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Re: Jazz chord chaos

From: David Raleigh Arnold
Subject: Re: Jazz chord chaos
Date: Wed, 04 Apr 2001 13:28:18 -0400

> > There is absolutely no reason to have sus4 instead of 11 or b13
> > instead of #5.
> I am wondering whether this could be a generational difference.
> I really don't have much historical knowledge on the subject myself,
> but it seems to me that things must have changed; that is the only way
> I can reconcile the difference between the description you've given
> about jazz chord symbols and the observations I can make about the
> reality around me.
True. Read on. I hope you might see fit to make a few changes in your
reality. :-) 
> For my entire peer group, which consists mostly of young musicians,
> and also for middle-aged musicians who I've played with, #5 and b13
> certainly deliver two distinct impressions.
>  C7(#5) implies for us
> a whole-tone sound, while C7(b13) is more likely F melodic minor.
> It's not a matter of showing off, it's just a matter of practicality.

For analysis?

That is unfortunate. They are not impressions, just a bunch of notes.
They don't imply anything. Same *tones* = same impression. Jazz chords
have no context, nor do the chord symbols in sheet music. That is the
whole idea of having them, the fact that you don't need any sort of
context to play them. Each chord *stands alone*. People who don't like
that should use "V7 of V" and like that, which is much more suitable for

> (If you are interested, Fred Hersch also said that he usually only
> considers #5 for major chords; otherwise it is confusing.)
It is confusing that a #5 means that the triad is not major anyway. It
is merely silly to write a Am(#5) instead of F. Didn't confuse James
Bond did it? I guess that means Mr. Hersch is for instant recognition
rather than analysis. :-)
> And I've simply never seen C11 used as a replacement for Csus4.
That's backwards. I have seen it though. When you have jazz chords, in
what sense is anything suspended? And why care 11th or 4th? You can
trill the 3rd either way, right? And the emphasis is on *functional
harmony*. That's why all chords are dominant by default.
> To me it seems that this experience of mine only can serve to illustrate
> your point, however, that flexibility is what's needed, because it seems
> we are living in two different worlds.
Thank you. :-)
> > The chords are not there to convey a composer's intention or say
> > anything about voice leading. If you are playing a jazz solo, you
> > don't care *at all* what the arranger or songwriter wanted, you just
> > want to find a way to play something with that chord behind you and
> > you don't care about resolving anything which you are not yourself
> > playing. The chords are a *given*. You don't have to make sense out
> > of chord progressions, just *survive* them.
> I can sympathize with the rest of your article, but this part just
> puzzles me.  After the song is printed, there's no doubt that the
> performer can do whatever he or she wants, but if the chord theory
> is outside the scope of notation, then the performer's liberty is
> even further outside.
? That's what makes it jazz. :-)
> Before the piece is printed the important thing is to keep its quality
> and accuracy as high as possible.  If everyone assumed that this is
> not necessary because in the end the player won't care anyway, that
> would seem a very sad state of affairs.  And in fact that is not the
> case, at least not everywhere.  With an accurate chart, a good performer
> will be able to make sense of the chords first,
*Identify*, not "make sense of" in terms of their context. These chords
are for reading at sight. You may not know what is happening to the
tonality at any particular moment. Making sense of that was the
songwriter's job. Your job is to make your *own* sense of what you are
given *right then on that beat*.

> > As for the person playing the chords rather than playing along with
> > them, the simpler the better.
> That's a great point.  Not only for someone comping but also for soloists,
> don't you think?
I thought I was saying not only for soloists but also for someone
>  But if two expressions have distinct practical meanings,
> then the process of recognition will be simplest for the reader if you
> choose the meaning that fits the situation.
No. Use the simplest possible spelling, with the smallest vocabulary
possible. The meaning of the chords is the tones in them, not the
The whole idea is that you have only the tones of the chord. No other
situation at all, other than (usually) a desire to build on the melody.
When asked how he did jazz, Sidney Bechet said "melody and arpeggio". He
is obsolete, but that statement isn't. 
> > Why would you write a C+ at all, instead of a C7(#5) or C9(#5) or
> > C13(#5b9) etc. in a jazz arrangement? You wouldn't. If you really
> > had to have it, Caug would be more legible than C+.
> The only one of those chords that would make me pause is C13(#5b9).
> It takes a little thinking to put #5, 13, and 7 together in one chord.
> I'm not a pianist, so I can't say for sure, but I would guess that
> that one would be tricky to voice.

C13(#5b9) [C A Bb E G# Db]
B7(#5b9) [B A D# Fx C]
Bm7   E13(b5b9)   Amaj7add9
>  On the other hand, C7(b9,b13)
> presents no special difficulty.
Except to wonder at the plain silliness of spelling a chord with a b13
*if it could* be spelled with a #5, and what that little inkblot was
after the b9.
> C+ or Caug is rather uncommon.  Of the triads, with this one it seems
> to be the least obvious which other notes could be filled in.
Now we see the malign influence of the "chord scale" approach to
teaching jazz. There was no such thing as a chord scale when bop came
along. Chord scales are BS anyway. I know that people have made a lot of
money off of them, but here's the problem:

Take Hoagy's Georgia OMM in F. The high E is above an A7. According to
chord-scale doctrine, should he have written an E or Eb? You often hear
Eb even from singers, not to mention horn players. Who's right? Why? The
whole idea that there are fill-in-notes to choose from according to
anything other than the notes of that particular chord is a Consummate
Crock of Crap. The "situation" is the tones of the chord. There are ways
of filling in that do not depend on tonality, etc.. The main ways are:

1) Use a note 1/2 step below or above a chord tone.
2) Fill in chromatically.
3) Break a chromatic fill in by visiting another chord tone, (like "It
Ain't Necessarily So") or go back and forth between two chromatic fill

This gives you so much ammunition that you will never get around to
chord scales.

I just saved you $5000 or more in college tuition. Or a complete 4 years
at the Berklee School. You're very welcome. :-)

> I'd like
> to know why it should be considered illegible.
"+" takes two strokes instead of four. Consequently, the strokes, being
straight, are very subject to becoming too short.
> > In sum, theoretical considerations in composition are really out of
> > place in discussing jazz chord notation.
> I tend to agree with you, so I feel a little guilty about sending this
> message to the list, but those theoretical considerations will have
> at least an indirect effect on the notation, if that notation continues
> in the direction it is headed (and if I understand properly).
It seems to be headed in the direction of supporting musical analysis
badly instead of doing well its legitimate purpose of conveying a list
of musical tones in the simplest way possible, assuming *functional
harmony* predominates, which it still does TTBOMK. Thanks *a lot* for
caring about notation.    :-)
daveA (debian.user) ------------------------------------
         %{         ars sine scientia nihil           %}

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