Writings about Music

Equinox and the Moonlight Sonata

John Coltrane and Ben Webster

Watching a video of the Moonlight Sonata of Ludwig van Beethoven performed on a piano from his time, I just realized for the first time how John Coltrane may well have taken the first three notes of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, in the same key, elegantly altering the sequence and rhythm of the minor triad tones, forging a new motive for one of his absolute greatest compositions and recordings, Equinox, also with a enigmatically introspective rasa, if more ominous.

The main theme of each work commences with G sharp 3, the Beethoven figure actually being the famous opening accompaniment rather than the melody proper. Coltrane's melody begins at :28 seconds following a dramatic introduction. More so, the culminating melodic figure for Equinox, among the very greatest minor key blues compositions, at :44 seconds echoes the actual opening melodic figure of Beethoven informed by a like repeated tone appearing at :26 seconds, a reiteration shared by the ongoing acoustic bass ostinato. It's possible all these are connective coincidences, but my radar says otherwise.

Like Charlie Parker, John Coltrane had an insatiable intellectual curiosity for all forms of music, including the European masters, and it's easy to imagine him listening perhaps to the very Vladimir Horowitz recording embedded here, and then spinning his own very original variation on it to the point of originating recognition being elusive, myself being perhaps the first person to hear a resemblance and write about it since the recording was made in 1960 and released in 1964.

Above the Door recounts an otherworldly dream I had in my late teens, a period when I was listening intensively to John Coltrane recordings. In the dream, I was in-between consciousness and sleeping, and my spirit left my body, mixing with the vaporous spirit of Coltrane that was hovering at the ceiling of my room near the door. It was frightening at first until I realized whatever this was was safe and loving and went along with it.

A transcription of Above the Door appears on the Purple and Brown album. The previous link is to the original version of my composition.

 

When Phil Schaap invited me to join him in the booth at WKCR FM during the John Coltrane Birthday broadcast, I shared how Equinox was my very favorite recording by John. Catching one of Phil's shows on another occasion, I was stoked when he referred to Equinox as a special favorite of musicians. Since then, I seem to have moved to Coltrane's ballad performance of Invitation for that top spot.

Invitation, with music by Bronislaw Kaper and lyrics by Paul Francis Webster, is among the standards I practice, expecting to include it on one of my piano improvisation albums.

Echoing the moonlight theme, here is Polka Dots and Moonbeams from the new Color of Your Dream album.

And tipping my hat to Ben Webster, appearing in the moving photo above with John Coltrane as the beacon of unmatched power he was, and for inspiring me with his rendition in honor of Lester Young, here is In A Mellow Tone from the new Joy Unknown album.

 

Michael Robinson, who aquired an actual piano for the first time to practice on just last month, keeping the electronic keyboard he used the past three years for silent play.

Getting musical ideas and inspiration from other musicians and composers is a key part of music, of course, though I was a bit unnerved when it happened to myself in a not so subtle fashion.

- Michael Robinson, September 2022, Los Angeles

 

© 2022 Michael Robinson All rights reserved

 

Michael Robinson is a Los Angeles-based composer, programmer, jazz pianist and musicologist. His 184 albums include 152 albums for meruvina and 32 albums of piano improvisations. Robinson has been a lecturer at UCLA, Bard College and California State University Long Beach and Dominguez Hills.