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Re: Jazz chord chaos

From: Thomas Morgan
Subject: Re: Jazz chord chaos
Date: 05 Apr 2001 03:40:09 -0400
User-agent: Gnus/5.0808 (Gnus v5.8.8) Emacs/20.7

David Raleigh Arnold <address@hidden> writes:

> I hope you might see fit to make a few changes in your reality. :-)

There have been so many people who have already tried to make changes
in the notation of chord symbols, I fear if I joined them I would only
add to the confusion.  For that reason I'd rather use what everyone
(or at least everyone I know) already understands.

> 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*.

Well, that depends on the kind of tune.  When it is true that the chord
stands alone (for example, in ESP), that's all the more reason to choose
a symbol which is really accurate.  In standard tunes we have to glean
a lot from the context; often no one bothers to write an alteration in
the chord even when that alteration is in the melody.

> It is confusing that a #5 means that the triad is not major anyway.

Perhaps it is illogical that we still call these chords major, but in
practice there is no problem in recognizing Cmaj7(#5) (or C+maj7).

> It is merely silly to write a Am(#5) instead of F. Didn't confuse
> James Bond did it?

That's a good exception.  In a progression like "Ami Ami(#5) Ami6",
a minor augmented chord makes sense.  Not in many others, though.

> > 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?

Personally I don't have any fundamental problem with that C11 chord,
except that it is not in general use today (perhaps in the past?).
Most people will have to ask to find out exactly what is in it.
It is more useful to have symbols that raise no questions.

> > 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. :-)

We're together here! :)

> 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*.

A responsible musician will not leave that to the songwriter, but will
endeavor to understand and make variations from the song on the spot.
That way one can make music even out of inferior materials, and keep
the good songs fresh.

Even when a good musician doesn't know about theory or the structure
of songs, that information must be in the subconscious mind.

> >  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
> spelling.

But we have to make guesses about the tones that are not in the chord.
You'll find that all jazz musicians really make those guesses when they
improvize; it's not a myth.  If you choose the right spelling it will
be much easier to guess.

> 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.

To build on the melody, and also to create new melodies.

> When asked how he did jazz, Sidney Bechet said "melody and
> arpeggio". He is obsolete, but that statement isn't.

Yes, and both melody and arpeggios have been extended since his time.
Melodies can consist of scales or parts of scales also, of course.
(And how can a person be obsolete?  Good music is good music.)

> > > 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]

This chord sounds interesting to me as a special effect, but it is not
nearly as common as C7(b9,b13) which is much more pleasing.  How do you
account for the 5 in that chord?  Would you write C7(add#5b9)?  That's
really more complicated to read than the chord with b13.  I asked some
pianists, they were all a little surprised by C13(#5b9).

> >  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.

Silliness doesn't bother me much.  Misunderstanding does.  That said,
presented a b13, my first reaction would not be, "How silly!"

> There was no such thing as a chord scale when bop came along.

No one can deny the treasures that came out of the bop era, but most
of the musicians nowadays are not from that era, and our language has

> 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.

I thought that was D7, but I'm probably not remembering the song
correctly.  Please help me out.

> 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?

One chord symbol has a number of possible scales which could be played
over it.  Some symbols are more specific than others, and that one D7
is not very specific.  If he had written D9 or D7(b9), it would have
been a little more specific.  In this kind of case one just has to know
the melody.

> 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.

I'm sorry, at this point we disagree completely.  No one improvizes
from chord to chord, beat to beat, ignoring the whole of the song.
Understanding the whole is not merely part of analysis, it is part
of playing well.

> There are ways of filling in that do not depend on tonality, etc.

Yes, but more common are methods that do depend on tonality.

> 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
> ins.

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

The devices you listed are great, but they are all chromatic, and
represent only a fraction of the common melodic devices.

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

Thank you. :)

No, there is more than just basic chord tones and chromaticism.  You can
learn that at school, but you can also learn that by listening to records.

So according to you, scale fragments are not often used by jazz musicians?
On the face of it that's obviously not true.  Would you like examples?

> > 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.

If the copyist is very sloppy?  We can be sure that Lilypond, at least,
will always be careful not to make those strokes too short.

I'm a bit curious, would you mind telling me where I could find the kind
of notation you're describing?  I don't mean to attack it, it seems fine
according to its own rules, but I've just never seen it before, and most
jazz musicians in the present would have trouble understanding it, I think.
Where does it come from?  Thanks, and sorry if I've offended,


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