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Everywhere I go I find a pal

Everywhere I go  I find a pal Everywhere I go  I find a pal

Peter Weinschenk, Editor, The Record-Review

COVID-19 is a crazy-making drag… masks, Zoom meetings and too many obituaries.

But maybe it’s also an opportunity.

In not driving to so many meetings, festivals and other community events, I find I have a few more minutes each day to devote to my jazz guitar studies and practice.

In these extra minutes, I have learned a number of Real Book tunes, practiced pentatonic scales up and down the fretboard and worked on soloing.

That is, kinda easy stuff.

I have also put a hard thing on my guitar list. That is to improvise over “Giant Steps,” the landmark John Coltrane jazz classic from 1960.

I have tried to master “Giant Steps” for years. In mountaineering terms, I have climbed up to base camp several times, only to be swept away by wind and ice and fury. In each adventure, I have been barely able to see the peak thousands of feet above me.

So, I am working at it. I have two books devoted to learning “Giant Steps” and a video lesson. I have bookmarked several YouTube videos each promising an “easy” method to solo over the famously challenging tune.

Right now, I don’t know which of these tutorials will provide me with a route to the summit. So, I am trying each out, learning a little bit at a time.

“Giant Steps” is a hard tune, one that many jazz musicians deliberately avoid. The difficulty, however, is not because the tune is so harmonically sophisticated, but rather because it runs through simple, vanilla changes but across three keys (B, G and Eb) and at a fast clip. Coltrane, the master saxophone player, handles every chord with precision, soul and superhuman grace.

The student of “Giant Steps” listens in awe as Coltrane skamps up the side of the mountain, seemingly without effort.

But I have a little strategy on my side this time. I am learning to put the awe on the shelf. I am focusing on the simple.

My current task is to play the song chords in a way that emphasizes the melody. As I play these chords, I allow my fingers to wander a bit, improvising a short phrase here or there.

Picture a mountaineer dangling his foot into the air searching for a solid hunk of granite to step onto.

My hope is that I will be able to scale the “Giant Steps” mountain by feel and intuition, not only by book learning.

Honestly, I don’t know if I can ever master “Giant Steps.” It may demand more dedication that I am able to give. I may grow bored, tired or frustrated. Coltrane practiced all of the time to get things right. I am inspired by his example, but I am hardly the musician he was.

My perspective is that life right now with COVID-19 is hard.

The way to deal with that, perhaps, is to dedicate oneself to something even harder.

I want to learn to play “Giant Steps.”

Contact Peter Weinschenk at pweinschenk@