By Any Other Name

Thanks for the comments about slash chords and multiple procedures. There were some great observations made that have given me cause to reconsider so much. To be sure, my last entry was tainted with a new-found disdain for anything Georgian, so I made a few statements I probably wouldn’t have if I had written it a day earlier or later. Time is context, I guess.

Of course, slash chords are not superior to chords with long extensions and it always comes down to a matter of context whether or not they should be employed. But I do agree wholeheartedly that they’re easier to read when their lower half is placed directly under their upper half instead of being written left-to-right (i.e., A7/F–the way most music notation programs seem to print them). And I don’t really think that an A-minor triad with a major seventh is necessarily better expressed as an E-augmented triad over an A root; but, when I see the former, I’m drawn into a mental context (that I usually associate this chord with) where the major seventh is resolving upward or downward. When the latter is presented, though, little of that context enters into the equation and the chord’s function becomes more chromatic and open ended—inclusive of diatonic harmony, yet indicative of bi- and a-tonality. The truth be told, though, it always comes down to whatever the sound of music is at the moment. If I read “E+/A” and the music being played sounds like Jobim, I’ll probably play from an A-minor-major-seventh “head-space.”

What I’m struggling with now is the idea that “improvisation boils to … the simultaneous multiple processes going on [when] two or more people … make music that isn’t written down or memorized.” It was suggested, rightly, that this definition ignores solo improvisations, like Keith Jarrett’s The Köln Concert. While I’m not a big fan of the album (but I am a fan of Jarrett), it is a recording of a piece that is either totally, largely, or somewhat improvised. So I am … busted. My only explanation is that I don’t perform many solo improvisations. I’ve played a few, but always felt inadequate to the task. I usually find myself composing something in my head to refer back to, not really improvising in a pure sense. But that doesn’t mean others don’t do so—and do so quite well and effectively. It also doesn’t mean that multiple processes aren’t available to the solo improviser, especially keyboardists and percussionists. I still think it’s just more rewarding to play music with other people, though.

I mentioned before that I’ve been taking a class in the history of big bands. It’s not an arranging course, but rather an overview of the development of big band arranging styles and their relation to socio-economic contexts in the 20th Century. Last week, we looked at the connection between the development of the big band and the political left (represented by the Communist Party in the 1930s) vis-à-vis a certain John Hammond. This week we’re looking at territory bands and their relation to media of the day (radio and periodicals). I imagine that will bring us to stock arrangements, or what my dad (who played trumpet in territory bands) called “breakdowns”—charts that can be played by ensembles of differing sizes and instrumentation while retaining all the pertinent musical information of the full score. I haven’t run across any slash chords yet, though. A lot of triads with added sixth-chord symbols, though. It strikes me funny to read “| Dmin7 / F6 / |”, when they have the same notes. To be continued …

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2 thoughts on “By Any Other Name

  1. D

    I agree that in general it is more rewarding to improvise with others. But in most cases (including Jarrett’s) of great ensembles, each of the individuals has that capacity to tell a story on their own with no accompaniment. When you combine this tremendous skill of solo storytelling with the ensemble through listening intently to your fellow musicians, some amazing things can happen (eg Miles’ great quintet with Herbie, Tony Williams etc). Otherwise the danger is that people are relying on eachother’s ideas, and waiting for something to happen – which is a tough process for performers and listeners.

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  2. Phil Fried

    “..I still think it’s just more rewarding to play music with other people, though…”

    As someone who performs solo improvisations almost exclusively, though I do interact with electronics, ensemble improvisation can devolve into playing historical roles. Not to mention just loud and fast. Of course this is not always true. That said,I’m not much interested in fulfilling the historical role of the jazz bass player, even in a free jazz setting. Sure sometimes I do that, I do think of myself as a professional, but there are many other folks much better than I for that task. Solo improvisation is different.

    Problematic for me is also the tendency for folks to see musicians only in terms of the quality of those they perform with. For me that is not possible either.

    Oh well.

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