Date of Award


Document Type

Honors Thesis (Open Access)


Colby College. Music Dept.


Paul S. Machlin

Second Advisor

Eric B. Thomas


John William Coltrane (1926-1967) was a prominent African-American jazz saxophonist and prolific composer. The evolution of his mature career seems, from my perspective, to fall roughly into the following periods: (1) “Vertical” (ca.1955-59), (2) “Modal” (ca.1960-63) and (3) “Avant-garde” (ca. 1964-67). During this entire 12-year interlude, the artist was moving in several different directions.

Unfortunately, his working band was not well documented. However, a recording of this group in concert at Carnegie Hall in 1957 was discovered and issued in 2005 by Blue Note Records. The Blue Note compilation is the first and only full-length high-quality recording of the group. Many rare recordings have achieved posthumous fame, but this one is special: “it fully lives up to expectations!” (Porter, 20).

The Carnegie Hall recording, which on paper might appear to be just another gig, was something extraordinary. In my opinion, this performance was the second definitive recital by Coltrane (the first being Blue Train). Indeed, he was “cruel” on Blue Train, but John Coltrane was a monster at Carnegie Hall. In 1957, he was clearly playing on another, higher, level.

The entire Carnegie Hall performance is extraordinary, as a comparison of the two alternate takes of Epistrophy illustrates. I hope to demonstrate, through the forthcoming analysis, three aspects of Coltrane’s technique of improvisation: (1) his conscious development of melodic gestures, and their maximum implication level (namely the ascending melodic gesture in m.8 of the first Epistrophy); (2) his systematic scalar approach; and (3) the ways in which Coltrane’s solo on the second Epistrophy is an extrapolation or development of the first. In the end, I want to explore what the music is doing, not just on the surface level from gesture to gesture, but more importantly, in terms of the compositional relationship between the two solos. There are many structural connections.


jazz, saxophone, improvisation, transcription

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