ARTS 627
Miles Davis and John Coltrane: The Lives and Music of Two Jazz Giants

Noah Baerman


Miles Davis (1926-1967) and John Coltrane (1926-1967) stand out as the most influential jazz musicians of the last fifty years.  Each of them had a profound influence on the evolution of the music and each has become an enduring cultural icon at a level that transcends the world of jazz.  Their music and careers evolved quite differently and their personalities could hardly have been less alike.  However, their names will be forever linked in jazz lore due to their exalted status and due to the groundbreaking music they created together from 1955-1960. 

In this course we will examine both musicians in depth.  We will study their lives, their personalities and, most of all, their music.  We will explore the full trajectory of each man's career from apprentice to innovator, learning about the elements that made up their styles as players and bandleaders at different stages along the way.  Along the way we will touch on the music of numerous other jazz legends with whom their paths crossed, such as Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, McCoy Tyner, Bill Evans and Wayne Shorter.  We will also put the contributions of Davis and Coltrane into the broader context of jazz history, including an examination of how contemporary jazz has assimilated these innovations. 

Sound recordings will be the primary source material for this course, with some video footage. At-home studies of recordings will include the Miles Davis album Kind of Blue and the John Coltrane album A Love Supreme (which you may buy as CDs or digital downloads), as well as 51 songs available online through ITunes (more information later in syllabus). We will also read the books So What: The Life of Miles Davis by John Szwed and John Coltrane: His Life and His Music by Lewis Porter.


Class Participation: 15%
Weekly "Reflections": 15%
Comparative Essays: 45%
Final Project: 25%

Attendance Policy

You are strongly encouraged to attend every class.  While there are no specific penalties for missing a class (aside from "zero" grades for that day's class participation), it is unlikely that any student who misses class with any frequency will be able to succeed.  With significant emphasis on listening to recordings (including many not available on ITunes), the information and perspective presented in class will be very important.  If you must miss class, it is your responsibility to hand in that week's assignment on time (emailing me a paper is usually an acceptable solution) and to catch up on any missed information.  You are encouraged to find at least one "buddy" who can share notes with you and/or record the class if you should miss one.  Assignments handed in late will be lowered by one letter grade per week.


This is only a brief overview.  More details on these assignments can be found in the "Assignment Addendum" supplement. 

  • Weekly "Reflections": Each week you will be asked to write and submit (via email or "hard copy") brief reflections on what struck you in the week's music and readings.  This is a fairly informal assignment, and the highest six grades will be averaged at the end of the term.

  • Comparative Essays: Each of these essays will compare two assigned pieces of music, picking apart the various elements that make up each performance.  The "optional, un-graded essay" assigned early in the semester allows you to pick two songs of your choice (not necessarily from this course) and write analyze in this way to get feedback about whether you are on the right track in anticipation of the graded essays.   

  • Final Project: This will be an in-depth examination of a specific topic relating to Davis and/or Coltrane.  There will be an ongoing dialogue between professor and student to explore, find and narrow down an appropriate topic.  It will take the form of a written essay along with a brief in-class presentation in which you will share a summary of your findings.

Course Schedule

Note that all assignments are due on the class dates under which they are listed.  For more information about specific assignments, including the week's listening selections, see the separate Assignment Addendum.

June 30 Course Introduction; How Jazz Works; Jazz Before Miles and 'Trane
July 2

Early Miles: The Charlie Parker Years and the pre-Coltrane Solo Years 

Optional non-graded essay: follow format of Comparative Essay, but choose your own topic - pick 2 songs you like that have something in common. Do this if you want feedback on your analytical writing before the graded essays begin.

"Now's the Time" by Charlie Parker (with Miles Davis)
"Little Willie Leaps" by Miles Davis
"Boplicity" by Miles Davis
"Dear Old Stockholm" by Miles Davis (Best of Miles Davis version)
"Airegin" by Miles Davis (Bag's Groove version)
"Nature Boy" by Miles Davis

Szwed chapters 1-4

July 7

Early Coltrane; Miles and Coltrane Together, Part 1 

Research local libraries with collections of recordings 

Begin email dialogue about final project topics 

"We Love to Boogie" by Dizzy Gillespie (with John Coltrane)
"Airegin" by Miles Davis (Cookin' version)
"My Funny Valentine" by Miles Davis
"Dear Old Stockholm" ('Round About Midnight version) by Miles Davis
"Bye Bye Blackbird" ('Round About Midnight version) by Miles Davis 

Szwed chapter 5
Porter chapter 1-10

July 9

Miles and Gil Evans; Coltrane and Thelonious Monk; Coltrane's Early Solo Work 

Comparative Essay #1: Compare the two versions of "Dear Old Stockholm" by Miles Davis 

"I Hear a Rhapsody" by John Coltrane
"Violets With Your Furs" by John Coltrane
"Trinkle, Tinkle" by Thelonious Monk (with John Coltrane)
"My Ship" by Miles Davis
"Summertime" by Miles Davis
"Saeta" by Miles Davis 

Porter chapter 11
Szwed chapter 5 (review Gil Evans portions)

July 14

Miles and Coltrane Together, Part 2; Coltrane Forms His Own Band, Miles Soldiers On 

Initial Final Project Proposal (can be submitted in person or via email) 

"Miles" by Miles Davis
"On Green Dolphin Street" by Miles Davis
the entire Kind of Blue album by Miles Davis
"Giant Steps" by John Coltrane
"Everytime We Say Goodbye" by John Coltrane
"Body and Soul" by John Coltrane
"The Night Has A Thousand Eyes" by John Coltrane
"Someday My Prince Will Come" by Miles Davis
"Bye Bye Blackbird" (live At the Blackhawk version) by Miles Davis 

Porter chapters 12-14
Szwed "Interlude," chapter 6

July 16

Coltrane's "Classic Quartet" 

Comparative Essay #2: Compare John Coltrane's "The Night Has A Thousand Eyes" to Miles Davis' "On Green Dolphin Street" 

"In A Sentimental Mood" by John Coltrane and Duke Ellington
"My One And Only Love" by John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman
the entire A Love Supreme album by John Coltrane 

Porter chapters 15-18

July 21

The Miles Davis Quintet of the Mid-1960s; Miles and Fusion 

Revised/Refined Final Project Proposal (can be submitted in person or via email) 

"Seven Steps to Heaven" by Miles Davis
"Footprints" by Miles Davis
"Iris" by Miles Davis
"Nefertiti" by Miles Davis
"John McLaughlin" by Miles Davis
"It's About That Time" by Miles Davis
"Black Satin" by Miles Davis 

Szwed chapter 7-9

July 23

Miles and Fusion, continued; Their Last Years; 

Comparative Essay #3: Compare John Coltrane's recording of "Part IV: Psalm" (from A Love Supreme) to the Miles Davis recording of "Iris" 

"Jupiter" by John Coltrane
"Tranesonic" by John Coltrane
"Hannibal" by Miles Davis
"Human Nature" by Miles Davis 

Szwed chapters 10-11
Porter chapter 19

July 28

Solo Work of Their Great Collaborators; The Enduring Influence of Miles and Coltrane 

"Passion Dance" by McCoy Tyner
"Deluge" by Wayne Shorter
"The Eye of the Hurricane" by Herbie Hancock
"Milestones" by Bill Evans
"Journey In Satchidananda" by Alice Coltrane
"A Love Supreme IV: Psalm" by Branford Marsalis
"Lullabye" by Kenny Barron 

Porter chapter 20

July 30

Final Project Summaries  

Final Project due for all students. 

Note: with paper, please include instructions for return of paper.  Options include:
Provide a SASE with the paper
Request that the paper be left at the GLSP office for you
Request that your grade and general comments about the paper be emailed to you, with the paper itself to be recycled
None of the above, simply await your final grade

Listening to Music

Jazz is primarily an aural tradition.  As such, the ability to hear things is the foremost tool we use in understanding the music.  Most of our class time will be devoted to listening.   

Some notes about listening assignments: 

- Absorbing and understanding music can't be "crammed," whether you are playing it or listening to it.  It is a process that must take place over a period of time.  Please take that into consideration when pacing your studying and listening - a little bit every day is much better than a concentrated "cramming session" the night before a paper is due, and your work will bear witness to this fact.

 - As with reading, it is useful to be sensitive to your lucidity level when you begin a session of listening.  Just as, when tired, one can read the same paragraph over and over without absorbing its content, listening to music without concentrating will have limited study value.  If you are simply looking for a general impression of a song, this can be fine.  Just don't mistake that sort of listening for the sort of studying necessary to get the most out of the listening for a course like this. 

 This is especially relevant if music typically functions in your life as "background sound."  There is nothing wrong with that, it is simply important to realize that greater levels of attentiveness and concentration are necessary in this context.  Just as you would not expect to get much out of reading a chapter from a book while checking your email or cooking dinner, this music warrants your undivided attention when the time comes to really study it.

 - Recognize that even under the best of circumstances you can only absorb a limited amount of information in a single listening to a piece of music.  Try "zoning in" and listening to more specific elements with each successive listening session.  For example:

  • Listening #1: Get a general feel for the music.

  • Listening #2: Determine the overall structure to the piece (for example, introduction, melody, trumpet solo, piano solo, repeat of melody with the last melody phrase repeated three times).

  • Listening #3: Focus on the way the song's melody (if it has one) is played and on the playing of each soloist.

  • Listening #4: Focus on the rhythm section.

  • Listening #5: Focus on the soloists' interaction with the rhythm section.

This could go on ad infinitum, exploring different elements of a particular musician's performance and the interactions between different combinations of musicians.  Your own levels of experience, perceptiveness, seriousness and curiosity may lead you to give a particular piece more or fewer "spins." 

- Whether you are preparing to write a Comparative Essay or simply doing your weekly listening assignment, look for significant similarities and differences between musicians and recordings.  Doing this will give you a deeper understanding of the common elements that define a sub-genre or "movement" and of the divergent elements that define the styles of more individualistic musicians. 

 As you gain more experience, you will become better able to judge what constitutes a "significant" similarity or difference.  For example, "song #1 was 4 minutes long, while song #2 was only 3 minutes and 55 seconds" probably does not qualify as a significant difference, nor does "both songs sound jazzy" qualify as a noteworthy similarity. 

 - While a listening assignment may pertain to the specific unit to be covered in the upcoming week's class, you are encouraged to revisit that music following the class.  What you have learned in class will likely impact your perception of the music and your ability to hear things within it.  Consider this to be another form of reviewing your notes or readings after a class has taken place.

iTunes Information

The 51 listening examples you will be expected to study for class assignments can be downloaded as an "iMix" from ITunes ( ).  With the right computer equipment, downloading this music is quite simple.  Each song costs $1.00 (99 cents plus tax) and can be downloaded quickly on a high-speed connection, thus providing an inexpensive alternative to purchasing the entire album for each a piece of music assigned (the latter approach is, of course, fine for those students with unlimited time and music budgets).

If you do not already have ITunes software on your computer, it can be downloaded for free at for either Mac or Windows.  See that website as well for system requirements.  If your computer does not meet these minimum requirements, you are asked to use your networking (in the traditional sense, not the computer sense) skills.  That is, if you have a cooperative and computer-savvy friend, relative or co-worker, please take advantage of this!  If someone can help you download the songs and burn them to a CD, you will at that point no longer need to use ITunes (unless you choose to use it as one of your sources of material, in addition to or instead of libraries, when conducting research). 

The tunes you will need to download can be found by clicking on this link, which in turn will load the "iMix" in ITunes (assuming you have ITunes on your computer).  If typing this is too arduous, send me an email and I will email you the link (or find the syllabus online on the GLSP website).

 If you click on "Buy All Songs," then the downloading process will be simple and streamlined.  It is highly recommended that you acquire the songs in this manner.  If you already own some of these songs and/or wish to acquire them another way (thus downloading only the "missing pieces" from this IMix), make sure you have and/or get the correct versions.  In many cases, multiple versions of a song exist, even if the song title and artist are the same.  Using the IMix referenced above is an easy and reliable method that will guarantee that you have the correct versions of the songs.  You will be responsible for studying the same music that your classmates are studying, so it is important that you pay close attention to finding the correct versions if you choose to use another method of acquiring the songs.