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I am a bit of an aberration in my circle in the love of cats like Charlies Mingus, Thelonious Monk, Miles Davis, and Mr. John Coltrane. Now even those who “dig the improv” or have been “fractured by turnaround” probably don’t think of John Coltrane as a transformational entrepreneur. Why not?  He had an unassuming start, no Julliard for him. He chased a life in music in a world not kind to an African-American man. He saw the opportunity to integrate sounds and textures into music and he fused them with soul and purpose. Coltrane pursued the opportunity, mastered it, led others to it, and changed the world. He is GRIT.

The GRIT narrative is best understood through Coltrane’s transformational tune “Giant Steps”. It is iconic, it is revolutionary scores after its release. “Giant Steps” is the most feared song for any jazz musician to play.  Read about “Giant Steps” in this blog post by Ethan Hein and watch the video.   I promise the watch is well worth your time even if you go so far as to argue a disdain for jazz.

I believe there are three GRIT Learning Moments in Giant Steps:

Attack the Impossible: Coltrane blitzed the unattainable and transformed music history.  Watch the video, listen, feel, be changed. Coltrane saw the opportunity to create that others did not and owned the outcome.

Change the Rules: Challenge authority, resist control and create your own path. A copy of “The Road Not Taken” explodes from my office wall. You can be transformational just like Coltrane. The world does not have to see it, you just must know it.  Don’t let the mediocre mainstream limit you.

Be Prepared and Sweat the Details: I like to say how you do anything is how you do everything. Small things matter; never ever give in and always give your best at everything.  My fellow Detroiter Tommy Flanagan was the pianist on “Giants Steps.” He was one of the best of all time at what he did, but on the day “Giant Steps” was commemorated to history, Tommy was not ready. It haunted him forever. When opportunity comes, be prepared, seize it, and execute.

In my BlueTech mind, John Coltrane is GRIT, Grime, and Guts. He inspired and led other musicians to go where they had never been before. U2, Duane Allman, Carlos Santana, and Eric Clapton all voice a debt to Coltrane origination. Each began their musical journey after his death; those who actually played with him were taken to places they never forgot.

“Giants Steps” takes you home through an involved journey. I have heard it compared to Relativity by Escher, also hanging in the GRIDSMART Office.  One last morsel about Coltrane; John sensed a call to service and love of his fellow man.  In the year of his unexpected early death, he was quoted as saying “I know that there are bad forces, forces that bring suffering to others and misery to the world.  I want to be the opposite force.  I want to be the force which is truly for good.”

GRIT. Grime. Guts.

Bill Malkes, VP and General Manager, GRIDSMART, A Cubic Company



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