Red Planet (aka Miles' Mode) has been the subject of a lot of discussion over the past couple of years. This page summarizes some of this discussion in the hope that we can learn more about the issues.

The authorship of this composition is in some doubt. Vladimir Simosko recalls that in the 1960s, many people were of the opinion that it was a Dolphy composition titled Red Planet rather than Miles' Mode by Coltrane as stated or implied in its early releases (on the Impulse Coltrane album by the quartet, and much later by the quintet from 11/1/61, as well as on boots of a 2/10/62 broadcast from Birdland). This was later confirmed when David Wild compiled information for his Coltrane discography in the 1970s. David wrote in the booklet for the 1997 Impulse box "The Complete 1961 Village Vanguard Recordings":

The modal Miles' Mode is listed on the Vanguard material as "The Red Planet." Although credited to Coltrane on the 1962 album Coltrane (where it is named Miles' Mode), the composition was almost certainly written by Eric Dolphy. The remarkable theme uses a twelve-tone tone-row as the source for its opening phrase (repeated in reverse - another dodecaphonic technique - in the second two measures), with the notes arranged to create a fairly tonal melody. The published name of course refers to the B dorian mode used as the basis for the solos, the same scale (although in a different key) used by "So What." Both versions (the later, from November 3rd, issued here for the first time) feature long, tonality-bending solos from Coltrane and Dolphy.
Further evidence that the piece may have been written by Dolphy include his performance of it with his quartet and a student ensemble at the University of Illinois in 1963. This performance was released finally, and samples are included below. In publicity for this concert, references were made to this as a Dolphy composition. Furthermore, a letter from Dolphy's close friend Hale Smith to his parents in 1975 refers to the score for Red Planet in terms that make it clear Dolphy wrote it. This score was among several, including Strength with Unity and Love Suite, that the Dolphys passed along to Gunther Schuller. Schuller directed a performance of these pieces, along with several others, at a concert in Pescara Italy on 25 March 2000.

Michael Cuscuna speculated that it may have been a Coltrane line that Dolphy arranged for brass ensemble, perhaps for the Africa Brass sessions (but not used then). I hope that we can obtain some fairly definitive information from somebody who was there, such as McCoy Tyner, for example.

According to Graham Connah and others, the row is B D E C# F# G# A G C A# F D# in the Coltrane performances. I would be very interested in any transcriptions people make of this music. Here is one by Alejandro Pulido.

There's one on the web now at by Oscar Gargiulio.

See the Dolphy discography for details of the performances in which he participated, and David Wild's Coltrane discography.

Here are several samples from various versions:

11/1/61, Village Vanguard

John Coltrane (ts), Eric Dolphy (as), McCoy Tyner (p), Reggie Workman (b), Elvin Jones (d)

11/3/61, Village Vanguard

John Coltrane (ts), Eric Dolphy (as), McCoy Tyner (p), Reggie Workman (b), Elvin Jones (d)

2/10/62, Birdland

John Coltrane (ts), Eric Dolphy (as), McCoy Tyner (p), Reggie Workman (b), Elvin Jones (d)

6/20/62, Studio Quartet

John Coltrane (ts), McCoy Tyner (p), Jimmy Garrison (b), Elvin Jones (d)

3/10/63, University of Illinois

Eric Dolphy (as), Herbie Hancock (p), Eddie Kahn (b), J.C. Moses (d), University of Illinois Student Brass Ensemble

Date created: May 6, 1998
Last modified: 4 March, 2013
Copyright © 1997, Alan Saul
Maintained by:Alan Saul