• Ladders of Thirds and Tonal Jazz Melody

    Author(s):
    Stefan Caris Love (see profile)
    Date:
    2017
    Group(s):
    Society for Music Theory – Jazz Interest Group
    Subject(s):
    Jazz, Music theory
    Item Type:
    Article
    Tag(s):
    African American music, harmony and voice-leading, Improvisation, Melody
    Permanent URL:
    http://dx.doi.org/10.17613/gq64-4d03
    Abstract:
    Previous theories emphasize tonal jazz's undeniable continuity with European tonality. Here, I argue that some of its features are better understood as developments of the African-American musical tradition. As a simple example, consider the gesture ^3–1 to end a phrase. Schenkerian theory would explain this as an elided ^3–2–1, a gesture common in nineteenth-century music. But the ^3–1 gesture might also be understood as motion within a quasi-modal "ladder of thirds" towards its central pitch. This paper develops the conceptual aspects of this alternative view. I argue that two phenomena—stable, unresolved dissonances and occasional outright conflict between melody and harmony—are typical of tonal jazz melody and distinguish it from the common practice. I explain these phenomena using two theoretical tools: "ladders of thirds," structurally coherent stacks of thirds deriving from early African-American music; and Steve Larson's concept of "contextual stability," by which dissonant notes can gain structural significance.
    Notes:
    This paper received split peer reviews from a handful of publications and never found a home. As I'm now "out of the game" and don't have time to continue submitting it, I thought I'd share it here.
    Metadata:
    Status:
    Published
    Last Updated:
    4 months ago
    License:
    Attribution-NonCommercial
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