) with Henry Krehbiel and Percy Goetschius. Hamm asserts
that Rodgers was "one of the first to expand the harmonic language of Tin
Pan Alley," and that he "knew the music of classical composers of the
eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, particularly that of the great Russian and
German composers of the second half of the nineteenth century."6
"Have You Met Miss Jones?" is a classic AABA song form in structure.
Its "A" section is a catchy, rising melodic line accompanied by an
undistinguished harmonic progression. There are two tonic cadences in F
major, each supported by V/ii. It is the "B" section which is much more
unusual, and noteworthy for the purposes of this study. It begins in the
subdominant, B-flat, and moves through cadences in the keys of D and G-flat.
Coltrane used this same major thirds cycle in several pieces included in Part
IV of this study.
Such harmonic flight during the "B" sections of AABA song forms was
quite common, acting as a miniature "development." Hamm comments on
this stylistic trait of the thirties popular song:
"...Many of the songs of the era have a "B" section
which is tonally unstable, moving through a sequence of
chromatic chords back to the tonic for the return of "A";
the character of such a section is often more that of a
bridge between the second and last statement of "A" than
of a separate, contrasting section. The four or eight
measures taking on this function are known as the
"release," and it is here that the composer had his best
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chance to engage in tonal adventures. Such freer

modulation and greater harmonic sophistication in the
release were not an isolated phenomenon, but rather part
of a general trend toward freer and more varied
harmonic usage."7

Figure 2 shows a sketch of the "Have You Met Miss Jones?" bridge.
Despite its unusual harmonies, its basic function is similar to those of the
prototypical popular song bridge. It acts as a prolongation of dominant
preparation, moving eventually to V, which prepares the start of the final "A"
section. The progression begins on B-flat (IV) and moves to g minor (ii). This
is accomplished by first descending downward by major thirds through G-
flat and D major, then retracing its motion back upward to G-flat, creating a
cycle of major thirds made up of the three equidistant key centers of B-flat, D,
and G-flat. The composer finds his way out of this foreign-key detour by
means of a deft motion from a G-flat major seventh chord to g minor seventh:
only the root and fifth raise by half-step, while the third and seventh (chord
tones which usually signal important voice-leading motion during cadences)
are stationary.
To add further melodic stability to this harmonically unstable bridge,
Rodgers uses a diatonic motive in a downward sequence from ^5 to ^b3. It
should be noted that the downward harmonic sequence of major thirds in
mm. 17-21 causes the structural notes of this passage to outline a D whole-
tone scale (see sketch in Fig. 2). We will see that this inherent voice-leading
property of cyclic major-third descents is also used by Coltrane.
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The influence of nineteenth century European composers did not only

occur in the training of Richard Rodgers and other popular song composers;
it also reached to the jazz innovators of the fifties bebop era and beyond
bebop to John Coltrane.8 Many of the details of Coltrane's early background
are common knowledge: the musicians of the previous generation who
taught him the heritage of the jazz saxophone; his apprenticeship with Miles
Davis and Thelonious Monk; and his meteoric development as a soloist and
composer. What is rarely emphasized in Coltrane's musical background is
the amount of formal and informal study in theory and harmony he
completed after he had been a professional player for several years. His sense
of curiosity developed into an obsession with the understanding of
increasingly sophisticated theoretical concepts and the internalization of
those ideas in his saxophone playing.
In 1951, Coltrane returned to Philadelphia from a tour with Dizzy
Gillespie's big band. Coltrane aspired to stop touring for at least a full year,
to enroll in music school and undertake the classroom theory studies he felt
he lacked.9 Coltrane became a full-time student at the Granoff School in
Philadelphia, founded in 1918 by Isadore Granoff, a Russian violinist who
had played in Stravinsky's Rite of Spring premiere in 1913. He studied theory
and harmony with Dennis Sandole, a guitarist who has become well-known
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as a jazz theorist and film composer with his brother, Adolphe. Coltrane's
background and rigorous training as an improviser meant that he was
already familiar with basic harmonic concepts; he spent much of his class
time studying the more complex techniques of the late nineteenth and early
twentieth centuries. In an interview for this study, Sandole outlined the
specific theory curriculum he covered with Coltrane: "In the early fifties,
Coltrane and I had probed into third relationships; also extended harmonic
devices, i.e. double chromatic scales, deceptive resolution, chromatic root
movement, [equal] division of the octave (extended), semi-tonal scale and
resolving propensities, synthetic chords, polytonal scales and chords, and
displacement of rhythms."10 In an interview with J.C. Thomas, Sandole
detailed his student's curiosity about contemporary harmonic techniques.
"[Coltrane] asked me about bitonality and polytonality, combining more than
one key signature. I [discussed] tetrachord techniques and pentatonic...scales,
and he was soon playing arpeggios on all of them...He also studied...modal
scales, pedal point clusters and harmony derived from melodic lines, with no
chord structure involved."11
This curriculum contains many possible explanations for indirect
connections between John Coltrane's compositional style and nineteenth
century notions of chromatic third relations. One connection, however, is
surprisingly direct, and may help explain Coltrane's motivation for writing
such a large group of pieces employing this device within such a short two-
year time period.
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Detroit jazz pianist Barry Harris (now a successful New York recording
artist and teacher) is credited with giving Coltrane the book, Thesaurus of
Scales and Melodic Patterns12 which had been published in 1947 by Nicolas
Slonimsky. Exactly when Coltrane received this book is unclear; Thomas
describes it only as "a few years" before 1958.13 From interviews by Thomas
with Coltrane's musician friends and relatives, and from an interview for this
study with Coltrane's pianist, McCoy Tyner, it is apparent that the Slonimsky
book was in Coltrane's possession constantly around the time that he was
working out his third-cycle compositions.14 It was an important part of his
lengthy daily practice regimen during the mid- and late fifties. The
Slonimsky Thesaurus contains material which is virtually identical to
portions of "Countdown" and "Giant Steps," and Slonimsky may be the most
direct link between John Coltrane and structural principles of the late
nineteenth century. Although much of the material in the Thesaurus was
designed by Slonimsky with a much different purpose in mind (i.e., the
formation of symmetrical scales reflecting the early twentieth-century
techniques of Bartk and Scriabn), Coltrane seems to have interpreted it from
a distinctly nineteenth-century harmonic perspective.
It is truly remarkable that a musicologist born nearly a century ago in
Russia might have had such an effect on this jazz saxophonist. Born in 1894,
in St. Petersburg, Slonimsky received all of his early training in pre-
Revolutionary Russia. He studied theory and harmony with two pupils of
Rimsky-Korsakov and later studied composition with Glire. Examples of
Russian nineteenth-century theoretical thought in the area of cyclic third
relationships can be seen in the writings of Boleslav Yavorsky (included in
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Gordon McQuere's book Russian Theoretical Thought in Music), who is

considered to have furnished ideas which are today some of the basic
precepts of Russian music theory.15 Yavorsky devised "augmented" and
"diminished" modes, based on multiple-key systems (shown in Figure 14);
these relate directly to much of the material found in the Slonimsky's book.
The Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns contains a comprehensive
listing of scale and mode organizations. It is set up in two basic parts,
categorized by structural origin and identified using tongue-twisting terms
coined by the author. One portion is a survey of over one hundred possible
five- and six-note scale combinations, "bitonal" harmonic and scale
combinations (built by simultaneously adding intervals above two tonal
centers), twelve-tone and twelve-interval rows, pandiatonic progressions, and
a chord synopsis.
Although Coltrane may have practiced from this half of the Thesaurus, it
is the other portion which relates most directly to Coltrane's work. It deals
with scales created by an equal division of the octave, or of multiple octaves.
It begins with an equal division of one octave into two parts, the Tritone
Progression, and concludes with an equal division of eleven octaves into
twelve parts (by equal major sevenths) termed the Sesquiquinquetone
Progression. The sections of equal scale division most closely related to this
study are the Ditone Progressions (equal division of the octave into three
parts by major thirds, or ditones) and Sesquitone Progressions (equal division
of the octave into four parts by minor thirds). Each of these sections uses the
equal divisions as basic pitches, and creates all of the possible melodic
patterns which result from adding pitches between, above, and below these
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basic pitches (termed interpolation, ultrapolation and infrapolation by

Slonimsky). Figure 3 shows typical segments of this process, outlining the
melodic patterns created by adding one note at various intervals between,
above and below the three pitches. Other segments use two or three added
notes, and illustrate the combinations infra-interpolation, infra-ultrapolation,
inter-ultrapolation, and infra-inter-ultrapolation. Coltrane likely developed
his awareness of three-key cycles on the saxophone through practicing this
material in all keys.
Two portions of the Thesaurus deserve special attention, since they are
surprisingly direct connections to the last phrase of "Giant Steps." One such
excerpt appears in Figure 3: pattern #286 from the Ditone Progressions,
included under "Sample Infra-Ultrapolations," is identical to the melody
pitches in mm. 8-16 of "Giant Steps." The other example is truly astonishing,
since it is not only nearly identical to the same "Giant Steps" melody, it also
includes the identical harmony for that passage. Slonimsky uses this example
in the Introduction of the Thesaurus to illustrate his point that "harmony of
the Dominant-Tonic type will impart a feeling of tonality even to a 12-tone
progression."16 Figure 4 shows 1) Slonimsky's original twelve-tone row, 2) a
transposed version which omits the fourth pitch of each sequential repetition,
and 3) "Giant Steps" mm. 816. With the omitted notes, the remaining pitches
relate to the nine-pitch set we will study in Figure 9C.
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For many improvising jazz musicians, the decades of the seventies and
the eighties are the "post-Coltrane" era, since today's jazz performers and
theorists are still attempting to assimilate much of his music over twenty
years after his death.
In 1955, Coltrane was asked to join Miles Davis' quintet. This proved to
be a watershed in his development. In the only known article written by
Coltrane, he acknowledged in more detail that Davis' harmonic techniques
inspired him to develop his own ideas.
"...I found Miles in the midst of another stage of his
musical development. There was one time in his past that
he devoted [himself] to multichorded structures...But now
it seemed that he was moving in the opposite direction to
the use of fewer and fewer chord changes in songs...This
approach allowed the soloist the choice of playing
chordally (vertically) or melodically (horizontally).
In fact, due to the direct and free-flowing lines in his
music, I found it easy to apply the harmonic ideas that I
had. I could stack up chords say, on a C7, I sometimes
superimposed an Eb7, up to an F#7, down to an F [major
chord]. That way I could play three chords on one...I
started experimenting because I was striving for more
individual development."17
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In this quote, Coltrane clearly outlines the beginnings of his

development of reharmonization using thirds cycles, by minor thirds: C7 -
Eb7 - F#7 - F major as a reharmonization for C7 - F. In this case, the thirds are
a vehicle leading to the "target" of F through the tritone substitute, so the
cycle stops at F# rather than returning to C via the final chord in the minor
third cycle, A7. (It should be noted that this thirds cycle also relates to a
symmetrical scale structure, the octatonic, or diminished, scale: the four
dominant chords C7, Eb7, F#7, and A7 are all subsets of the octatonic scale
which is used to resolve to F major.)
The following portion of this study presents an analysis of Coltrane
compositions and arrangements written during the years 1958-60, all
recorded during or just after his tenure with Miles Davis. These pieces are all
representative of Coltrane's early Vertical (or "Changes-Running") Period, but
they are particularly important since they contain developments which
extend to the later periods. Devised originally as substitute chord
progressions in improvisations, these chord substitutions utilize the cyclic
properties of chromatic third relations to provide an impetus for an
improvisational and compositional approach eventually resulting in the
Modal and Avante-Garde Periods.18

The piece which best demonstrates this chord substitution principle is

"Countdown." It utilizes a cycle of major thirds which acts within the tonic-
dominant axis, and is the earliest Coltrane composition to do so. This tune
borrows from the standard jazz piece, "Tune Up."19 It uses a compositional
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process which is usually identified with the bebop era of the late forties: the
creation of a new melody on an existing chord progression.
Figure 5A shows "Tune Up" and Coltrane's "Countdown" superimposed.
The structure of "Tune Up" is a downward sequence of ii-V-I cadential
formulae. The melody is simple and austere; the home key of the piece is not
immediately clear, since the downward sequence does not follow a diatonic
pattern (i.e. descending through ^8-^7-^6), but instead descends by whole-
steps. The sixteen measures of "Tune Up" contain a four-bar cadence in D
major, followed by a four-bar cadence a whole-step lower in C, and another a
whole-step lower in B-flat. The final four measures imply a return to D
major, but a deceptive cadence to the VI of the parallel minor, B-flat, blurs
this return, suggesting instead a prolongation of the last key in the downward
Coltrane creates a new melody on this downward sequence of ii-V-I
cadences, but does not stop at that. Into each cadential pattern, between the ii
chord and the V chord, two rapid V-I cadences are interpolated (as shown in
the first four measures of Fig. 5A, and sketched in Fig. 5B). The tonic chord in
each of these two cadences moves downward a major third. The result is that
the four-measure phrase implies a full octave descent by equal major third
intervals: the progression begins with the ii chord in D, down to V-I in B-flat,
down to V-I in G-flat, and finally ends with V-I in D. In this case, the thirds
cycle is controlled by a prevailing dominant-to-tonic motion. The two foreign
keys do not relate harmonically either to the ii or the V; rather, they are an
insertion between the subdominant and dominant chords in D. As in "Tune
Up," "Countdown's" second phrase (mm. 5-8) is a sequential repetition of the
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first, transposed down a whole step, and its third phrase (mm. 9-12)
continues the sequence down another whole step. There are no third
relations in its final phrase; rather it is almost the same as the final phrase of
"Tune Up," except that the B-flat chord is included with its own V, recalling
mm. 1 and 2, rather than the deceptive cadence used in "Tune Up," and
making the prolongation of B-flat in the last two phrases that much stronger.
Also, Eb7#11 manages both to recall B-flat and prepare a return to D by tritone
The harmonic operations at work in "Countdown" are similar to several
of the models mentioned earlier in the study. Although there are obvious
structural similarities between the major third cycles in "Countdown" and the
Wolf songs mentioned earlier, the example most like "Countdown" is the
bridge of "Have You Met Miss Jones?": the thirds cycle is identical in its
uniform support by secondary dominant chords, although key areas are in a
different order of appearance; the two pieces only differ in that Rodgers used
the thirds cycle as a subdominant prolongation, where Coltrane uses it as a
tonic prolongation (substituting for a ii-V-I progression).

The chorale-like melodic character of "Countdown" remains true to that

of "Tune Up". In both pieces, the only eighth-note motion occurs in m. 14.
When the dense chord progression of "Countdown" is performed at the same
very fast tempo as "Tune Up," its constitutes one of the most difficult
improvisational challenges in jazz. Coltrane's only recording of "Countdown"
(at the tempo of quarter note = 352) is a truly amazing display of saxophone
technique. His first two choruses, accompanied only by drums, are nearly
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completely pre-rehearsed (since they are almost identical); the following

choruses contain a spinning out of new material that represent internalization
of this chord substitution to the point of astounding reflex action.
"Countdown" was recorded during the sessions on May 4 and 5, 1959.
While it appears that Coltrane had been working out this set of chord
substitutions involving major third cycles improvisationally for at least
several years prior to that date, there are several conflicting reports of the
dates of earlier experimentation. William Cole mentions that Coltrane had
sketches for this piece in 1956, although he fails to give evidence for this date
or to describe the whereabouts of these sketches now.21 (The 1956 recording
of Coltrane's "Tune Up" solo on a Miles Davis album shows no sign of chord
substitution, although Davis may well have instructed Coltrane to avoid this
technique for "commercial" reasons.) J.C. Thomas makes a more doubtful
claim that Coltrane was experimenting with outside-the-key substitute
changes as early as 1947-8, while he was a sideman to Eddie Vinson.22 In an
interview for this study, Coltrane's pianist, McCoy Tyner, said that the bebop
pianist Thelonious Monk "could have been the inspiration (but probably not
the direct model) for Coltrane's thirds-related compositions because of the
rapid harmonic rhythm and odd root movement" in Monk's own
compositions.23 Indeed, Monk's tunes often contain a harmonic rhythm of
two chords in a measure, and chord roots often move up and down by whole-
and half-step. Coltrane acknowledged in several interviews that his one-year
tenure with Monk was one of the great developmental periods of his musical
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Since most of the principal figures involved in this question are no

longer alive, it is impossible to document exactly when Coltrane began to
work out thirdcycle techniques. It is understandable that Coltrane's former
bandleaders, who were certainly part of his musical training, sought to assure
their place in history with specific anecdotes which had occurred decades
before. Despite the conflicting accounts, it seems likely that although
Coltrane might have experimented with reharmonization prior to 1955, that
the outlining of third cycles only began to appear in his publically performed
improvisations after his touring with Miles Davis during 1956-7, and that this
technique matured during his employment with Thelonious Monk in 1957-8.
It is certain that the idea for the harmonic substitution in "Countdown"
occurred originally as an improvisational tool; its first use was perhaps at an
unrecorded rehearsal or late-night jam session, either a pre-planned insertion
or a spontaneous event. However, this study will not speculate upon the
implied harmonies of improvised solos; rather, it will deal only with the
"hard evidence" of published and recorded compositions.

During a three-day period in October 1960, the John Coltrane Quartet

recorded enough material for three full albums. Included in these works
were two pieces from the standard repertoire for jazz musicians: George
Gershwin's "But Not For Me," and John Green's ballad, "Body and Soul." Both
selections were recorded ostensibly in their original versions, but Coltrane
reharmonized sections of each piece using a third cycle technique similar to
that in "Countdown." These arrangements are a continuation of the
experiment begun with "Countdown" and "Giant Steps," likely re-arranged to
Demsey - Chromatic Third Relations 21

provide more of a harmonic challenge improvisationally. The rapid

harmonic motion of the Coltrane versions is technically much more difficult
to negotiate than the nearly diatonic chords of the Gershwin original.
Reharmonization of standard song material is common in the form of added
alterations or extensions (especially on dominant chords), or diatonically
related ii/V7 interpolations; reharmonization of this cyclic nature is much
more rare. We will view the reworked sections of these two jazz standards.

"But Not For Me" is a thirty-two bar song, organized in a standard

ABAC form. The "B" and "C" sections of Gershwin's original composition
contain the greatest harmonic motion of the piece: the "B" section begins on
IV and moves to a half cadence and a da capo; the "C" section moves from IV
to the final authentic cadence in the tonic. Coltrane leaves these two sections
basically unaltered in his recorded version. It is the "A" section which
receives the reworking, since the original version acts harmonically as a
simple tonic prolongation ending with a motion to V7/IV. The Gershwin and
Coltrane versions of mm. 1-8 are shown in Figure 6, including a sketch of
Coltrane's harmonies. (Only a partial sketch is included since Coltrane
improvised a melody at the crucial point of cyclic thirds, making inclusion of
this melody unnecessary in this discussion. Although the line which was
improvised on the original recording is recognized to be the "official" melody
by modern players, it is merely a transcription of his improvisation.) While
the original first eight measures contain two tonic cadences supported by the
secondary dominants of V and ii, Coltrane uses this space to perform the
"'Countdown' interpolation" twice. The passage begins with the tonic (E-flat),
Demsey - Chromatic Third Relations 22

then descends twice through a full octave by equal major thirds: first it moves
down a major third to C-flat major, then down another major third to G
major, then returns to the tonic. After two beats of V, the process repeats
itself. (This actually varies slightly from "Countdown:" "But Not For Me"
begins on I of the tonic key, not on ii.) In m. 8, the seventh of the tonic chord
is flatted, and the resulting E-flat dominant chord is preceeded by its related
ii, all of which creates a motion to the IV, as in Gershwin's version.
An interesting feature of Coltrane's reharmonization is its bassline,
included in the middle staff of Fig. 6. In jazz harmony, the vast majority of
chord voicings utilize root position chords; jazz harmonies derive their color
from added alterations and extensions, complex sonorities which make clear
root motion necessary. Coltrane, by allowing the bass to descend through
other chord tones and upper extensions of his cyclic progression, outlines a
whole-tone scale. This same voice-leading principle was employed in the
structural melody pitches of the "Have You Met Miss Jones?" bridge. There
are two whole-tone descents in the first eight measures of "But Not For Me."
Note that they have tonal implications: the first descent begins on ^5, and the
second begins on the tonic. Coltrane accomplishes this by beginning with the
"wrong" whole-tone scale, using a bass line composed only of fifths and
ninths; he "corrects" this with the second presentation, using roots and fifths
to imply a dominant-tonic relationship between the two scales. It should be
noted that these two whole-tone scales make up the aggregate; we will see
other more sophisticated Coltrane examples of pitch-set properties later in
this study.
Demsey - Chromatic Third Relations 23

Coltrane's reworking of John Green's "Body and Soul" using thirds

cycles occurs in the "B" section of this thirty-two measure AABA ballad's
chorus. Figure 7 shows the two versions of the eight-measure section and a
sketch of Coltrane's version. Again, the melody is not included in the sketch
because Coltrane chose to improvise rather than play a consistent melody at
this point. The original "B" section (mm. 17-24) contains simple cadential
material. Its eight measures begin with a modulation from the tonic up a
half-step to D major, and function as a slow descent back to B-flat dominant
(V/ii) to begin the final "A" section by tonicizing ii (E-flat minor). The
descent involves simple four-measure cadential material in D major and C
major. Coltrane uses the "Countdown" interpolation technique again here,
replacing this material with two major third descents through an octave. The
first descent is from the temporary tonic, an octave descent from D to D
through V-I cadences in B-flat and G. The second descent is a step lower,
moving from C to C through V-I cadences in A-flat and E major. Coltrane
retains the harmonically interesting chromatic descent of the bridge's final
measure, m. 24, and he allows D major and C major each to be established
before departing into his reharmonization. Like "But Not For Me," the thirds
cycles in "Body and Soul" begin with the tonic.
The coda of this arrangement (composed by Coltrane) contains a
passage using direct major-third motion totally free of dominant harmony
support. A cadence in the tonic D-flat leads directly to Fmaj7, followed by
Amaj7 and another cadence in the home key. In this case, mm. 4-6 of the coda
are ascending major thirds, where the Wolf example descends.
Demsey - Chromatic Third Relations 24

It is interesting to add that Coltrane also reworked the "A" sections of

"Body and Soul." The original harmonies contain some chromatic twists and
turns; as a signal of Coltrane's Modal Period, he places a dominant pedal
under almost the entire "A" portion. This creates a feeling of tension and
release as successive chords move closer to or further from the dominant

The same October 1960 recording sessions which yielded "But Not for
Me" and "Body and Soul" also included "Central Park West," a Coltrane
composition which utilizes third cycles in a unique way. It also includes the
significant use of modal, or drone-bass, techniques typical of Coltrane's
Modal Period.
This piece has rarely been mentioned, either in Coltrane's biographical
material or in theoretical writings. However, it is uniquely important among
Coltrane's third-cycle compositions in two ways: 1) it is the only example of a
ballad which uses third cycles (it is recorded at a relatively slow tempo of
quarter note = 72); 2) it is based around a cycle of minor thirds, rather than
the major third relationships found in the previous pieces discussed.
The piece is characteristically short, with a length of only ten measures.
Its harmonic and formal scheme is shown in Figure 8. Included in "Central
Park West" are the four major keys of B, D, F and A-flat, each separated by a
minor third. All of the key areas are set up by ii-V-I cadential patterns. An
inherent property of these four equidistant ii-V-I cadences is that the
combined roots of all twelve of the chords involved make up the aggregate
Demsey - Chromatic Third Relations 25

divided into the three minor-third cycles. We will see that "Giant Steps" has
similar pitch-set characteristics.
The compact form of "Central Park West" can best be described as
ABAC, divided into two main portions. The "A," "B," and second "A" sections
are each two measures in length, and the final "C" section lasts four measures,
accounting for the odd ten-measure total length. The first portion of the piece
(sections "A" and "B") appears to employ a harmonic technique where the
third relations exist outside of the tonic-dominant framework. Although it
seems to consist of a series of ii-V-I progressions like the bridge to "Have You
Met Miss Jones?", it is structurally different; the four key areas move so
rapidly and almost "randomly" that it is difficult to determine the home key
center over a relatively large section of this piece. This cyclic progression first
cadences in B, then moves through D and A-flat to end the first portion with a
cadence in F. (Note that not all movements between keys are by minor third.
Some key area motions, such as D to A-flat, are by tritone.) The piece begins
in B major, so the ear is drawn to this as a center. However, since this first
"A" section ends a minor third away from where it begins, a firm key center is
certainly not established at this point. The melodic ascent of this first section
deserves mention since it outlines the first four pitches of a whole-tone scale,
employing the same principle seen in the melody of "Have You Met Miss
Jones?" and the bassline of "But Not for Me." In this instance the melodic
ascent occurs over a harmonic ascent by minor thirds.
The second "A" section begins by exactly repeating the first two
measures of the piece as it moves through the keys of B and D. Rather than
continuing the four-bar phrase structure established by the first portion, the
Demsey - Chromatic Third Relations 26

"C" section instead cuts this phrase off at two measures, returns to B major
and remains there to create the final four-measure phrase. Finally, B is firmly
established as the home key. However, this does not require a tonic-
dominant relationship; it is accomplished by a series of repetitive, modal-
sounding ii-I cadences, and it is further solidified by the presence of a tonic
pedal throughout this final "C" section. As mentioned earlier, this pedal
technique is a common characteristic of Coltrane's Modal Period writing.

"Giant Steps" is the most well-known piece from the period under
discussion, and justifiably so. It demonstrates the most highly organized use
of the third-relation principle in any Coltrane composition, and combines
these techniques with a surprising degree of pitch-class set organization.
"Giant Steps" was recorded at the same sessions as "Countdown," on
May 4 and 5, 1959. As was the case with "Countdown," Coltrane had been
working out its harmonic and thematic material for some time before the
actual recording session; it is not clear which piece was actually written first,
although we will see that "Giant Steps" seems to grow structurally out of
"Countdown." In a 1962 interview, Coltrane explained, "At the time I left
Miles [Davis] I was trying to add a lot of sequences to my solo work, [adding]
chords to the things I was playing...It was before I formed my own group that
I had the rhythm section playing these sequences...I made 'Giant Steps' with
some other guys and carried the idea on into my band."24
"Giant Steps" is based upon a major third cycle similar to that used in
"Countdown." However, in "Giant Steps," the cycle is not used as a
reharmonization technique within a tonic-dominant framework, plugged into
Demsey - Chromatic Third Relations 27

a previously existing chord progression; instead, the overall structure exists

without any tonic-dominant axis, indeed without any apparent home key
when viewed from some perspectives. The equidistant major third
relationship is an end in itself, the most important compositional vehicle of
the piece. Its unique structure makes it an example of a thirds cycle
translated into the jazz harmonic framework in its most pure form.
Figure 9A shows the sixteen measures of "Giant Steps:" simple in
appearance but deceptively difficult to perform or analyze. There are two
main sections. The first lasts eight measures, and consists of a four measure
phrase and its repetition transposed down a major third (the sequence also
occurs harmonically). The second section overlaps with the first at m. 8. This
occurs when the two-note idea in m. 8 leads to m. 9: it appears to be the
beginning of a third presentation of the first phrase transposed down another
major third, since mm. 8-9 are a transposition of mm. 4-5 (as shown in Fig.
9A); instead, mm. 8-9 create a new motive, and this motive sequences up a
full octave in mm. 8-15 by equal major thirds (again, the harmonic structure
follows this sequence).
Fig. 9B shows that the structure is based on three equidistant key
centers: B major, G major, and E-flat major. The first section consists of an
octave descent from B to B, divided into two phrases. First, B major moves
downward through G to E-flat, with each of these keys supported with a
rapid dominant-tonic cadence. A ii-V-I cadence separates the two phrases,
and the downward motion by major thirds resumes, starting on G and
moving through E-flat to B, again with each key established by a quick V-I
cadence. The second section is an "answer" to the first, a root ascent of a full
Demsey - Chromatic Third Relations 28

octave from E-flat to E-flat. The harmonic motion slows as the ascent moves
through the three key centers of the cyclic relationship (E-flat, G, B and E-flat)
again, establishing each with a ii-V-I cadence. The final measure of the piece
is a "turnaround" or "turnback," a half cadence in B which sets up the next
repetition of the sixteen-measure chorus.
There are several unusual features of "Giant Steps," features which make
it unique among the pieces in this study. David Baker described
compositions like "Countdown" and "Giant Steps" as being written "in the
manner of an etude."25 If this piece is viewed as a type of exercise, then the
overall purpose of the composition was to blur the identity of the tonic key
center. The harmony has no "top" or "bottom," no starting point perceived
from the diatonic series of a major or minor scale; none of the keys is
indicated as the center by the harmonic rhythm. So, the most important key
of the three can only be determined through the context of the melodic and
harmonic phrase structure. However, these harmonic and melodic sections
are purposely misaligned: the melodic elision between the first and second
sections has been discussed; this elision also occurs harmonically, since the ii-
V in m. 8 resolves in m. 9. The listener's ear automatically falls into this
pattern of hearing each ii-V-I cadence as a separate idea, and consequently m.
16 appears to continue the sequence which has ascended through the second
section into the beginning of the next chorus. Yet, when viewed melodically,
this same m. 16 seems to float separately from the second section. When the
melody is present, the piece does seem to end logically in m. 15 (indeed, there
is a fermata here in the final chorus of the recorded version). However, when
only the chord progression is played and repeated, as during an improvised
Demsey - Chromatic Third Relations 29

solo, it has a truly "endless" quality since no cadence sounds more

harmonically or rhythmically important than another. In his study of jazz
harmony, Henry Martin goes so far as to state that since "no chord is
prolonged through the entire work, the piece is not tonal."26
Coltrane is successful in his blurring of the identity of the tonic key, at
least if we contrast my views to those of Andrew Jaffe. In an analysis of
aspects of "Giant Steps," he asserts that "since this piece begins and ends in B,
we hear it as the primary key center."27 It certainly begins in B; in fact, the
Figure 9B shows that Section 1 can be seen as having a B center. However, I
disagree that the piece ends in B; the final closure is in E-flat, in m. 15. The ii-
V in m. 16 simply readies the ear for the next occurrence of m. 1, as would an
optional "turnaround" included in any jazz standard. The ending of
Coltrane's recorded version finishes with a cadenza on a tonic E-flat chord,
not B. Additional evidence for the importance of the key of E-flat exists when
we observe the total number of cadences in this piece. This total is equal for
all three keys, with one exception. Each of the key areas is approached using
a ii-V-I cadence twice: B in mm. 13 and 16/1; E-flat in mm. 9 and 15; and G in
mm. 5 and 11; however, E-flat is approached by V-I relationship twice, in
mm. 3 and 6, while the other two keys are only approached in this manner
once (G in m. 2, B in m. 7). It is notable that three of the four cadences in E-
flat occur at important structural points: the first occurs together with the first
sustained note value of the piece in m. 3; and another two occur to start and
end the upward sequence which comprises the second section. While it is
perhaps an overstatement to claim that the piece is "in E-flat," this is the most
important tonality.
Demsey - Chromatic Third Relations 30

Jaffe finds another unusual characteristic of this piece outside the realm
of its tight harmonic organization: there is a system of pitch control present
as well (shown in Fig. 9C). He notes that when a seven-pitch set is formed
using all of the pitches from mm. 1-8, the five remaining pitches comprise a
transposition of the motive seen in mm. 1-3. Also, when a nine-pitch set is
formed using all of the pitches from mm. 9-16, the remaining three pitches
form an augmented chord which is a transposition of the cyclic key
relationships found in this piece.
In addition to Jaffe's findings, there is another unusual pitch
organization characteristic in "Giant Steps" (shown in Fig. 9D). The melody
notes in Jaffe's nine-pitch set are also the nine chord roots of the piece. Again,
the remaining pitches form an augmented triad comprising a transposition of
the key relationship present. When these pitches are set in ascending order,
they form a symmetrical scale which repeats itself at the interval of a major
It has been documented that Coltrane worked out the harmonic scheme
of "Giant Steps" long before it was recorded, but mention is rarely made of
the pitch organization. Could this degree of pitch control have been a
coincidence, or simply a natural occurrence as a result of the harmonic
properties of the piece and high degree of sequential material? Figure 9E
shows the remaining three unused pitches not included in Coltrane's melody.
Next to each of those pitches are the chords included in the harmony of
"Giant Steps" which contain these notes as chord tones, and which therefore
could have supported these pitches as melody notes. Coltrane avoided all of
these many possibilities - a coincidence is almost impossible.
Demsey - Chromatic Third Relations 31

Although this study mainly focuses upon the analysis of Coltrane's

music and its structural similarity to earlier models, it is natural to explore
direct links between Coltrane and earlier examples. When the saxophonist's
background and training are taken into consideration, it is not surprising that
he had knowledge of jazz and popular songs of earlier decades, and also of
European classical pieces of an earlier century.
A working memorized knowledge of the dozens, even hundreds, of
popular songs is a standard requirement for any jazz performer. This is
accomplished by the recognition of harmonic and melodic clichs and
unusual features as they occur in the repertoire, and the formulation of an
improvisational language which enables automatic reaction to these clichs in
all keys, regardless of the composition where they occur.
In the process of internalizing the jazz repertoire, Coltrane undoubtedly
gained a structural understanding of a huge body of music, much larger than
modern listeners will ever be able to document from his recordings or his
interviews. Although there are no known Coltrane recordings of "Have You
Met Miss Jones?," it was undoubtedly familiar to him along with other tunes
using chromatic third relationships, since it became widely played by jazz
musicians in the forties and is still considered an active part of the jazz
In addition, Nicolas Slonimsky's Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic
Patterns represents a direct and documentable connection between John
Coltrane and the musical thought of the late nineteenth century. It is
presently impossible to determine whether or not specific music by Wolf or
Demsey - Chromatic Third Relations 32

any nineteenth-century composer is as directly connected as Slonimsky's

book. Although this study has attempted to establish any actual connections
which may exist, these connections are not as significant as the structural
similarities between the pieces themselves.
Demsey - Chromatic Third Relations 33


1 John Coltrane in collaboration with Don DeMicheal, "Coltrane on Coltrane,"

Downbeat 27 (29 September, 1960): 26-7.
2 Gregory Michael Proctor, Nineteenth-Century Chromatic Tonality: A Study in
Chromaticism (Ph.D. Diss., Princeton, 1978): 150.
3 Deborah Stein, Hugo Wolf's Lieder and Extensions of Tonality (Ann Arbor:
UMI Research Press, 1985): 91-109. Each of the three songs show
chromatic third relationships on an increasingly localized level: "Das
Stndchen" is a four-stanza piece which contains an overall octave ascent
by thirds, each stanza transposed a major third higher than the previous;
"Und steht Ihr frh am Morgen" contains two octave ascents by major
thirds in its first twenty-four measures; and "In dem Schatten meiner
Locken" is the most localized example, containing an eight-measure
passage where direct major-third ascents occur without supportive
dominant harmony.
4 Charles Hamm, Yesterdays: Popular Song in America (New York: Norton,
5 A list of some of the best known jazz standards using third relations follows,
with brief descriptions of the harmonic layout of each song:
"The Way You Look Tonight" (1936, Jerome Kern) A sixty-four measure
AABA tune with four sixteen-measures sections; "A" sections never
leave the home key of F major; "B" section consists of cadential material
up a minor third in A-flat major.
Demsey - Chromatic Third Relations 34

"I Love You" (Cole Porter) Harmony is entirely comprised of cadential

material in the home key of F major, except for a motion to III#, a pair
of cadences in A beginning in m. 12.
"Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" (1933, Jerome Kern) An AABA ballad which
has an "A" section using cadential material in the home key of E-flat;
"B" section contains cadences in B major, the lowered sixth.
"April in Paris" (1932, Vernon Duke) A thirty-two measure piece which is a
variation on the usual four-part song form, AA1BA2. Home key is C

major; the end of the "B" section makes an unexpected motion to E

major in m. 24, just prior to the turnaround and the return of the home
"The Song Is You" (1932, Jerome Kern) A thirty-two measure AABA1 form

in C major containing only cadential material in the home key during

the "A" sections; moves with no preparation (no secondary dominant
support) to E major for the bridge.
"S'Wonderful" (1927, George Gershwin) In an AABA form with a home key
of E-flat major, the "B" section begins up a major third in G major.
"Tea For Two" (1924, Caesars/Youmans) The well-known melody of the
first eight measures is stated in the home key of A-flat; it then is
repeated, along with its harmony, up a major third in C major.
6 Hamm, 368.
7 Hamm, 363-4.
8 In a doctoral research paper, "Stravinsky's 'Ebony Concerto': Neoclassical and
Jazz Influences," the author demonstrates that bop pioneers Charlie Parker
Demsey - Chromatic Third Relations 35

and Dizzy Gillespie were deeply interested in the music of Stravinsky and
9 J.C. Thomas, Chasin' the Trane, (New York: Da Capo, 1979): 52. This book is
the most widely read biographical work on Coltrane. It is easily readable
and makes a good introduction to Coltrane's musical and personal life. It
falls somewhat short, however, with respect to scholarly thoroughness; it
is often impossible to determine the date (even the year) of events
discussed, and sometimes event sequences are blurred by personal
10 letter to the author, 12 April, 1989.
11 Thomas, 51.
12 Nicolas Slonimsky, Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns (New York:
Scribner, 1947)
Other Slonimsky books are:
Nicolas Slonimsky, Music Since 1900, 4th ed. (New York: Charles
Scribner's Sons, 1971). Rather than being written in the textbook
style one might expect, this is a day-by-day chronology of musical
events and oddities since January 1, 1900.
Lexicon of Musical Invective, 2nd ed. (Seattle: Univ. of Washington Press,
1979), a collection of bad concert reviews since the time of
Beethoven, criticism of works now considered masterpieces which
is often hilarious in its nastiness;
Slonimsky is the editor of Baker's Biographical Dictionary of Musicians,
7th ed. (New York: Schirmer, 1984). It is a widely used reference
Demsey - Chromatic Third Relations 36

book, but few readers notice the less than subtle humor in
Slonimsky's autobiographical entry on p.2146;
Nicolas Slonimsky, Perfect Pitch: A Life Story (New York: Oxford, 1988)
is the author's recently published autobiography. It contains an
entire chapter on the Thesaurus of Scales.
Nicolas Slonimsky, Lectionary of Music (New York, McGraw-Hill, 1989)
is Slonimsky's newest publication at this writing; it is intended as a
dictionary for browsers, full of musical anecdotes and quirks of
13 Thomas, 102.
14 Thomas, 101-2; McCoy Tyner interviewed by the author on the campus of the
University of Maine in February 1989.
15 Gordon D. McQuere, "The Theories of Boleslav Yavorsky" chap. in Russian
Theoretical Thought in Music (Ann Arbor: UMI Research Press, 1983): 111.
16 Slonimsky, Thesaurus, vi. I would like to thank Robert Wason of the
Eastman School of Music for bringing this to my attention.
17 Coltrane/DeMicheal, 26-7.
18 There are other later Coltrane compositions which contain chromatic third
relationships, often identical to those used in "Countdown." Following is
a list of some of these pieces recorded on Coltrane albums.

1. Coltrane Compositions Based on Standard Chord Progressions:

"Fifth House" [rec. 12/2/59 on the album "Coltrane Jazz", seven months
after "Countdown" and "Giant Steps"] Based on the chord
progression of the standard tune "What Is This Thing Called Love?,"
Demsey - Chromatic Third Relations 37

takes its title from the Tadd Dameron tune "Hot House" based on the
same chord progression, as well as from Coltrane's interest in
astrology. A thirty-two measure AABA form, it contains the same
descent by major thirds which appears in "Countdown," in the "A"
sections in the keys of F and C, and in the "B" section in B-flat.
"26-2" [rec. 10/24/60, on the same day as "Central Park West" and "Body
and Soul"] Based on the chord progression of the Charlie Parker
composition "Confirmation." A thirty-two measure AABA form
utilizes the "Countdown" cycle in F and B-flat in the "A" sections, but
closely recalls the original "B" section of "Confirmation." This is the
first piece on which Coltrane played both soprano and tenor
"Satellite" [rec. 10/24/60, on the album "Coltrane's Sound"] A thirty-two
measure tune based on the chords of the standard tune "How High
the Moon." The "Countdown" cycle appears in descending keys of G
and F, and partially at the tune's end.
2. Original Coltrane Compositions:
"Exotica" [rec. summer 1960 on the album "Echoes of An Era"] This AABA
form uses a major third descent in C major twice during the "A"
section, and in G at the end of the bridge (interrupted by a Dm7
inserted before G7).
"Naima" [rec. 12/2/59 on the album "Giant Steps"] A ballad, mostly using
pedal tone effects, features a root descent by thirds at the end of the
bridge: while a B-flat pedal sounds, a Bmaj7 drops a minor third to
Abmaj7, then down a major third to Emaj7, finally descending a minor
Demsey - Chromatic Third Relations 38

third to Dbmaj7 to begin the final "A" section; no supporting

secondary dominants are present.
"Like Sonny" [rec. 12/2/59 on the album "Coltrane Jazz"] This title refers
to the main motive of the tune, a sixteenth-note mordent figure which
Coltrane borrowed from an improvised solo by fellow tenor
saxophonist Sonny Rollins. This ABA piece uses minor seventh
chords which move by thirds. The "A" section uses minor thirds: Dm
lasts for two measures, moves to Fm for two measures and Abm for
two measures, followed by a cadence in E-flat major. The "B" section
is a major third descent: Am lasts for two measures, descends to Fm
for two measures and Dbm for two measures, finally cadencing in C-
flat major. All of the above motion harmonizes parallel melodic
motion of the main motive.
"Miles' Mode" [rec. 6/21/62 on the album "Coltrane"] This is a modal
tune, an eight-measure melody written over a minor-mode (dorian or
aeolian) pedal. Its melody is unusual in that its first portion is based
on a twelve-tone row. As shown below, the row first appears in its
"prime" form, then in retrograde (the final four measures are a melody
are based on a minor pentatonic scale). When the row is divided in
half, Hexachord A can be recombined into two minor triads, and
Hexachord B can be seen as two major triads; the major triads are
each a major third above the minor triads. This third-relation sound
is not apparent in the row because the pitches are scrambled - but
the row does appear in its triadic form in the Slonimsky Thesaurus,

and Coltrane may have found it there. Also note that the row has
Demsey - Chromatic Third Relations 39

other properties: Hexachords A and B are both set class 6-33, i.e. they
contain the same intervals.

19 Although often performed, the authorship of "Tune Up" is disputed: while

many claim that saxophonist Eddie Vinson is the composer, others
attribute it to Miles Davis. This was assumed to be Davis' tune until a
relatively recent publication corroborated the story. In Ian Carr's Miles
Davis (New York: Quill, 1984), he interviews Eddie Vinson [p. 109], who
says, "He [Miles] was in Kansas City and he needed some tunes. He said,
'well, man, can I take these [compositions 'Tune Up' and 'Four']?' I said,
'Yeah, just put my name on it.' I hadn't bother to copyright it at the
time...I've seen him since, we're still friends! Oh, he's tried to pay me, but
I just enjoy his playing anyway". Indeed, Miles Davis holds the copyright
on the piece, and has not commented on this subject.
20 Some "underground" jazz anthologies such as early editions of the "Real
Book" show this as a Dmaj7 chord, probably out of careless editing; I
know of no recorded version where this is played.
21 William Cole, "The Style of Coltrane," (Ph.D. Diss., Wesleyan University,
1974): 106.
Demsey - Chromatic Third Relations 40

22 February, 1989 interview by the author.

23 Thomas, 40.
24 Valerie Wilmer, "Conversation with Coltrane," Jazz Journal 15, No. 1,
(January 1962): 2.
25 David Baker, "The Jazz Style of John Coltrane," (Lebanon, IN: Studio P/R,
1980): 37.
26 Henry Martin, "Jazz Harmony: A Syntactic Background," Annual Review of
Jazz Studies 4 (1986): 23.
27 Andrew Jaffe, Jazz Theory (Dubuque: Wm. C. Brown, 1983): 170.