Sheets of sound

Sheets of sound

Sheets of sound was a term coined in 1958 by "Down Beat" magazine jazz critic Ira Gitler to describe the new, unique improvisational style of John Coltrane.cite web
last = Hentoff
first = Nat
authorlink = Nat Hentoff
title = Liner notes for John Coltrane: Giant Steps (Deluxe Edition)
publisher = Rhino Entertainment
year = 1960
url =
accessdate = 2008-02-15
quote = While he was with Miles, Coltrane was tagged with the phrase "sheets of sound." Jazz critic Ira Gitler had first used it. These "sheets of sound" were multinote hailstorms of dense textures that sound like a simultaneous series of waterfalls. "His continuous flow of ideas without stopping really hit me," Gitler said. "It was almost superhuman. The amount of energy he was using could have powered a spaceship."
] cite web
last = Gitler
first = Ira
authorlink = Ira Gitler
title = 'Trane On The Track
publisher = "Down Beat"
date = 1958-10-16
url =
accessdate = 2008-02-15
] Gitler first used the term on the liner notes for "Soultrane" (1958).Porter 1999, p. 319.]


Coltrane employed extremely dense improvisational yet patterned lines consisting of high speed arpeggios and scale patterns played in rapid succession: hundreds of notes running from the lowest to highest registers.Porter 1999, p. 111.] The lines are often faster than sixteenth notes, consisting of quintuplets, septuplets, etc., and can sound like glissandos.cite web
last = Coltrane
first = John
authorlink = John Coltrane
title = Coltrane on Coltrane
publisher = "Down Beat"
date = 1960-09-29
url =
accessdate = 2008-02-15
] The saxophonist invented this style while playing with Thelonious Monk and later developed it further when he returned to Miles Davis's group. Both leaders were are known to have facilitated a free atmosphere where Coltrane was able to experiment on the bandstand.

Vertical approach

The saxophonist used the "sheets of sound" lines to emphasize chords, modes, and such harmony.Coltrane 1960] The music of Miles Davis gave Coltrane the freedom to apply harmonic ideas to stacked chords and substitutions.Porter 1999, p. 160. Coltrane states; "In fact, due to the direct and free-flowing lines of his [Davis's] 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 E#b7, up to an F#7, [resolving] down to an F. That way I could play three chords on one..."] Further, this open approach allowed Coltrane to arpeggiate three chords simultaneously, a style Monk initially taught Coltrane. The "three-on-one chord approach" gave the music a fluid, sweeping sound that was harmonically vertical.Coltrane 1960] Concepts of vertical (chordal) versus horizontal (melody) are key ideas in the work of George Russell, whom Coltrane had recorded with in September 1958.Porter 1999, p. 160.] This approach reflected Coltrane's fascination with third relations. Sometimes he used diminished chords, other times he used augmented chords. At times, Coltrane might use scales or licks in the passing keys instead of arpeggios. Coltrane employed these harmonic ideas during his "sheets of sound" stage in 1958. At other times, he would simply play rapid patterns of diminished-scales.Porter 1999, p. 161.]


The "sheets of sound" approach can be heard as early as the 1957 collaboration with Monk in solos like the one on "Trinkle, Tinkle" from the album "Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane".Porter 1999, p. 111.] Coltrane's live performance of "If I Were a Bell" with the Miles Davis sextet on September 9, 1958, well exemplifies his use of the "sheets of sound" during this stage of his career. In "Trane on the Track", an article published on October 16, 1958 in "Down Beat" magazine, Coltrane spoke to Ira Gitler about the sheets of sound, telling him, "Now it is not a thing of beauty, and the only way it would be justified is if it becomes that. If I can't work it through, I will drop it." Coltrane began using the style intermittently in 1959, preferring to incorporate it into his solos in a less abrupt manner.Porter 1999, pp. 132-134.]

elected recordings

*"Traneing In" (1957)
*"Thelonious Monk with John Coltrane" (1957)
*"Thelonious Monk Quartet with John Coltrane at Carnegie Hall" (1957)
*"Miles & Monk at Newport" (1958)
*"'58 Miles Featuring Stella By Starlight" (1958)
*"Milestones" (1958)
*"Soultrane" (1958)
*"Kind of Blue" (1959)
*"Giant Steps" (1960)



*cite book
last = Kahn
first = Ashley
others = Elvin Jones
authorlink = Ashley Kahn
title = A Love Supreme: The Story of John Coltrane's Signature Album
publisher = Penguin Books
year = 2003
origdate = 2002
isbn = 0142003522

*cite book
last = Lavezzoli
first = Peter
title = The Dawn of Indian Music in the West
publisher = Continuum International Publishing Group
year = 2006
isbn = 0826418155

*cite book
last = Nisenson
first = Eric
authorlink = Eric Nisenson
title = Ascension: John Coltrane and His Quest
publisher = Da Capo Press
year = 1995
isbn = 0306806444

*cite book
last = Porter
first = Lewis
authorlink = Lewis Porter
title = John Coltrane: His Life and Music
publisher = University of Michigan Press
year = 1999
isbn = 047208643X

Further reading

*cite book
last = Baker
first = David
authorlink =
title = The Jazz Style of John Coltrane: A Musical and Historical Perspective
publisher = Warner Bros Publications
year = 1990
isbn = 0769233260

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