Those of you who know me and my musical history know the impact the Charlie Parker Omnibook has had on me since I discovered it in High School many years ago. I was an alto saxophone player then. I could care less about the tenor saxophone. That all changed in 1986 when I first heard Michael Brecker play on a Steps Ahead recording ( I believe it was Magnetic). I had never heard anything like that before and I soon bought a tenor saxophone (It was an H. Couf tenor I bought from Ken Gioffre…….thanks Ken………)
Soon after I discovered Brecker, I started delving into his influences………. Which of course meant John Coltrane! John Coltrane was always a bit of an enigma for me as an alto player. I knew him as the guy who played way too many notes that I could never decipher or figure out. As a committed saxophone player, I of course bought all of the recordings that all sax players are required to have if they want to progress to the next level. These included Giant Steps, Blue Train, Coltrane’s Sound, Live at Birdland, A Love Supreme, etc……………… I would listen to them endlessly hoping that they would rub off on me in some magical way. I dreamed at night that I could somehow channel Coltrane and play just like him. This was of course before the creation of slow down transcription software and all that. I would just listen to these amazing blurs of notes (sheets of sound they were called) and be in complete awe………(but have no idea what he was playing……..)
A couple of months ago, I heard of a new Hal Leonard release titled the John Coltrane Omnibook. I was immediately interested. John Coltrane, one of the greatest tenor saxophone players of all time and the word Omnibook were being combined ( I knew Omnibook from the Charlie Parker Omnibook which I worked out of all through High School). To be honest, Charlie Parker was as big a mystery to me as Coltrane was when I was a kid but The Charlie Parker Omnibook put all these notes on to paper for me so I could work on them. Some of these notes were upward of 320 on the metronome for 16th notes…………..If the Coltrane Omnibook could help me decipher some of Coltrane’s playing like the Charlie Parker Omnibook did, then I had to get it.
The John Coltrane Omnibook is sitting on my desk in front of me now as I type this. It is a solid book and well made. It’s plastic comb bound and a hearty 285 pages long. Taking a look through the book, you immediately get a sense that Hal Leonard knows how to print music! I have seen many Coltrane transcriptions before and usually the density of notes on the page is enough to scare off the greatest sight reader to ever live. Hal Leonard has had the insight to actually print the transcriptions so they are easier to read. Don’t get me wrong, playing a John Coltrane solo is still incredibly hard but……….they have the courtesy of making the notes look as pleasant as possible on the page. The layout is spectacular. On some pages you will see 8 measures per lines and on other pages you will see 2 measures or even 1 measure per line. It doesn’t feel cramped and cluttered at all. I just opened the book to a random page and in one measure there is 35 notes. (page 45 last line…….) The fact that they give this one measure a whole line makes a world of difference. Does it make it easier to play…….NO, not really BUT…….it does make it easier for my brain to decipher and perhaps grasp………..that is important………..
The other element that is nice is that the pages don’t have a fixed number of staves on them. They vary from 7 to 11. You get the impression that someone at Hal Leonard (they deserve a raise) went through this book page by page with the goal of making it as easy to read as possible. Whoever this unnamed employee at Hall Leonard is I commend thee. Job well done. This book looks great!
Now, as far as the solo’s that are transcribed, there are a good mix of the common solo transcriptions……..Impression, Mr. PC, Giant Steps, Moment’s Notice, 26-2.etc………… and some less common solos like “Cattin'” (I haven’t even heard of this tune so I will need to find the recording of this one.) Here’s the complete list of solos included in the book: Acknowledgement, Airegin, Alabama, All Blues, All or Nothing at All, Bessie’s Blues, Blue Train, Body and Soul, By the Numbers*, Bye Bye Blackbird, Cattin’*, Central Park West, Chasin’ the Trane, Countdown, Cousin Mary, Crescent, Eclypso*, Equinox, Giant Steps, Goldsboro Express*, Grand Central, Impressions, In a Sentimental Mood, India, Just For the Love*, Lazy Bird, Like Sonny, Locomotion, Lonnie’s Lament, Lush Life, Mary’s Blues, Mr. PC, Moment’s Notice, My Favorite Things, My One and Only Love, Naima, Nita*, Oleo, Omicron*, Paul’s Pal, Pursuance, Russian Lullaby*, So What, Softly as a Morning Sunrise, Some Other Blues, Spiral, Syeeda’s Song Flute, Theme for Ernie, 26-2, Velvet Scene*, We Six* and Witches Pit*. (The titles starred * I have never heard of)
You might look through this list and think that you already have many of these transcriptions in your collection but how readable are they? That is a big deal for me as I like having music that is easy to read as I work through the solos I am working on. Ease of readability is a huge plus in my book.
Just so you know, the John Coltrane Omnibook doesn’t seem to have key signatures in it. Instead they have opted for accidentals for the notes that need them. This might seem like a strange choice but I actually like it. When you are dealing with (sheets of sound-meaning tons of notes all played incredibly fast) I find it kind of nice to not have to worry about key signatures. What you see in front of the note dictates what it is…………Nice!
The other element of the book that looks impressive are the chord symbols. If you look through the book you see a ton of interesting chord symbols: F7#9, G7#5(#9), A13(b9), F13sus,etc………… I haven’t had time to go through every chord in the book but on first glance it looks like the transcribers did their work to the best of their ability. No one puts an A13(b9) or F13sus unless they can hear those sounds. That’s a good sign to me. I like to see that……… It means someone listened to the recordings with a good enough ear that they heard (or thought they heard) those sounds and wrote it down. Either way, they cared enough to do the work and try to nail down the sounds they heard……..I like that.
I am just starting to dig into the John Coltrane Omnibook but I really hope that they come out with a Coltrane Omnibook 2, 3 and 4. Does this book magically impart us with the ability to play Coltrane solos……….No! But it does get us closer to deciphering them and implementing his vocabulary and licks into our own playing……….
Great job Hal Leonard. I am grateful for this book…….It will keep me busy for many more years………..If you are interested in the Hal Leonard John Coltrane Omnibook you can order it at MusicDispatch.com.
if you have the book let me know what you think in the comments down below. Thanks, Steve
PS. As I finish this review I have the Charlie Parker Omnibook and the John Coltrane Omnibook side by side on my desk. I love how the cover of both have the profiles of Bird and Trane on the left side of the cover……..Nice touch. If you don’t hear from me for awhile, I’ll be in the practice room practicing my Coltrane transcriptions………..