Which Indian ragas was John Coltrane learning? Decoding his handwritten notes


John Coltrane left behind some mysterious, handwritten notes entitled ‘Scales of India’. I’m trying to work out which ragas they are, where he got them from, and what he might have been doing with them. This is a hidden url for now – so if you’re here then that means I’ve actively sought you out for ideas, opinions, criticism, etc. Will share publicly later in the year – all feedback much appreciated (and credited)! george@ragajunglism.org

 

[*big update to follow shortly!*]


 

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Pt. 1: Musical Context

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“I collect [Ravi Shankar’s] records…and his music moves me. I’m certain that if I recorded with him I’d increase my possibilities tenfold, because I’m familiar with what he does…” (John Coltrane, 1961)

 

John Coltrane was, indisputably, one of the 20th century’s most influential musicians. India’s classical traditions were, in turn, among his greatest stylistic inspirations – perhaps more than any others beside jazz and the church music of his childhood. Indeed, Trane’s obsessive blend of technique, mysticism, and deep philosophical enquiry is unthinkable without the vast imprints of India (just ask his son Ravi…).

 

But even half a century on, surprisingly little is understood about the precise points of Indo-jazz confluence. Coltrane devotees immerse into his raga-length exhortations, with titles such as Om, India, and Meditations, and read about his penchant for ‘exotic scales’ and saintly wisdom from the East. But us musicians need finer detail than this. Which Indian music was he listening to, and how did it influence his sound? How did Trane really draw from the world of raga?

 

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What are Coltrane’s ‘Scales of India’?

 

As a jazz guitarist who, for a time, studied Hindustani music under master sitarist Pandit Shivnath Mishra in Benares, I was naturally drawn to pianist and scholar Lewis Porter’s book John Coltrane: His Life and Music, a meticulous biography that goes deep into archival sources to unpick Trane’s thought and innovations.

 

Upon reaching page 210, my heart jumped at seeing a picture entitled “Scales of India, cont.”. The single-side, black-and-white image shows handwritten notation for six brief ascent-descent patterns. They are all untitled, instead being accompanied only by a few mysterious descriptors (“night, power, majesty”, “morning, sad…”).

 

According to Porter, the scales were copied from Trane’s own personal notes by Carl Grubbs, his long-term saxophone student and the cousin of Naima, his first wife (“when Carl Grubbs visited Coltrane’s place in Queens, he noticed a page of Indian scales…Grubbs made his own hand copy…”). Grubbs, who is still going strong as a stalwart of the Baltimore jazz scene, suggests that Trane may have originally got them from a book (I’m getting in touch with them both to find out more).

 

Porter also notes that “two more pages of scales, in Coltrane’s own hand, are reproduced in Simpkins (113)…[including] three ragas from India”. The Simpkins in question is Cuthbert Ormond Simpkins – student civil rights activist, Harvard-trained medical doctor, and author of the poetic, politically-charged 1975 book Coltrane: A Biography. I turned to page 113 as soon as my copy arrived to find a wealth of new scales – 18 from around the world are notated and named, along with an unnotated list of 15 “Church” and “Greek” modes.

 

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Simpkins’ image presents the scales in a somewhat simpler format – it’s unclear if they’re from the same batch of Trane’s notes as the ones in Porter’s book. They have no ‘mood adjectives’ – just vague titles such as “Arabian”, “Balinese”, “Chinese” (which surely means they’ve come from a Western-authored reference work of some kind – what culture would refer to their own scales with such outsider-ish terminology?). Three have distinctly Indian-flavoured names: “Hindustan”, “Raga Todi”, and a semi-legible “Raga [Hamant] Todi”.

 

Might these scrawled artifacts offer a rare, direct window into the heart of the Indo-Coltrane conflux? Musicians are what they imbibe – to learn how he learned, we must listen to what he listened to, and reanimate the abstract shapes of his theoretical study. So what are these curious scales? And how might he have been using them?

 

On first glance I could see that “Raga Todi” was indeed the Hindustani (North Indian) Raag Todi, and recognised “Hindustan” as Raag Charukeshi, a distinctive scale with origins in South India that combines the bottom half of the major scale with the top half of the natural minor. And Trane’s notation for “Raga [Hamant] Todi” matches the Carnatic (South Indian) Raga Hanumatodi.

 

Some of the others are also clear. The second (“morning, sad”) is definitely the Hindustani Raag Bhairavi, perhaps the most famous morning raga in all of North Indian classical music. Trane’s sketch matches Bhairavi’s swara material (note set), roughly akin to the Western Phrygian mode, and retains a characteristic feature of Bhairavi’s phraseology – the Pa (5th degree) is omitted on the way up, but included on the way down.

 

After delving further into the vast world of academic Coltraneology, I found that ethnomusicologist Carl Clements had also come across the scales, similarly identifying the second as Bhairavi in his 2008 PhD, John Coltrane and the integration of Indian concepts into jazz improvisation (an excellent read fleshing out the timelines and musical context). But he left the others untouched, and, as far as I can tell, nobody else seems to have paid much analytical attention to them either. To me this seems remarkable – if I’m missing something, please let me know!

 

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Ravi Shankar and Alla Rakha at the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival. Photo: Jerry de Wilde

What could we learn from decoding them?

 

Whatever approach Trane took, we’ll understand it better if we work out which ragas he was actually drawing from. Perhaps we can uncover some precise crossover zones – say, subtly borrowing uniquely Indian scales into jazz, or introducing raga-like differentiation of his ascents and descents.

 

Or perhaps the interchange was largely confined the conceptual and philosophical levels, without so much in the way of direct melodic borrowing. This is broadly the consensus among musicologists, and I broadly agree with it this far…although it could also be that Western analysis is looking for the wrong things. 

 

Besides, there are well-documented exceptions to this – for example the head melody for India was directly borrowed from a compilation record of Indian spiritual music (more on this below). It’s a mighty shame we can’t ask ‘Turiyasangitananda’ Alice Coltrane about this any more (her swamini name, adpoted soon after her husband’s death, translates from Sanskrit as ‘the Transcendental Lord’s highest song of bliss’).

 

And of course, it could also be that these particular theoretical notes aren’t of much significance. After all, they’re just a few of many he made over the years. Then again, Trane’s version of ‘cursory study’ would probably count as deep, detailed learning for the rest of us.

 

Whatever he was up to, we should try to find out what it was – at the very least, gleaning some fresh Indo-Trane insights will add sonic depth to the mysticism of his track titles, and help us understand his musical beliefs and experiences a little better.

 

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What hints can we find in other sources?

 

We can also look elsewhere for hints about Coltrane’s learning process. As mentioned above, Trane based the head melody for 1961’s India on a Vedic chant, probably borrowed from Religious Music of India, a 1952 Smithsonian Folkways compilation (as noted by composer and jazz scholar Bill Bauer).

 

Bassist and jazz oud (fretless Arabic lute) pioneer Ahmed Abdul-Malik told Porter that he gave Trane the idea for India, seemingly by playing him the record. So when we know what other recordings to listen out for, we may be able to spot other Indian-derived phrases in his longform playing.

 

Simpkins’ book offers more info: “By this time [1961], John and McCoy [Tyner, his pianist] had studied and discussed many different scales, including Indian ragas in which the notes ascending are different from those descending”. He also quotes multireedist Eric Dolphy, Trane’s close friend and collaborator, musing on Indian music’s use of microtones – the ‘spaces between the piano keys’ (“I don’t know how you label it, but it’s pretty…”).

 

Trane himself was often a man of few words. But on the next page after the scales, Porter cites a correspondence with the influential Village Voice critic Nat Hentoff, recounted in the latter’s liner notes for 1962’s Live at the Village Vanguard: “In India…particular sounds and scales are intended to produce specific emotional meanings…I like Ravi Shankar very much. When I hear his music, I want to copy it – not note-for-note of course, but in his spirit…”

 

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Around this time he was experimenting with having two double basses in his group, and seems to have performed at least once with a ‘triple-double-bass’ section of Reggie Workman, Art Davis, and Wilbur Ware. In his words, “I’d heard some Indian records and liked the effect of the water drum, and I thought another bass would add that certain rhythmic sound…like a drum but melodious…fills in some of the spaces”.

 

The ‘water drum’ is almost certainly the bayan bass tabla, which, though absent of water, certainly sounds like it could be holding some. He also added that “we play with a droning bassline” – something surely influenced by many hours spent listening to the rich buzz of the tanpura.

 

He went deeper in a 1963 interview with Jean Clouzet and Michel Delorme, saying, “I would like to discover a method so that if I want it to rain, it will start right away to rain…But what are these pieces and what is the road to travel to attain a knowledge of them? That I do not know”. On reading this, the mind of any Indian classical musician will turn instantly to the Malhar raga family, synonymous with the monsoon season – many believe their melodies can summon the rains when played with enough force and precision.

 

The legendary composer Miyan Tansen is fabled to have demonstrated this at Emperor Akbar’s 16th-century court, entrancing visiting kings, warlords, and diplomats with his musico-magical feats, and similar tales turn up in more recent Hindustani history too. The Mallick vocal family still live on land gifted to their ancestors by the Maharajah of Darbhanga, for, it is said, ending a drought in the Nepalese border kingdom with a special performance of Raag Megh Malhar.

 

This sort of musical supernaturalism would doubtless have fascinated Coltrane. So was he learning the Malhar ragas? His words to Hentoff hint at this, but the persuasive evidence seems to be in the scales themselves – two of them begin their ascents with Sa-Re-ma-Pa (1-2-4-5), suggesting several Malhar variants.

 

Have a listen to Pandit Budhaditya Mukherjee’s thunderstorm rendition of Miyan ki Malhar, named for the great Tansen himself, in an extraordinary outdoor performance filmed by Darbar (I’m currently their resident writer/musicologist). See how well you think the raga’s fluid slides and glides match with the surrounding Indian rainstorm – no wonder Trane was entranced by all this:

 

Decoding the remaining scales

 

As we have seen, it appears that several of the nine ‘Scales of India’ are clearly identifiable – we have the Hindustani Bhairavi, Charukeshi, and Todi, and the Carnatic Hanumatodi. And some of the others seem to offer up strong clues – the first scale very much seems to be Raag Desh, and the fifth appears to be either Malkauns or Hindolam.

 

But the remainder are more ambiguous. For example, the third has Malhar-like features, but doesn’t quite seem to match any specific raga from that family, and the fourth (“evening & night, praise”) contains a four-semitones-in-a-row pattern in its descent – something seemingly outside the bounds of traditional raga summarisation theory. And I’m not even sure which note of the sixth is the root.

 

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Where may the confusions lie?

 

Aside from the various deficiencies in my own raga knowledge, it could be that Trane’s source was vague on the details too. Indo-Western theoretical works available of the era varied greatly in accuracy and quality (…they still do), and it seems that he may have used a general scale compendium of some kind – hence “Algerian”, “Chinese”, “Japanese”, “Hindustan”, etc.

 

Despite a promising title, it isn’t his beloved Thesaurus of Scales and Melodic Patterns, published in 1947 by composer and lexicographer Nicolas Slonimsky, which takes a markedly different approach to musical presentation. I’m tracking down various other possibilities. But if a textbook at all, then why adjectives rather than names? And why the inconsistent formatting? There is surely a lot more going on here.

 

The handwritten process of copying could have introduced errors too. Porter notes that the “Japanese” scale in Simpkins’ image “sounds to me like the In scale, which should have an Ab…Coltrane omitted the flat on the A [6th degree].” Given the lack of Japanese matches for the pattern as notated, this seems like a sensible take.

 

And bear in mind that Porter’s image is (as far as I understand it) his own annotated scan of Carl Grubbs’ copy of Trane’s personal notes, which in turn may have been copied from an unknown book – likely a Western compendium of variable accuracy, which in turn got the scales from..somewhere?

 

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And even if the scales themselves have remained essentially identical through all these written iterations, the ragas themselves may have drifted from the codifications of their forbears. They are ever-changing forms, locked in a constant state of flux by their very nature. I explore this in more detail in my breakdown of Raag Chandranandan (‘Moonstruck’), a unique modern creation by sarod genius Ustad Ali Akbar Khan:

 

“Far from being static, ragas are improvised for the precise time and place of performance. They may aim to crystallise universal human sentiments, but performers cannot help but set them to their own moods. The resulting musical churn means they are expanded, modified, and reinterpreted over time, as artists search for new territory amidst a shared understanding of certain essences and inviolable boundaries.”

 

In a similar vein, a jazz musician such as Trane would have been inclined to summarise, approximate, or modify new musical ideas for his own creative purposes. Perhaps Grubbs did this too when copying the scales. For a start, they aren’t presented consistently – only some have both an ascent and a descent listed, and three of the first six have an additional bar with just a few individual tones picked out.

 

Maybe he was ‘thinking aloud’, considering which notes to strengthen in his explorations. After all, this is a core component of raga – each has several melodic ‘centres of gravity’, including Sa (root note), vadisamvadi (king and queen notes), and nyas (resting tones), as well as characteristic movements such as pakad (essential phrases) and chalan (systematic expansion patterns).

 

There are a few other scattered hints into his possible thinking. As mentioned, scale four’s strange four-in-a-row descent doesn’t seem to be an exact raga match, but does correspond to the shape of the Bebop Dominant, an eight-note jazz staple he would already have known inside-out. So I think he reordered whatever he found. But what was it? And why is it a ‘Scale of India’, linked to “evening & night, praise”?

 

Coltrane was a wide musical searcher, and is known to have corresponded with Pandit Ravi Shankar for several years, but sadly died before achieving his stated ambition of studying directly with the sitar master for a planned six-month stint. I imagine their letters got technical and theoretical sometimes, so maybe he got some of his knowledge this way. But, without seeing them, this is speculative. And, Shankar, in keeping with the aural, unwritten nature of his own studentship, would have been disinclined to teach from the page.

 

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And it’s hard to think that Trane wouldn’t have been jotting down Indian scales by ear from recordings and concerts too – we jazzers learn mainly through transcription. Peter Lavezzoli, author of the superb book The Dawn of Indian Music in the West, recently emailed me to confirm how Trane was known to listen closely to Bismillah Khan, modern pioneer of the soprano sax-like shehnai reed horn.

 

But, while the scales may have complex, mysterious origins, I don’t think that decoding them will be an insurmountable task. With a little help from my Indian classical friends, we can ‘join the dots’, matching Trane’s notes and descriptors with known ragas. And we can fine-tune our focus with some historical inquiry too – why not also trace which artists, records, and concerts Trane could conceivably have had access too at the time? For Bhairavi, this already yields results (see Part 2 below for the full analysis).

 

The ‘Scales of India’ present a fascinating point of insight into a highly significant area of transglobal musical interchange. As mentioned, Trane’s legacy is unthinkable without his vast interweaving of Indian ideas – and much of modern music is, in turn, unthinkable without his overall legacy (just one example: Golden Age hip-hop innovator Rakim learned jazz sax as a teenager, and grew up matching his rhymes to the rhythms of classic Coltrane solos).

 

But mainly, it’s just enthralling to delve further into the puzzle, wherever it may lead. So for fellow musical searchers, the nine scales are below, including notation in Indian and Western terminology, some thoughts on what they seem to be, and audio demos using Guitar Pro samples [will record better ones on my guitar/sitar soon…]. Thanks to all my collaborators so far – I’ve been taken aback by the rush of interest, and have plenty of new info to comb through and add to the above and below!

 

 

Pic RJ narrow

 

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Pt. 2: Coltrane’s ‘Scales of India’

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Quick summary for collaborators: John Coltrane left behind some intriguing handwritten notes entitled ‘Scales of India’. Most have no titles, but are instead accompanied by mysterious descriptors (e.g. ‘night, power, majesty’). We’re trying to work out which ragas they are, where he got them from, and what he might have been doing with them. See above for the more detailed context.

 

As mentioned in Part 1 above, the nine scales below come from two sources. I found the first six in John Coltrane: His Life and Music, jazz scholar Lewis Porter’s excellent 2006 biography – he reproduces them on p.210, explaining that they came from Carl Grubbs, Trane’s longtime sax student. And the final three are from Coltrane: A Biography, a poetic 1975 work by Cuthbert Ormond Simpkins – on p.113 he reprints 18 global scales penned in Coltrane’s own hand, three of which have Indian-flavoured names.

 

The photos themselves are (I assume) under copyright, so instead I’ve notated the nine ‘Scales of India’ below, retaining the original formatting from the books. One (“Raga Todi”) was already correctly titled, and I’ve decoded a few of the others myself, along with thoughts and possibilities for the rest. But I need some input from musicians who know more than me!

 

My guess is that those with adjectives (the first 6) are likely to be Hindustani rather than Carnatic –  North Indian forms have stronger samay (time of day) associations than their Southern counterparts, and Hindustani music was more prevalent in Trane’s era. But there’s no reason to discount strong matches from Carnatic or folk – he was a wide musical searcher, and it seems he once borrowed a Vedic chant melody from Religious Music of India, a 1952 Smithsonian compilation record.

 

And bear in mind that they may be approximations rather than the ‘established’ forms of the ragas (not that a raga is ever reducible to the theory anyway…). Textbooks of Coltrane’s era were unreliable, and they may have come from guesswork based on his own listening too. And it seems he may have subtly modified some of them for his own purposes. So don’t necessarily expect the info below to exactly match to a raga as you know it.

 

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Literally whatever comes to mind as you hear the audio, and which ragas the notes and accompanying words remind you of most. Not sure where this project is going yet – I’d like to turn it into a free, in-depth resource for Indo-jazz learners one day (…that’s what Trane would have wanted, right?), but wherever it ends up then all contributions will be fully credited. Thanks for being involved! george@ragajunglism.org

 

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Scale 1 – “Night, Power, and Majesty”

 

Scale 1 Night Power Majesty

  • Source: Porter, p.210
  • Jazz: 1-2-4-5-7-8 | 1-3-4[*]
  • Western: C-D-F-G-B-C | C-E-F
  • Sargam: SRmPNS | SGm

Several ragas contain these notes, e.g. Brindabani Sarang, Desh, Bihari, and various Malhars. The most prominent of this set is definitely Raag Desh – which also fits the other clues to:

  • “Night” – Desh is associated with the second part of the night.
  • “Power and Majesty” – it has patriotic associations (e.g. the raga is in India’s national song, and Raag Desh was even the title of an intensely patriotic military film in 2017).
  • The SRmPNS ascending line is an exact match for Desh’s usual aroha, and the three notes in the final bar may reference the addition of Ga (major 3rd) in Desh’s descent.
  • Desh typically features unusually strong Sa-ma (1-4) and Sa-Pa (1-5) relationships, and a prominent Re (major 2nd) all of which would have piqued the ear of a jazz musician, primed on 2-5-1 root movements and ascending/descending dominants.

Without a descending line this isn’t conclusive, although I’m pretty confident. Is it too skeletal to suggest Desh Malhar as opposed to just Desh?

 

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Scale 2 – “Morning, Sad”

 

Scale 2 Morning, Sad

  • Source: Porter, p.210
  • Jazz: 1-b2-b3-4-b6-b7-8 | 8-b7-b6-5-4-b3-b2-1 | b3-4-b6
  • Western: C-Db-Eb-F-Ab-Bb-C | C-Bb-Ab-G-F-Eb-Db-C | Eb-F-Ab
  • Sargam: SrgmdnS | SndPmgrS | gmd

This is undoubtedly the Hindustani Raag Bhairavi: 

  • “Morning” – Bhairavi is a famous morning raga, which Coltrane would doubtless have heard both live and on record.
  • The scale clearly matches Bhairavi’s swara material (note set) – roughly akin to the lamentative, mournful Western Phrygian mode.
  • The sketch retains a characteristic feature of Bhairavi’s phraseology – the Pa (5th degree) is omitted on the way up, but included on the way down.
  • Though not notated here, Bhairavi commonly takes a mishra (mixed) form, allowing for the injection of some rare chromaticism into the tightly-constrained world of raga. No wonder recordings of it would have attracted a jazzer.

As mentioned above, Trane regularly played Bismillah Khan and Ravi Shankar records. So it seems likely that he would have listened to their Bhairavi renditions – in particular Shankar’s version, recorded in New York in 1957 for his widely-circulated Sounds Of India album. His take showcases Raag Sindhi Bhairavi, a folk-based regional variant, and begins by talking through his ascent and descent lines:

 

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Scale 3 – “Night”

 

Scale 3 Night

  • Source: Porter, p.210
  • Jazz: 1-2-4-5-b7-8 | 8-b7-6-b7-5-4-2-1
  • Western: C-D-F-G-Bb-C | C-Bb-A-Bb-G-F-D-C
  • Sargam: SRmPnS | SnDnPmRS

Not sure on this one yet – these notes can fit into quite a few ragas. Maybe a rough take of Gorakh Kalyan, or some Malhar variant? Key points:

  • The vakra (zigzag) nDnP movement in the descent might be a good clue
  • Aroha of SRmPnS is roughly like Gorakh Kalyan, Megh Malhar, and Madhumad Sarang? But what matches the descent too?
  • “Night” – which night ragas have no Ga?
  • Unchecked Carnatic possibilities from Ian Ring’s site: Narayani, Suposhini, Andolika, Darbar

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Scale 4 – “Evening & Night, Praise”

 

Scale 4 Evening Night Praise

  • Source: Porter, p.210
  • Jazz: 1-2-3-4-5-6-8 | 8-7-b7-6-5-4-3-2-1 | 5-6-8
  • Western: C-D-E-F-G-A-C | C-B-Bb-A-G-F-E-D-C | G-A-C
  • Sargam: SRGmPDS | SNnDPmGRS | PDS

This is a confusing one – some initial thoughts:

  • Which Bilawal or Khamaj ragas feature both Ni swaras in avroh? I can’t recall seeing four chromatically-adjacent swaras in a raga’s actual form before (SNnD). I think Coltrane may have reordered the descent to match with the pattern of the Bebop Dominant, a common eight-note jazz scale.
  • What might the isolated PDS in the final bar refer to? A chalan or pakad, or maybe even the tones of the tanpura if this scale is from a recording?
  • “Evening & night” is unusually vague for a samay (time of day) designation, but is still an important clue.
  • Unchecked possibilities from Ian Ring’s site: Carnatic Khamaj, Desh Malhar, Devagandhari, Bihagara, Rast, Alhaiya Bilaval

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Scale 5 – “Evening, Gay”

 

Scale 5 Evening Gay CORR

  • Source: Porter, p.210
  • Jazz: 1-4-b3-4-b6-b7-8 | 8-b7-b6-4-b3-1
  • Western: C-F-Eb-F-Ab-Bb-C | C-Bb-Ab-F-Eb-C
  • Sargam: SmgmdnS | SndmgS

At first glance this looks like Raag Malkauns:

  • Identical swara material, which in the case of Malkauns is highly suggestive, as it dominates its own swara set (at least in the North).
  • And it seems as if ma (4th) is being used as a melodic ‘centre of gravity’ (e.g. Smgm), in keeping with its use as Malkauns’ vadi (king note).

But…Malkauns is seen as a heavy, auspicious raga. Musicians fear its supernatural powers, and scholars describe it in terms such as ‘austere’, ‘contemplative’, or ‘severely tranquil’. And it is associated with the late night (read my full Darbar essay on it here).

 

Trane’s “evening, gay” just doesn’t seem to fit with any of this. Then again, the descriptors might just be his own reflections on a particular recording, and we all know that the emotional interpretation of music differs greatly between cultures and individuals.

 

It could also be the South Indian Raga Hindolam, which has the same notes as Malkauns, but is perhaps a bit more “evening, gay” – one guide describes it as “normally played in the first half of a concert, before the ‘heavy’ ragas’…gentle, lyrical and poetic”.

 

Raag Malkauns (North India):

 

Raga Hindolam (South India):

 

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Scale 6 – “Night, Melancholy”

 

Scale 6 Night Melancholy

  • Source: Porter, p.210
  • Jazz: b7-1-b2-b3-4-5-b6-b7 | b7-b6-4-5-b3-(b2)-1
  • Western: Bb-C-Db-Eb-F-G-Ab-Bb | Bb-Ab-F-G-Eb-(Db)-C
  • Sargam: nSrgmPdn | ndmPg(r)S

Initial thoughts:

  • n.b. Porter notes that he “penned in the penultimate Db because it appeared on another one of Grubbs’ copies” (it’s actually bracketed in the original image but my notation software doesn’t allow for that).
  • I think the second note could be the root rather than the first – all the other scales are notated in C (as is standard for Western theory), and the descent of this one ends on a C. But the resulting scale follows the Bhairavi mode, which usually lends itself to morning ragas (Bhairavi itself is the ‘queen of morning ragas’).
  • But there’s also a case for taking the first note (the low Bb) as the root – Bb is the first and last note of the ascent, and the first of the descent. This would suggest some kind of Kafi raga…which certainly fits the “night, melancholy”.
  • The vakra (zigzag) descent of ndmPg looks like a good key – which ragas have this pattern? Overall this one seems odd to me. Any ideas?

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Scale 7 – “Hindustan”

 

Scale 7 Hindustan

  • Source: Simpkins, p.213
  • Jazz: 1-2-3-4-5-b6-b7-8
  • Western: C-D-E-F-G-Ab-Bb-C
  • Sargam: SRGmPdnS

Thoughts:

  • This is definitely Raag Charukeshi – an unmistakable shape found in both Hindustani and Carnatic music, which in Western terms combines the bottom half of the major scale with the top half of the natural minor scale.
  • I’ve actually seen Charukeshi referred to as the ‘Hindustani scale’ elsewhere in older Western musicology as well…although the raga is in fact a relatively recent import to the Hindustani tradition, with ultimate origins in South India.

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Scale 8 – “Raga [Hamant] Todi” (unclear)

 

Scale 8 Hemant Todi

  • Source: Simpkins, p.213
  • Jazz: 1-b2-b3-4-5-b6-b7-8
  • Western: C-Db-Eb-F-G-Ab-Bb-C
  • Sargam: SrgmPdnS

Thoughts:

  • The title is a bit of an illegible scrawl, but says something like “Raga Hamant Todi” – suggestive of the popular Carnatic Raga Hanumatodi. And the scale’s shape does indeed match Hanumatodi, the 8th parent scale of the Melakarta system. (n.b. Hanumatodi is also referred to in Carnatic circles as Raga Thodi – confusingly, a different raga to the ‘North Indian Todi’ below.)

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Scale 9 – “Raga Todi”

 

Scale 9 Raga Todi

  • Source: Simpkins, p.213
  • Jazz: 1-b2-b3-#4-b6-7-8 | 8-7-b6-5-#4-b3-b2-1
  • Western: C-Db-Eb-F#-Ab-B-C | C-B-Ab-G-F#-Eb-Bb-C
  • Sargam: SrgMdNS | SNdPMgrS

Thoughts:

  • Trane has correctly titled this one – it’s definitely the Hindustani Raag Todi (also known as Miyan Ki Todi), even following the common trait of omitting of Pa in the ascending line.
  • It could be from a subtly different source to the other scales in Simpkins’ book. His reprint shows it on a separate original page (albeit with near-identical ink and score paper), and it’s the only one with a separate ascent and descent listed and a clear, correct title.

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Bonus: 15 more global scales from Trane’s notes

 

Simpkins p.213 also reprints 15 more of Coltrane’s handwritten scales, all with vague, ‘exotic’ titles (“Arabian”, “Balinese”, “Hungarian Gypsy”, etc). When I get a minute I’ll add some info on them  – audio demos, what they’re called in their own cultures, links to recordings that showcase them, etc. But for now, I’ve just notated them on this page, along with sargam equivalents for my Indian collaborators.

 

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“I would like to bring people something like happiness. I would like to discover a method so that if I want it to rain, it will start right away to rain. If one of my friends is ill, I’d like to play a certain song and he will be cured; when he’d be broke, I’d bring out a different song and immediately he’d receive all the money he needed.

 

But what are these pieces and what is the road to travel to attain a knowledge of them? That I do not know. The true powers of music are still unknown. To be able to control them must be, I believe, the goal of every musician. I’m passionate about understanding these forces. I would like to provoke reactions in the listeners to my music, to create a real atmosphere. It’s in that direction that I want to commit myself, and to go as far as possible.” (John Coltrane, 1926-1967)

 

George Howlett is a London-based musician and writer. I play guitar, tabla, and santoor, loosely focusing on jazz, rhythm, and global improvisation. Above all I seek to enthuse fellow sonic searchers, interconnecting fresh vibrations with the human voices, cultures, and passions behind them.


Recently I’ve worked long-term for Darbar, Guitar World, and Ragatip, and published research into tuning and John Coltrane’s raga notes. I’ve written for Jazzwise, JazzFM, and The Wire, and also record, perform, and teach in local schools. Site menu above, follow below, & get in touch here!

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