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the nature of jazz

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Richard_Halley
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i noticed a question in the fav. music thread regarding jazz...

Since i have given great consideration to jazz music in the past few years i thought i would share what i have come up with.

jazz is not to be thought of as compositional music. It is improvised. The chord progressions followed are specifically desigined to make anything and everything work, so long as the improvisor stays fairly close to the major, pentatonic and diotonic scales for the key being used and/or its reletive minor. This is generally accomplished by useing vastly irregular chords (augmented 7ths, 9ths, 11ths, 13ths, flat/sharp 5s, and combinations thereof).

for this reason, jazz is to appreciated, not as music, but rather as a performance. the only thing to be considered is the ablitity with which the performer plays his instrument.

this being said, some jazz has a very strong sense-of-life and may be listened to in the same manner as popular music.

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  • 3 weeks later...
jazz is not to be thought of as compositional music.  It is improvised.  The chord progressions followed are specifically desigined to make anything and everything work, so long as the improvisor stays fairly close to the major, pentatonic and diotonic scales for the key being used and/or its reletive minor.......

Jazz is indeed compositional music. Much of it is a matter of stating the melody, then going through flights of improvisation. There are a large number of memorable jazz melodies composed in the past 60 years or so.

Jazz is all about fun in popular music. Jazz takes popular music to its extremes.

It's great dancing and ballroom music.

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I said that jazz was not to be appericiated as compositional music. That still stands, as nothing you said is actually an argument against that. Also, it should be noted that I didn't say that jazz was bad (some is and some isn't). Maybe you forgot to read the last sentence in my first post...

This being said, some jazz has a very strong sense-of-life and may be listened to in the same manner as popular music.

And, by the way, most jazz musicians would be appalled by the mere suggestion that jazz is anything other than improvisation. I have heard some argue that any sort of planning, makes the music not jazz, but some sort of cheap imitation.

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I guess I didn't make myself perfectly clear. I believe that Jazz can be appreciated as compositional music, and that the improvisations of a jazz musician are extensions of his appreciation of a composition, whether it be original or a "cover".

Being an amateur jazz musician myself, I think I can begin to comprehend this.

Jazz is the most interesting of modern musical forms the way it combines both compositional and improvisational elements. There were some jazz movements that tried to steer clear of anything resembling composition; I guess the jam session is a good example of that.

But even something as seemingly abstract as Dizzy's Fingers has an element of composition that can be appreciated.

In the discussion of music as an art form, I recall Ayn Rand experiencing difficulty relating music to the same criteria as fine arts. In The Romantic Manifesto Rand seems to implicate music as a direct extension of emotion, not of any rational thought.

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In The Romantic Manifesto Rand seems to implicate music as a direct extension of emotion, not of any rational thought.
Rand argued that music is different from the other arts because it portrays an abstract feeling, not a physical entity. How you take this to mean that their is no rationality in music is beyond me.

I believe that Jazz can be appreciated as compositional music, and that the improvisations of a jazz musician are extensions of his appreciation of a composition, whether it be original or a "cover".

Imagine a painter has 30 seconds with which to paint from a basic guideline... while his product may be interesting, it would be folly to give it anything like the appreciation you would give to a well thought out masterpeice. Same goes for music. A chord progression and a basic melody is not a composition, it is a guideline from which musicians may show off their ability with their instrument and their improvisational skills.

Again, there is nothing wrong with jazz, as popular music goes, but to consider it anywhere near the level of the great classical composers is absurd.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Skywalker:

Jazz, by definition, is improvised. Improvisation is one of the criteron for a peice to be called jazz.

I have never heard of Pat Metheny, but based on your description, he could not properly be called jazz.

In any case, the degree to which a peice is compositional is precisely the degree to which it may be appreciated as such.

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  • 1 month later...

Improvisation, by definition, is "on the spot" composition.

In that sense, the only difference between the two is that the improvising musicians dont have an eraser.

About metheny, I wouldn't restrict the word "jazz" as describing only bebop/swing/whatever type of jazz you familier with. As said above, Pat Metheny's group plays composed music with improvised solos. In my book it's still considered 'jazz', as the solos are still the dominant factor most of the time

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  • 10 months later...

"[...] jazz is not to be thought of as compositional music. It is improvised." [Richard Halley]

Rarely is jazz entirely improvised. And sometimes it is performed entirely from a score. Usually, a jazz performance has both composed parts and improvised parts. And in a great deal of jazz, composition and arrangement are vital.

"The chord progressions followed are specifically desigined [sic] to make anything and everything work, so long as the improvisor [sic] stays fairly close to the major, pentatonic and diotonic [sic] scales for the key being used and/or its reletive [sic] minor."

There are all kinds of chord progressions in different kinds of jazz:

(1) A vast number of jazz performances make use of chord changes that were designed for songs, with virtually no intent for the changes to serve as vehicles for improvisation.

(2) Even chord changes that were composed specifically to serve as vehicles for improvisation rarely have the intent that they be used in a way that anything will work as described above. First, for something to "work" as a jazz solo it needs to be have good melodic, rhythmic, and harmonic design, structure, technique, including intonation and timbral variety, as well as being notably expressive, creative, and personal. Second, the list of scales you mentioned are but a part of most jazz musicians' scalar palette, as well as there are so many other melodic materials, aside from scales, used in jazz.

(3) In jazz, a composition is usually in a certain key, but the changes move through other keys - sometimes many keys.

"This is generally accomplished by useing [sic] vastly irregular chords (augmented 7ths, 9ths, 11ths, 13ths, flat/sharp 5s, and combinations thereof)."

Those chords are hardly "vastly irregular." They're hardly even irregular. In fact, 9ths, 11ths, and 13ths are not irregular, since they are just the 2nd, 4th, and 6th of the scale. Moreover, augmented 5ths, augmented 11ths (flat 5ths) and others are not that exotic in modern music either. However, it is true that jazz has developed remarkable harmonic creativity with scale extensions and substitutions.

"[...] for this reason, jazz is to appreciated, not as music, but rather as a performance."

First, as I just showed your "reason" to be false, it's not a reason. Second, it's ridiculous that such disciplined, creative, expressive, and beautiful music not be appreciated as music by those who understand do in fact appreciate it.

"[...] jazz was not to be appericiated [sic] as compositional music."

There's no reason that the great compositions and arrangements of jazz should not be appreciated as compositions and arrangements. Melodiousness, sophistication, complexity, originality, contour, structure, and sensuousness are just a few of the felicities of great jazz compositions.

"[...] most jazz musicians would be appalled by the mere suggestion that jazz is anything other than improvisation."

You're confusing some jazz musicians' pride in their spontaneous improvisations (which are usually part of a performance that also relies upon already composed parts) with your own overgeneralization that jazz is only improvised. Moreover, you assert on behalf of "most" jazz musicians when you don't have knowledge of what "most" jazz musicians think about jazz.

"Imagine a painter has 30 seconds with which to paint from a basic guideline... while his product may be interesting, it would be folly to give it anything like the appreciation you would give to a well thought out masterpeice [sic]."

(1) The amount of thought that goes into a work is relevant, but a work stands on its own, however long it takes the artist to think about it. From the length of time an artist thinks about a work, you can't infer as to its worthiness of appreciation, since the worthiness of a work is not in how long it took an artist to think about it but rather in the aesthetic qualities of the work as it is a completed work.

(2) Jazz musicians practice and spend lifetimes working with other musicians so that they are ready for the improvised moment. The thought that goes into an improvisation is cumulative, literally thousands and thousands of hours of practicing certain melodic materials and thousands of hours honing the results in collaboration with other improvisers. Of course, this is not what makes jazz great art, per my remarks above, but it does refute your myopic understanding of the craft of improvisation and jazz.

"A chord progression and a basic melody is not a composition, it is a guideline from which musicians may show off their ability with their instrument and their improvisational skills."

(1) As a matter of fact a set melody with a harmony is a composition. And jazz musicians play compositions. But it is true that usually in jazz the statement (though not the main design) of the harmony by the pianist and bassist is improvised. This is a function of a jazz musician's technique and versatility. The harmonic material need not be played as composed because the jazz musician is brimming with variations to enjoy in the voicings, in the rhythms, and in response to melodic, harmonic, and rhythmic choices made by the primary soloist.

(2) The purpose of improvisation is not to show off skills (though such celebration of virtuosity does enter into the performance often enough) but to make beautiful and expressive music.

(3) Much jazz, especially in larger ensembles such as big bands, is invested in rendering of music from a score.

"Jazz, by definition, is improvised. Improvisation is one of the criteron [sic] for a peice [sic] to be called jazz."

(1) Again, most jazz combines composed and improvised parts.

(2) A great number of experts define a jazz performance so as to require that it include at least some improvisation, but some experts recognize that although improvisation is the spark of the art form, there are some instances in which a performance can be jazz though not improvised.

(3) Often people overstate how much improvisation there is in jazz. Sometimes what seems to be an improvised section is barely improvised, as the soloist may have over the years honed the solo to a fairly set routine. In cases such as this, what is remarkable is that the section sounds improvised - vigorous, surprising, seemingly spontaneous - even though the musician is barely improvising or not improvising at all. What is most important is the beauty and expressiveness of the passages and the structure of the solo - whether or not the solo is actually improvised.

It's ironic that you declare how jazz is and is not to be thought of while you are yourself so terribly misinformed and misinformative on the subject.

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Jazz, by definition, is improvised.  Improvisation is one of the criteron for a peice to be called jazz.

From the Encyclopedia Britannica: "Early attempts to define jazz as a music whose chief characteristic was improvisation, for example, turned out to be too restrictive and largely untrue, since composition, arrangement, and ensemble have also been essential components of jazz for most of its history."

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I've had conversations with non-musicians about how "jazz sounds" to them. I have formulated a kind of answer to explain this that has helped clarify the issue to some of these people.

The reason jazz sometimes sounds "so strange but still seems to work" is the manner in which the voice leading is accomplished. Often jazz players disregard what is happening at any given time & refer to something that will be happening a few measures or chords later. The result is that many times jazz soloist & composers are more concerned with where the music is going rather than where it came from.

A simple example would be that the band is playing a Cmajor7 chord. But the soloist knows that the next chord is an Eminor7, so rather than worry about soloing in C major (or over the Cmajor7 chord) the rest of the band is playing, instead, the soloist plays a line that points to the Eminor7 that will be happening soon. For example the soloist might choose to play a ii - V - i cadence. Which means that while the band is sounding a Cmajor7 the soloist is outlining an F#minor7 (probably with a flat 5, this is jazz after all!) as the ii of Eminor, then a B7 (probably with a flat 9 or 13) as the V7 of Eminor. All of which can sound quite peculiar against the band playing Cmajor7.

Some jazz soloists even disregard the penultimate resolution. This means that the soloist in my previous paragraph would do a ii - V - i, in other words he would actually play something that is from the Eminor7 when it arrives before launching into the next round of extrapolated voice leadings. Instead, some soloists will do a ii - V pointing to the next chord the band will play but the soloist will never actually play any of the I chords to which he is pointing. He just keeps playing ii - V of the next event. As soon as that next event arrives the soloist is already off on another ii - V that points to the next chord...& so on.

The best guys (Parker, Coltrane, & the Almighty Amazing Tatum, etc.) knew how to do this while still making it beautiful & integrated. & even then some of them went so far outside it was impossible to understand what they were playing unless you already had some preestablished concept of what they were attempting (i.e.: you knew the song they were interpreting, there were other band members playing the parts the soloist was referring to, etc.).

One of the differences between this type of jazz voice leading approach & classical voice leading approach is that the classical composer will typically be more concerned with where the music has been, where it is and where it is going. Furthermore, they are concerned with how ALL of the parts work with (or against) one another so all they are integrated. One contrasting characteristic of jazz is the striking quality of abrupt alterations of these harmonic structures/functions.

Granted, I am usually playing examples on guitar or piano for the benefit of the non-musicians I try to explain this to. I hope this helps anyone that is interested. I hope I haven't simply made the issue less clear with my typcially over-long posting! Haha!

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It's true that there is a lot of harmonic anticipation and you mentioned a good point about 2-5 cadences often not resolving to 1. But I don't know that I would call all of this 'voice leading'. I think of voice leading as a more "micro" concept and practice having to do with how the invidividual chord tones go from those of one chord to the next rather than what's happening on the level of the chords as units onto themselves.

You probably mean flat nine and flat thirteenth (augmented fifth).

Edited by LauricAcid
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It's true that there is a lot of harmonic anticipation and you mentioned a good point about 2-5 cadences often not resolving to 1. But I don't know that I would call all of this 'voice leading'. I think of voice leading as a more "micro" concept and practice having to do with how the invidividual chord tones go from those of one chord to the next rather than what's happening on the level of the chords as units onto themselves.

I disagree. In my estimation, the only reason one can point to a chord progression & say "That is a ii - V - I" is precisely because there is necessarily voice leading involved. It is not possible to possess goal-directed harmonic motion without possessing the concept of voice-leading.

In an analogous manner scales depend on intervals which depend on pure individual tones. If there is motion of more than one voice interacting such as in a jazz tune with a soloist (i.e. a chord progression & a melody playing with/against it) there is voice leading present. It might not be good voice leading from the perspective of classical precision; the players may not think of it in that manner, but it is still there by nature.

You probably mean flat nine and flat thirteenth (augmented fifth).

I mean ANY of those that I mentioned, the ones you mentioned & others. I only mentioned a couple as an example. The point being any extended, upper harmonic sturctures. Jazz favors altered tensions & 7s, 9s, 11s, 13s, major or minor in a way that stresses them rather than refer to them as passing tones or mere "colorful ornaments" as strict classical voice leading does.

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That voice leading and harmonic progression are intertwined doesn't entail that they're the same.

Perhaps this is only a matter of terminological usage, but I've never encountered an author on this subject writing as if 'voice leading' and 'harmonic progression' (or 'chord changes') are synonymous. And what I mean by voice leading being more particular than chord changes is that voice leading is what happens to the individual voices in the chords while the chords change. Voice leading is more particular since a given chord progression can be expressed with different voice leadings as a pianist (or guitarist, arranger, et al.) may choose to voice the chords differently each time he plays the progression or at least differently from how other pianists might play it. So a particular harmonic progression can have different voice leadings. And there can even be voice leadings within a static harmony, as the voices form lines as a particular chord is voiced in different ways one after another.

/

I was referring to the augmented fifth in regard to a minor key dominant with a flat ninth, which is the context you mentioned.

Edited by LauricAcid
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That voice leading and harmonic progression are intertwined doesn't entail that they're the same.

Perhaps this is only a matter of terminological usage, but I've never encountered an author on this subject writing as if 'voice leading' and 'harmonic progression' (or 'chord changes') are synonymous.

Yes, that is correct they are not the same thing. What I am saying is the concept of voice leading gives rises to (makes possible) the concept of harmonic progression. It is unfortunate, but true, that few musicologists have either discovered, identified or observed this fact.

Historically, follow simple chants, through the rise of polyphony & homophony. Eventually you arrive at the general time frame known as the baroque & classical eras. This is when the concept of voice leading was explicitily identified & consciously used in the sense to which I am referring. But, even before that it was present to a degree; it just wasn't fully, explicitly understood & implemented.

And what I mean by voice leading being more particular than chord changes is that voice leading is what happens to the individual voices in the chords while the chords change.

Exactly. Except I would further point out that the reason chords change is because their individual voices move in a particular manner called voice leading.

So a particular harmonic progression can have different voice leadings. And there can even be voice leadings within a static harmony, as the voices form lines as a particular chord is voiced in different ways one after another.

I agree & I would add ALL harmonic progressions necessarily have voice leading.

I was referring to the augmented fifth in regard to a minor key dominant with a flat ninth, which is the context you mentioned.

Ahh, fair enough. Good call! Although I've used it effectively in a major key as well, but usually in a jazz piece.

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Your points are well taken, except this does not seem to me to be a correct explanation:

"[...] the reason chords change is because their individual voices move in a particular manner called voice leading. [...]"

Yes, chords can change because voices lead in a particular way. But (especially in jazz) chords can change just because the musicians dictate that the chords change, in which case the changing chords cause the moving voices, not vice versa. More basically, it seems to me that the authentic cadence is a resolution of the tritone (the authentic cadence, as you know, being the primary harmonic movement of Western music, even in jazz (especially if you allow that root movement by fifth, even unresolved to the major chord, is a variation of the root movement by fifth in the authentic cadence)). But this resolution can be accomplished by different voice leadings, so (in this chicken vs. egg question) the reason voices move is because the chords do, not vice versa. And in the authentic cadence, the chords move to dispel a VERTICAL (not so much a matter of voice leading) tritone. That is, the voices (not, of course, including the voice carrying the melody itself) move to achieve a harmonic objective, not vice versa.

On the other hand, I admit that, as you alluded, from an historical view, it seems that voice leading preceded harmony in the era before Baroque, especially in early modal music. I'm not expert about early church music, but it does seem that you are correct that the concern pretty much was with polyphony. Though it would be interesting to know more about harmonic concerns from ancient times too.

Edited by LauricAcid
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Perhaps we are working from different premises here. I am going to be as specific as possible in defining my terms. Please be patient; I am not trying to be insulting or condescending. From your previous posts I gather you understand music theory quite well. I am stating the obvious from the beginning so my thoughts on this topic are as "transparent" as possible.

A melody is a succession of musical notes (pure, properly intonated tones) constructed in such a manner as to be perceivable as a self contained auditory unit. A good melody should have these characteristics & in addition should be goal-directed by implying a harmonic context/framework.

In the broadest possible context, a chord is the sounding of two or more different notes simultaneously.

A melody is primarily a horizontal component of music; a chord is primarily a vertical component of music. An essential difference is that a melody is a series of notes happening over a period of time in a linear manner, while a chord is an isolated event that happens, then stops when the next chord happens. The problem with using only chords to describe a piece of music is that they are compartmentalized. This is why an extensive, elaborate system of syntax has been developed: in order to explain chord progressions. In other words, it is a way to regard successive chords in a horizontal manner so that, even though they are isolated, discrete events, they are still related to each other.

(Side note: In my estimation, some traditional music theory approaches still reduce the understanding of chords & chord progressions to an extreme verticality at the expense of ignoring the horizontal aspect of the music.)

All notes present in a chord are regarded individually as a "voice". Voice leading describes the way in which these "voices" interact, creating and embellishing the chord progression as it happens horizontally through time (as the music goes by; more importantly as Man actually experiences music).

This is vital because each voice or melodic thread is maintained as an individual, horizontal unit rather than as simply a part of the resultant, vertical event known as a chord.

Yes, chords can change because voices lead in a particular way.

Because chords are built of individual notes, which I am regarding as voices, chords are the temporary vertical result of voices moving, changing horizontally, throughout a piece.

But (especially in jazz) chords can change just because the musicians dictate that the chords change, in which case the changing chords cause the moving voices, not vice versa.

But how do the musicians decide which chord comes next? Chords are not primaries. They are dependent upon the individual notes which comprise them. And unless the piece is consists of only one chord sounded & that's the end, then, a minimum of two chords will contain individual voices that necessarily will be heard as moving horizontally.

More basically, it seems to me that the authentic cadence is a resolution of the tritone...

Yes, that is a fact. But again, the tritone itself is only an interval & in this context a vertical, compartmentalized aspect of the music. As soon as one says the tritone resolves one is pointing to individually moving voices & the tritone is replaced by another interval (major or minor third in the simplest authentic cadence case).

Two notes that happen simultaneously & are a tritone apart is only a vertical event without horizontal meaning (except for the time they are sounded) until each note (voice) moves to another note & creates a new, different resultant interval (again in this case major or minor third).

But this resolution can be accomplished by different voice leadings, so (in this chicken vs. egg question) the reason voices move is because the chords do, not vice versa.

But individual notes are more primary than chords, & music is experienced horizontally, linearly through time. I maintain the opposite: chords are the temporary, vertical result of interacting voices horizontally moving.

And in the authentic cadence, the chords move to dispel a VERTICAL (not so much a matter of voice leading) tritone.

I disagree. Chords do NOT move. Chords are vertical, compartmentalized events that occur & stop occuring when the next chord is sounded. Chords are only related to one another by the manner in which their individual notes (voices) interact horizontally.

That is, the voices (not, of course, including the voice carrying the melody itself) move to achieve a harmonic objective, not vice versa.

And if the voices do not move there is no goal-directed action. & therefore no obective achieved. Although, I am not sure why you regard the voice that is the melody to be excluded from this context...? I would say it has the greatest auditory prominence, it is the focus of attention, but it should also be integrated with the other voice occuring. The other voices may be regarded as subserviant to this main melody carrying voice.

On the other hand, I admit that, as you alluded, from an historical view, it seems that voice leading preceded harmony in the era before Baroque, especially in early modal music. I'm not expert about early church music, but it does seem that you are correct that the concern pretty much was with polyphony. Though it would be interesting to know more about harmonic concerns from ancient times too.

Regardless of when voice leading was discovered, explicitly identified & consciously used in composition or not, it is more primary component of music than chords or chord progressions. I maintain, the horizontal movement of interacting voices is the why it is even possible to say that chord exist in music. I understand that a chord may be regarded as an entity in its own right. But one chord, isolated, by itself, has no musical meaning.

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We might not have such different premises, but I feel that jazz can also be understood as vertical and horizontal as hand in hand as opposed to a demand that horizontal be considered primary.

"Because chords are built of individual notes, which I am regarding as voices, chords are the temporary vertical result of voices moving, changing horizontally, throughout a piece."

In such pieces as "So What" a chord lasts as long as twenty-four contiguous measures. The pianist will change voicings, but the chord (reckoned as a root and a quality) is planted. This is not just an idiosyncratic example, since vamps also are prevalent in jazz. And the motivation for chords changing need not be to accommodate moving voices but can be to contrast chord qualities or just to give harmonic variety for its own sake.

"But how do the musicians decide which chord comes next? Chords are not primaries. They are dependent upon the individual notes which comprise them. And unless the piece is consists of only one chord sounded & that's the end, then, a minimum of two chords will contain individual voices that necessarily will be heard as moving horizontally."

All I'm saying in this connection is that the musicians may decide on the sequence of chords well before and independent of how they get the voices moving. And in practice, a horn (as opposed to a chord instrument) player's first question usually is "So, what are the changes to this tune?", not "So, how do the voices move during my solo?" And he's supplied with an answer in the form of a chart that specifies the chords without regard to voicings or voice movement. Granted, during improvisation, the player usually is concerned with the resolutions of chord tones. But this does not contradict anything I've mentioned. Moreover, between certain passages there might not be any voice leading to speak of. A phrase can end during one chord and a new phrase begin during the next chord.

"[...] the tritone itself is only an interval & in this context a vertical, compartmentalized aspect of the music. As soon as one says the tritone resolves one is pointing to individually moving voices [...]"

That is true but contradicts nothing implied by my argument.

"I maintain the opposite: chords are the temporary, vertical result of interacting voices horizontally moving."

It can go either way. As I mentioned, often enough the improviser has chords on his mind and may devise his melody not even as a moving voice of the chord but rather as a running commentary on the changing chords. The improviser is not obligated to state a voice leading for the chords, but rather is free to use all kinds of other material over the chord. In these terms, the chords are first given to the improviser, and not only is no particular voice leading required, but the improviser is not required to suggest any voice leading for the chord.

"Chords do NOT move. Chords are vertical, compartmentalized events that occur & stop occur[r]ing when the next chord is sounded. Chords are only related to one another by the manner in which their individual notes (voices) interact horizontally."

By 'chords moving' I mean what musicians mean by that in the sense that the chords are changing. And two chords have a relation that can be abstracted from their own voicings and from the moving voices between them. For example, Db7 often resolves to CM7 or to GbM7. Those are relations between Db7 and CM7 and between Db7 and GbM7 that I stated without having to specify anything about moving voices, as I abstracted from the many possible voicings and voice leadings.

"I am not sure why you regard the voice that is the melody to be excluded from this context [...]"

Because the melody usually doesn't move to achieve a harmonic objective but rather moves to achieve its own objective. This contrasts with the lower voices, which usually move to form the harmony that's already been stipulated.

"But one chord, isolated, by itself, has no musical meaning."

But a chord by itself does have meaning. A pianist plays a chord and says, "Nice chord, eh?" That's a meaningful question asked about a meaningful event. Or a whole piece (more likely, though, a section of a piece) can be a vamp. Just one chord. It's meaningful. It has a sound. It has a quality. It has a richness (if it's a nice chord). And it has emotional associations. A chord may be meaningful even if the voices are not moving.

Edited by LauricAcid
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We might not have such different premises...

I don't know how accurate that statement is because you have not stated your premises or more importantly how & why they might differ from mine. But even if our premises are not so different, why are we disagreeing?

...but I feel that jazz can also be understood as vertical and horizontal as hand in hand as opposed to a demand that horizontal be considered primary.

All music can be understood to have vertical & horizontal components. My point is that is it inaccurate to refer to music as a series of chords without acknowledging that individually moving voices create these chords & that motion is called voice leading. Also, even the horizontal aspect can be said to have a vertical aspect, namely that from note to note a melody rises & falls vertically. But it is possible to have a piece of music that is only a solo voice playing one note at a time with NO CHORDS at all present. The piece might suggest chords or harmonic movement, but would not explicitly sound chords. If chords happen to be present in a piece it is because there is more than one voice sounding simultaneously.

In such pieces as "So What" a chord lasts as long as twenty-four contiguous measures.

And has only TWO chords on its lead sheet/chord chart with a melody played over them. It's strange that you would bring it up because this piece is a perfect jazz example of what I am talking about. Miles Davis did this piece as a kind of reaction against the be-bop tradition from which Charile Parker typified. Rather than a piece that had a ton of chords, an extended melody & therefore many, many places for temporary resolutions & explicitly placed cadences, jazz subtitutions, etc., Davis created a simple melody played over a vamp that only suggested one chord. Then the piece transposes up a half step & does the same thing. Eventually it cycles back down a half step & repeats while soloists take turns.

Because there is so little explicitly charted harmonic information the soloist is charged with 2 important tasks.

1. A great deal of freedom & leeway to interpret the melody.

2. A great responsibility of the difficult job of providing interesting melodic (linear, horizontal) information in spite of the lack of interesting harmonic background information.

Only the individual listener can decide for himself if the soloist has succeeded!

Regardless, the piece stresses the importance of the melody, the line, thematic development: all primarily horizontal, linear aspects of music. There are times when the soloists suggest chord motion, cadences, resolutions, etc. even though the band does not explicitly follow suit, rather keeps vamping & otherwise suggesting that one chord. A lot of stuff from this period of Davis works this way. In fact, on the same album as "So What" is "Blue in Green" in which the chord chart explicitly shows polychords (two chords played together, "one on top of another").

The pianist will change voicings, but the chord (reckoned as a root and a quality) is planted.

I am starting to wonder exactly what is going on here...

"The pianist will change voicings"? How? By changing the individual notes that comprise the chord.

And the motivation for chords changing need not be to accommodate moving voices but can be to contrast chord qualities or just to give harmonic variety for its own sake.

Whether or not music contains voice leading does not depend upon the player's/composer's motivation (or lack thereof). I am saying, music containing two different voices or more, sounded simultanteously by defintion contains voice leading. It is how one describes the interaction of those two differing voices that are simultaneously occuring. Voice leading is not "a set of rules that historical composers used". I understand this is often the inaccurate quasi-definition some theorists & textbooks use or suggest; they are wrong.

All I'm saying in this connection is that the musicians may decide on the sequence of chords well before and independent of how they get the voices moving.

So what? (Haha!) I can decide to use a I - IV - V progression before I start writing a piece. But, I can't say that without implying that I will use some combination of lines (voices) that move in a manner that would accomplish outlining this chord progression. And once those voices are moving, how they interact will determine whether or not I have actually achieved the predetermined goal of lines that work with that sequence of chords.

And in practice, a horn (as opposed to a chord instrument) player's first question usually is "So, what are the changes to this tune?", not "So, how do the voices move during my solo?" And he's supplied with an answer in the form of a chart that specifies the chords without regard to voicings or voice movement.

But aren't you describing a jazz soloist that is supposed to improvize? If you tell him explicitly what voices to play he's not improvizing, is he? Anyway, regardless of whether or not lines are composed or improvized they still interact with the other voices present in the piece & this interaction is called voice leading.

Moreover, between certain passages there might not be any voice leading to speak of. A phrase can end during one chord and a new phrase begin during the next chord.

If a phrase is played while a chord is occuring, voices are interacting & there is voice leading.

...often enough the improviser has chords on his mind and may devise his melody not even as a moving voice of the chord but rather as a running commentary on the changing chords. The improviser is not obligated to state a voice leading for the chords, but rather is free to use all kinds of other material over the chord. In these terms, the chords are first given to the improviser, and not only is no particular voice leading required, but the improviser is not required to  suggest any voice leading for the chord.

I don't know what "a running commentrary on the changing chords" is. I especially don't know what it is if it a melody but not a moving voice. The improvizer has no choice as to whether or not he voice leads. If he plays a line while other lines are occuring there is voice leading happening.

In this context, there is no such thing as lines that create voice leading & lines that don't.

But a chord by itself does have meaning. A pianist plays a chord and says, "Nice chord, eh?" That's a meaningful question asked about a meaningful event. Or a whole piece (more likely, though, a section of a piece) can be a vamp. Just one chord. It's meaningful. It has a sound. It has a quality. It has a richness (if it's a nice chord). And it has emotional associations. A chord may be meaningful even if the voices are not moving.

You dropped the context of & most important qualifier in my original statement: "But one chord, isolated, by itself, has no musical meaning." (emphasis added)

This is analogous to a literary author saying, "Integrity...nice word, huh?" Sure it's a nice word with a nice definition. But it has no artistic (in this context literary) meaning. Now, if the author said, "Howard Roark had integrity." Then proceeded to show this through the thoughts & actions of the character in a story, that has artistic meaning. The word, by itself, has no artistic, literary meaning.

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"[...] why are we disagreeing?"

The best I can convey an answer to that is by analogy: It's as if you're looking at one of those drawings that reverses figure and ground as you stare at it, but you're blocked from seeing the reversal.

Figure (and ground): Chords are the result of moving voices.

Figure (and ground): Chords are can be pre-decided so that voices move to meet these decisions. (Example: The statement "Let's play "Giant Steps"" implies the chords irrespective of what the voicings might be for the chordal instruments; and the non-chordal instruments may very well devise melodies that are unconcerned with voice leading, since patterns and digitals can jump from chord to chord without necessity of resolving from the note of one chord to another (or same) note in another chord.)

Some of these counterpoints are repetitions of counterpoints I've already made:

"My point is that is it inaccurate to refer to music as a series of chords without acknowledging that individually moving voices create these chords & that motion is called voice leading."

I don't say that chords in general are not created by moving voices. Rather, I say that in some instances chords are not a function of moving voices.

"If chords happen to be present in a piece it is because there is more than one voice sounding simultaneously."

The mere event of voices sounding simultaneously is not voices in motion.

""So What""

Actually Davis played not to suggest the chord but rather the scale. Also, the modal approach is often not to suggest a single chord but rather to suggest a scale and often to suggest harmonic ambiguity as opposed to fixedness on a chord.

In any case, that nor nothing you mentioned detracts from the argument I've made, especially since I'm not arguing that, god forbid!, melody is not important or even that it's not the essence of music.

""The pianist will change voicings"? How? By changing the individual notes that comprise the chord.:

The point there is not that voice leading does not come into play or that voice leading is unimportant, but rather that the primary musical objective in that circumstance is to stay on the chord, with changing voicings a secondary objective. In such circumstances, the chord is the focus, and the voicings are each ways of expressing that focus. Moving voices don't motivate the chord; the chord motivates the moving voices. Figure and ground. They reverse sometimes.

"I can decide to use a I - IV - V progression before I start writing a piece. But, I can't say that without implying that I will use some combination of lines (voices) that move in a manner that would accomplish outlining this chord progression. And once those voices are moving, how they interact will determine whether or not I have actually achieved the predetermined goal of lines that work with that sequence of chords."

I have thought that voice leading, in our discussion, means more than just a melody line, but means, most specifically, the resolutions of supporting voices from one chord to another, and more generally, to include the melody voice also in service of these resolutions. Just because a soloist creates a melody to fit chords does not entail that the soloist is concerned with voice leading. And I gave examples of improvisatory approaches that are not tied to voice leading.

"If a phrase is played while a chord is occuring, voices are interacting & there is voice leading."

If your definition of 'voice leading' is so broad as to include any possible line played over any chord, then, yeah, you got me, virtually all jazz melody and harmony is reducible to voice leading.

"I don't know what "a running commentrary on the changing chords" is. I especially don't know what it is if it a melody but not a moving voice."

By 'running commentary' I meant to impart that the soloist is not obligated to chord tones, but rather "comments" or "alludes" to the chords with a variety of melodic materials. And the soloist is not obligated to resolving the voices of the chord. That's the crux of this discussion. Much soloing is concerned with such voice leading considerations, but a lot of soloing is not. One could play an arpeggio, then jump to another arpeggio for the next chord without care for whether the last note of the first arpeggio resolves to the first note of the second arpeggio. That a melody is being played doesn't necessarily entail that voice leading is at stake. But again, if you want to define 'voice leading' so broadly that it includes any melodic event whatsoever, then, of course, who can argue with you that music is all voice leading.

"You dropped the context of & most important qualifier in my original statement: "But one chord, isolated, by itself, has no musical meaning." (emphasis added)"

I thought the qualifier meant to isolate a chord from voice leading. In this sense, a chord can have meaning without consideration of voice leading. A pianist can play a chord and nothing else and we can discuss whether the chord is a complex one, a sophisticated one, a beautiful one, and what emotions it suggests. And we can talk about the voicing of the chord. And all of that is meaningful, irrespective of any voice leading that would go into connecting the voices from the chord to the next chord. And, unless you take the 'leading' out of 'voice leading', voices in a chord are not in themselves (or combined) voice leadings. Further, as I mentioned, a chord can be played in a vamp, even without changing voicings. So the meaning of that chord is again irrespective of voice LEADING.

"This is analogous to a literary author saying, "Integrity...nice word, huh?" Sure it's a nice word with a nice definition. But it has no artistic (in this context literary) meaning. Now, if the author said, "Howard Roark had integrity." Then proceeded to show this through the thoughts & actions of the character in a story, that has artistic meaning. The word, by itself, has no artistic, literary meaning."

Bad analogy.

1. A chord combines different tones, so it is not as isolated as a word. It would be a better analogy to say that a pianist striking a single note and saying, "Nice note, eh?" is analogous to "Nice word, eh?". Even then, a single note might have qualities that give it meaning: clarity, timbre, strength, attack and decay, etc.

2. One can even meaningfully ask, "Nice word, eh" aside from use in a sentence. For example, a word might be considered nice for its euphony, or for being onomatopoetic, or for capturing a certain meaning that is not captured by any other word, or even for being surprising sounding.

Finally, these are are meaningful and different:

[When one chord played alone]:

"Nice chord." [ambiguous but still not meaningless: Maybe the speaker likes the chord and the particular voicing or likes the chord but not the particular voicing of it. For example, I may like an augmented 11th on a major-minor 7th chord but not the way you voiced it.]

"Nice chord, and nice voicing of it."

[When one chord played after another]:

"Nice chords."

"Nice chords, and I like the voicings."

"Nice chords, and I like the voicings, and I like the voice leading too."

"Nice chords, and I like the progression, and I like the voicings of each one by itself, but I don't like the way the voices move from one to the next."

Edited by LauricAcid
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Figure (and ground): Chords are the result of moving voices.

So, you are saying this is my assertion. More specifically I said, because chords are built of individual notes, which I am regarding as voices, chords are the temporary vertical result of voices moving, changing horizontally, throughout a piece. A chord can exist by itself (a simultaneous sounding of more than one note) but it has no musical meaning.

Figure (and ground): Chords are can be pre-decided so that voices move to meet these decisions.

& this is yours. But the disagreement appears to be over voice leading & not the definition of "chord". Do you agree that a chord is "a simultaneous sounding of more than one note"?

Example: The statement "Let's play "Giant Steps"" implies the chords irrespective of what the voicings might be for the chordal instruments...

But, it doesn't matter if you start with a chord chart that does not specify voicings. That just means it's "wide open" as to what choices the musicians will use when playing. As soon as the musicians start playing, they are creating specific, concrete, explicit lines that interact in specific, concrete, explicit ways.

I don't say that chords in general are not created by moving voices. Rather, I say that in some instances chords are not a function of moving voices.

I do not see how that is possible. Perhaps you could show me an explicit musical instance?

The mere event of voices sounding simultaneously is not voices in motion.

I agree, that is called a chord.

I have thought that voice leading, in our discussion, means more than just a melody line, but means, most specifically, the resolutions of supporting voices from one chord to another, and more generally, to include the melody voice also in service of these resolutions.

In this sentence, a great deal hinges on exactly what you mean by "resolutions". It is true in Baroque/Classical music voice leading resolutions were generally meant to be very explicit, formulaic movements. These movements relied on triadic harmonic structures that ultimately pointed to pure major or minor chord. However, beginning (generally) with Romanticism & on to the present it is not necessary to only rely on triadic structures or point only to pure major or minor chords. In jazz it is as if the requirement is NOT to be limited in this manner.

If your definition of 'voice leading' is so broad as to include any possible line played over any chord, then, yeah, you got me, virtually all jazz melody and harmony is reducible to voice leading.

Yes, that is how broad voice leading is. If you want to formulate a more narrow conception, what would it be? What conditions, qualifications, essential characteristics would form a line that divides, for example, THIS melody & chords has voice leading & THAT melody & chords does not have voice leading?

And the soloist is not obligated to resolving the voices of the chord. That's the crux of this discussion. Much soloing is concerned with such voice leading considerations, but a lot of soloing is not. One could play an arpeggio, then jump to another arpeggio for the next chord without care for whether the last note of the first arpeggio resolves to the first note of the second arpeggio. That a melody is being played doesn't necessarily entail that voice leading is at stake.

Again, a great deal hinges here on "resolution". But I don't see how your example provides an essential characteristic of how to distinguish between lines & melodies with & without voice leading.

But again, if you want to define 'voice leading' so broadly that it includes any melodic event whatsoever, then, of course, who can argue with you that music is all voice leading.

Apparently you can! :D

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I thought the qualifier meant to isolate a chord from voice leading. In this sense, a chord can have meaning without consideration of voice leading.

I was referring to the qualifier "musical".

Bad analogy.

1. A chord combines different tones, so it is not as isolated as a word. It would be a better analogy to say that a pianist striking a single note and saying, "Nice note, eh?" is analogous to "Nice word, eh?". Even then, a single note might have qualities that give it meaning: clarity, timbre, strength, attack and decay, etc.

2. One can even meaningfully ask, "Nice word, eh" aside from use in a sentence. For example, a word might be considered nice for its euphony, or for being onomatopoetic, or for capturing a certain meaning that is not captured by any other word, or even for being surprising sounding.

In your point 1. the characteristics you list belonging to a single note still do not make it have musical meaning. In your point 2. the characteristics you list belonging to a single word still do not make it have literary meaning.

Finally, these are are meaningful and different:

(When one chord played alone):

"Nice chord." (ambiguous but still not meaningless: Maybe the speaker likes the chord and the particular voicing or likes the chord but not the particular voicing of it. For example, I may like an augmented 11th on a major-minor 7th chord but not the way you voiced it.)

"Nice chord, and nice voicing of it."

Yes, these statements are meaningful in identifying a listeners reaction to the sound (i.e. various characteristics) of a chord being played. But there is no music happening in these examples.

(When one chord played after another):

"Nice chords."

"Nice chords, and I like the voicings."

"Nice chords, and I like the voicings, and I like the voice leading too."

"Nice chords, and I like the progression, and I like the voicings of each one by itself, but I don't like the way the voices move from one to the next."

Ah! Now we have some music happening. But in the first 2 responses the responder has merely not mentioned voice leading, that doesn't mean it is not happening. The last 2 responses show the responder more conceptually aware of that which makes the chords sound as they do, voice leading, & therefore more able to form a more knowledgable judgment about why they find it aethetically satisfying or not.

Thanks for the interesting discussion. :D

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Some of these are points repeated, some of which you have not met in your rebuttals:

"[...] chords are the temporary vertical result of voices moving, changing horizontally, throughout a piece. A chord can exist by itself (a simultaneous sounding of more than one note) but it has no musical meaning."

I gave as a counterexample that a vamp can be a chord repeated with no moving voices. In these instances the chord has musical meaning without voice leading.

Also, a chord can follow another chord, usually after some rest in the music, without regard to the relationship of the voices in the first chord to the voices in the second chord. In these instances, the chords have musical meaning without voice leading.

Also, a soloist may play phrases, such as arpeggios, over chords such that the phrases do not link the voice of one chord with that of the next, but instead abruptly move from chord arpeggio to chord arpeggio. In these instances, the melodic line is not explained as voice leading.

"Do you agree that a chord is "a simultaneous sounding of more than one note"?"

For our purposes, that's fine. But if we were to get more specific, a vertical chord is the simultaneous sounding of more than one note, while a horizontal chord is an arpeggio. Also, we might qualify that a chord is three or more notes (just two notes is merely an interval, and especially, a unison or octave is not much of a chord) and that not just any set of notes is a chord (some sets are clusters, not chords).

"As soon as the musicians start playing, they are creating specific, concrete, explicit lines that interact in specific, concrete, explicit ways."

Yes, and some of those ways are not explained as voice leading, as I mentioned examples earlier in this post. Also, that even when voice leading is present, my point remains that there is a level of musical analysis that does not depend on the voice leading but merely on the progression. Much jazz analysis is of this kind.

"Perhaps you could show me an explicit musical instance?"

Any vamp in which the chord is not revoiced.

Even more fundamentally (and why didn't I think of this before!), the first chord of a song does not depend on any voices leading into it. The song has musical meaning during that first chord. The music becomes more meaningful when it goes to the second chord, but the duration in which only the first chord has been played is a duration of musical meaning.

""any possible line played over any chord" ... that is how broad voice leading is.

But the term 'voice leading' is used in a much more special sense.

"What conditions, qualifications, essential characteristics would form a line that divides, for example, THIS melody & chords has voice leading & THAT melody & chords does not have voice leading?"

The word 'voice leading' shifts in usage between referring to the line(s) and referring to an analysis of the line(s). Roughly, one talks about voice leading in terms of "rules" for how voices in chords move in relationship with one another and especially in terms of how a note in one chord is resolved (or remains unresolved, perhaps) as a voice in the next chord. And more specifically, especially in jazz, voice leading is most concerned with half-step and whole step movement of the tension notes. On the other hand, if, for example, a soloist plays an entire scale in sixteenth notes over a chord then that is not voice leading.

Again, to show the difference, by example, between voice leading and mere "any possible line played over any chord": The B in G7 moving up to the root in CM7 is voice leading. But running the D melodic minor scale over G7, then running the G major scale over CM7 is not voice leading.

"In your point 1. the characteristics you list belonging to a single note still do not make it have musical meaning. In your point 2. the characteristics you list belonging to a single word still do not make it have literary meaning."

They do. It's a musically meaningful observation that a particular note was played with beautiful tone. It is meaningful to say that a particular word has certain literary implications.

"But there is no music happening in these examples."

Not much music, that's true. But that's not the point of contention. The examples are musically meaningful. The notion of a chord irrespective of moving voices is musically meaningful.

"[...] in the first 2 responses the responder has merely not mentioned voice leading, that doesn't mean it is not happening."

The point in those examples is not whether voice leading is happening but whether a level of analysis exists that does not depend on mentioning voice leading.

"The last 2 responses show the responder more conceptually aware of that which makes the chords sound as they do, voice leading, & therefore more able to form a more knowledgable judgment about why they find it aethetically satisfying or not."

As to voice leading, not what makes the chords sound as they do, but what makes the sequence of particular voicings sound as it does.

"Thanks for the interesting discussion."

You too. Though I feel that some of the tangents we've struck would be more mutually informative to pursue than the wrangle we have now, which seems to me to be barely better than a logomachy.

Edited by LauricAcid
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