John Coltrane's Giant Steps is a song that continues to make legions of saxophonists sweat as a practice template with its dazzling display of technique.
"What are we, almost 60 years later? I mean it's still considered the measuring stick," says Charlotte saxophonist Phillip Whack.
He's not only taking on the song but the whole album Friday and Saturday nights at the Blumenthal Stage Door Theater. Like most fulltime musicians, Whack wears many hats. He tours overseas in a funk band. He plays regularly at a local church, and you might also catch him in a cover band at a wedding. Playing Giant Steps in its entirety is the most difficult project he's ever taken on.
Whack on why he’s taking on the project: “There comes a time in a serious musician’s journey where he or she should want to do whatever entails getting to the next level. And there’s many things that are part of that, but for me at this particular moment it’s playing Giant Steps.”
Whack on first hearing Giant Steps: "It was my freshman year at Brevard College. I remember borrowing someone's CD and probably wearing it out. It was probably a couple of weeks or maybe months until I gave it back. Even at that point I didn't understand what he was doing, but there was just something about that Giant Steps recording that kind of resonated with me even though I wasn't aware exactly of what it was at the time. I just knew that it spoke to my soul."
Whack on his approach to playing the album: "It's all about individuality. It's all about what you have to contribute. What's your sound? What have your experiences been like? Herbie Hancock said one time, and he put it brilliantly, he said 'you can hear a musician's triumph and struggle in his sound.'"