Doug Rosenberg’s Transcriptions #3: John Coltrane’s solo on “Limehouse Blues”


Similar to “Bye-Ya” and “Someday My Prince Will Come,” this is a solo solidly in the middle period of John Coltrane’s illustrious career, and features another key element to understanding his style: so-called “Coltrane changes.” As the aforementioned “sheets of sound” period is an incredible exploration of the harmonic possibilities of the saxophone, this use of a novel chord substitution is another innovation.
“Coltrane changes” are roughly bVI-VII7-III-V7-I (two chords per bar). The most well-known song to use them is “Giant Steps.” In this solo, CM-Eb7-AbM-B7-EM-G7-Dm-G7 (transposed to Bb) is substituted over the beginning G7, and similar phrases are used when there are 4 bars of a dominant chord.
Why are these there? Because they sound great! Haha. In brief, he was playing with novel sounds that a composer named Olivier Messiaen notably used: the mode of limited transposition using C D# E G Ab B. This could be thought of as three triads a major third apart. Practically, it is just a way of guaranteeing you will sound “out,” a term for playing wrong notes on purpose. It can sound awesome!
At the end of the sheet you’ll notice some Cannonball Adderley passages. I will have more to say about this great artist in later installments. Also, a brief note on the song. “Limehouse Blues” is an old-fashioned song, from the 20’s, and was played by artists like Sidney Bechet back in the day. This version is a late 50’s very fast version of it. It also features long sections of IV7 and II7, which are relatively unusual places for an American song.

Recurring phrases:
Measure #22: a Bm9 arpeggio that is played either ascending or descending
Measure #23: a nice lick on E7
Many implications of Coltrane changes

Download: John Coltrane Limehouse Blues- Bb John Coltrane Limehouse Blues- C

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