Name of Faculty Sponsor

Edward Eanes

Faculty Sponsor Email


Publication Date

October 2017


There are marked parallels in scale use, the use of modality and harmonic construction and movement in the music of John Coltrane as compared to impressionist composers like Claude Debussy. The modal harmonic exploration employed in the works of Coltrane is often attributed to the Indian raga and other music, but it can also be likened to Impressionist works by Debussy. A fascination with exoticism and a search for new veins in music to draw from propelled both of these artists forward musically. While Debussy learned medieval modality from the Russians, Coltrane looked further East to the Arab world and India, however, both subjects used modal environments when seeking an exotic and more tonally-freeing sound. Unorthodox scales, especially artificial scales without consecutive semitones are notably present in Coltrane’s improvisatory style and in works by Debussy. The exploration of a sound sensation, more visceral than conventionally pleasing, is a uniting factor in both artists, most notably in Coltrane’s more avant-garde works. Hazy tonality, often lacking tonal center or possessing a constantly shifting tonal center, for example, the “Coltrane Changes” moving in thirds and Debussy’s often tonally indistinct Preludes for piano, is a shared harmonic trait between two musical eras as well.