Did John Coltrane give us “training wheels” for Giant Steps?

John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” is indeed a giant step for any jazz musician. It’s fast, harmonically challenging, and has a circular form that’s easy to get lost in. Tackling Giant Steps is a longterm process that can take years, if not decades, to master. And it’s an essential part of learning how to play jazz piano in the post bop styles.

But what if Coltrane gave us a stepping stone towards learning Giant Steps? Training wheels, so to speak. A tune that’s similar, but slower and easier to learn. A tune that will help us eventually learn Giant Steps?

It turns out that he did, whether or not he thought of it like this.

The tune is called “Central Park West,” and he recorded it about a year after Giant Steps, in 1960. Like Giant Steps, it moves quickly through key centers that are related by thirds. The only difference is that in Giant Steps the keys are a major 3rds apart and in Central Park West they’re in minor thirds.

The challenges are much the same, but at a much slower pace than the earlier tune. This gives us time to think, breath, and play in a way that we feel comfortable with. This can be a valuable first step towards learning to improvise over these types of chord progressions at light speed, like we have to do on Giant Steps. The ending of Central Park West is also helpful in that Coltrane alternates between 2 chords for a while, before we go back to the top of the tune.

I’ve made a video of “Central Park West” as part of my Journey Through The Real Book series. It felt really nice to navigate through these chord changes in a melodic way!

Enjoy watching what I played here, and then give the tune a try yourself, or revisit it if you’ve played it before. And then, one you’re comfortable soloing over the chord progression, go back and take another look at Giant Steps. It will probably be a little easier after you’ve played Central Park West for a while. Good luck, and remember to enjoy the whole process!

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