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John Coltrane's Giant Steps Hardcover – Jul 1 2002
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From Publishers Weekly
This innovative visual deconstruction of one of jazz saxophonist Coltrane's most beloved compositions may be Raschka's (Mysterious Thelonious) most ambitious picture book yet. After a playful introduction ("Good evening. And thank you for coming to our book"), the unseen narratorconductor introduces the performers a box, a snowflake, some raindrops and a kitten a tongue-in-cheek nod to Coltrane's version of "My Favorite Things"). The book does not require previous awareness of the jazz great's work, however. Each performer (representing percussion, bass, piano and sax) appears in a different color and shape (Raschka riffs on primary red, yellow and blue, and the basic square, triangle and circle). The performance begins, only to be interrupted when the kitten ("the melody on top of everything") takes steps a little too large ("People, people! What happened?"). Some coaching finally produces what Coltrane called "sheets of sound." Raschka's transparent watercolors layer colors and shapes the way a musician would notes and harmonies. Stunningly simple, the concept provides a compelling introduction to Coltrane's genius. Those who possess a little musical knowledge will delight in such arch references as "remixed by Chris Raschka" on the title page and the conductor's hilarious critique ("First of all, raindrops, you were rushing on page 19"). Even the jacket repeats the book's central conceit: a clear plastic wrap featuring the kitten, painted in thick black outline, overlays the other elements. A must for jazz enthusiasts and, for first-timers, a clever introduction to this wildly creative musical genre. Ages 4-7.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.
From School Library Journal
PreSchool-Grade 5-Paw forward, the cat featured in Raschka's Simple Gifts (Holt, 1998) graces the clear cellophane jacket of this book. Her thick, black, inked contours overlay the watercolor, biomorphic forms on the book's front cover-a box, snowflake, and raindrop-the performers of Coltrane's jazz classic "Giant Steps." An offstage narrator/conductor prepares listeners for "swirling, leaping, tumbling 'sheets of sound.'" In the ensuing double spreads, the 4/4 tempo is introduced by a quartet of raindrops (drums); the foundation is then formed with an overlay of boxes (the bass). Snowflakes (the piano) build up next to represent harmony, and, at last, the kitten (sax) dances across the shapes, bringing the melody. The conductor, however, is not pleased, so after some comments, the piece is played again, winding down to a quiet curtain call of the four isolated images. The sequential design and layering of the organic forms are a creative, joyful, and energetic match for the pulsing momentum and resolution in the music. Raschka manages to distill body and soul and "remix" Coltrane's sound graphically, and the book offers an engaging intellectual and sensory experience. Presenting it with the music itself is a must. Bravo, maestro!-Wendy Lukehart, Washington DC Public Library
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
Top Customer Reviews
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Raschka almost nails it with this visual and verbal description of saxophonist John Coltrane's incredible "Giant Steps," a landmark number of dizzying complexity, speed, and joy that most energetic younsters would like on its own. However, much of the appeal lies in a very intellectual exercise requiring levels of abstract thinking and reading ability beyond most of the young audience who will be attracted to the picture book format. However, teenagers, pre-adolescents with a musical bent, and adults will appreciate Raschka sensitive evaluation of Coltrane's talent. Younger kids might like the colorful (although not vividly colorful) pictures, and the pictures of the raindrops, snowflake, and cat. However, these by themselves are not that appealing, and the song's "narration" is clever but not a very interesting story. That is why the book doesn't quite work for early elementary school-age kids reading it on their own.
The most fascinating aspect of Raschka's "Giant Steps" is that he purposely draws the song all wrong! The book disappoints, and then tricks us, because Raschka knows exactly what he was doing. The cat narrator leads the shapes and colors in a visual performance of Coltrane's number, but the impression is, well, unimpressive. Even for a metaphor of Coltrane's music, the colors look blurry and the composition are unfocused.
However, at a break in the performance (on pages 24 and 25), Raschka gently tells us that the preceeding images (by Raschka) were not quite right, were not Coltrane. The "performers" (and the reader) must understand that Coltrane was strong, yes, but "strong yet light." The colors should be rich, not "muddy," because "Coltrane's music is dense but transparent." And while Coltrane did blow "a fountain of notes, a shower of notes...those notes made lines that were dynamic and strong and vivid." In a remarkable performace of his own,. Raschka redraws the musical sequence to reflect these attributes, and this time he captures the rhythms, sounds, and energetic clarity of Coltrane. It's a masterful achievement, but I don't know how many kids will appreciate it. A dazzling, albeit puzzling, work that stands, as Ellington once said, "beyond category."
If you are not familiar with "Giant Steps" the song, you may wish to listen to it as you read this book. The book begins with the words, "Good evening. And thank you for coming to our book. We have something very special for you tonight. It's John Coltrane's marvelous and tricky composition `Giant Steps,' performed for you by a box, a snowflake, some raindrops, and a kitten. Why not stay and see it?". Why not indeed. The song begins well enough. The raindrops (featured as all blue or while within blue) provide the tempo. The box is the "foundation" or bottom. The snowflake is the harmony. Finally, the kitten is the melody. The song proceeds nicely enough until it collapses into a seething pile of confusion. The narrator chastises each element and corrects them (using a red colored pencil to circle faults and flaws). Helpful comments include lines like, "I know you're our foundation and you've got to be strong. But can you be strong yet light?". They try again with far better results and the book ends on a high (ha ha) note.
I think I've figured out why the book doesn't work. It isn't just that Raschka has failed to include a cd of the song (a necessity). This is simply a book that has to be read with a cd that speaks to the reader and stops and starts the music perfectly with the book. Otherwise, there's no point in playing the song with this book when the text halts midway through to make corrections. Now I love Raschka's style, don't get me wrong. But the book would still be interesting to children if he'd gone so far as to make the kitten a little more realistic and a little less expressionistic.
In a way, I feel that Chris Raschka just strove a little too hard. This book's a work of art, no question. But it's just not interesting to kids. I'm not saying the right kind of dedicated parent couldn't MAKE their kids interested in it. But this isn't the kind of picture book I see the kiddies pulling down off of the shelf to take home. Mostly, this is a book appreciated by adults who want their children to like jazz. Good luck with that. There are plenty of great jazz-based picture books out there, you know. "Ella Fitzgerald: The Tale of a Vocal Virtuoso", by Andrea Davis Pinkney is a fine example. But this is a picture book that will be loved by children over the age of 12. Just bear that in mind should you purchase it.
Our favorite part was when the director tells the shapes and the kitten what they did wrong. Listening to the music really helped us understand the book. Some of us wish that the author had given us the cd with the book. Others of us think it was great the way it was!
Chris Raschka writes good books!
The first pages of Giant Steps introduce us to 'a box, a snowflake, some raindrops, and a kitten', our performers. We are then told (while the 'performers are limbering up') about the Giant Steps' composer, a man by the name of John Coltrane. Afterwards the box, the snowflake, the raindrops, and the kitten begin their strange dance, blending their differing colors in 'harmony'. The performers carry on with their dance, by now leaving the young readers either confused or annoyed. Then the dance suddenly stops, and the narrorator corrects our dancers on their various mistakes. And then the dance begins again! *Sighs*
I'm gonna take a stab in the dark and say that ninety-nine percent of children will not enjoy this book. The one percent (if that many) that will, have already heard of John Coltrane and his Giant Steps. The other ninety-nine, like I said before, will probably hate it, like I, myself did. Even Chris Raschka's paintings do little to distract the viewer from this terrible book! I'll admit that Giant Steps had a beautiful and creative premise, but it sadly falls into the cliche of 'Just because it sounds good, doesn't mean it'll look good on paper!'
R, your friendly neighborhood reviewer.
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