Comments: "Round Midnight" - Part II. The First 12 Seconds

man i wish i understood this stuff. my head hurts.

Posted by sloweducation at January 6, 2009 05:43 PM

if you remove the blues from rock & roll you're left with pre-20th century music.

Yes, rock is actually much closer to classical music than jazz. Proof? In rock music the strong beats in a measure of 4/4 are 1 and 3 as is the case with classical music while in jazz in a measure of 4/4 the strong beats are on 2 and 4.

I might add that the reason for the use of tri-tone substitutions is for adding color to the chord progression. That is to say it relieves a chord progression from monotony. As you say the II- /V7/ I chord progression is the most common progression in western music, you hear it all the time, but when you add a substitute chord it surprises the ear which is pleasing and adds interest to the song.

A note (no pun intended) on song analysis is that there are differences in they way you approach analysis from a compositional perspective and that of a improv perspective. For one thing a key signature given at the beginning of a song is helpful for writing the song out as you don’t have to spend time writing in all those accidentals. But from an improv perspective the key signature is useless because most songs modulate to different keys. So it would be a mistake to look at the key signature and believe that one could play in that key throughout the song. The drummer might toss a cymbal your way if you did.

In bebop (I hate that name) an improviser will add his/her own substitutes to keep things more interesting for them and the audience. For example on V7 chord the musician could substitute a triad built on the flat 5 in the case of G7 that would be Db-F-Ab or a triad built on the dominant 7 which in the case of G7 would be F-Ab-C (notice this is a minor triad as opposed to the Db sub which is a major triad) and a third substitute for G7 would be a triad based on the flat 9 which gives you Ab-C-Eb (a major triad). Notice that all three substitutes share many of the same notes and indeed you can mix different substitutes together as well. Remember that the piano would still be playing the chord progression as written otherwise these substitutes would no longer be substitutes if the pianist played the same substitutes as the improviser. Also the II minor and the G7 are totally interchangeable the main thing being is you have dissonance leading to consonance which is what the II-/V7/I is all about. In composition the analysis relates everything back to the tonic of the song which would be Eb minor for Round Midnight but the improviser relates everything to the II-/V7/I because it establishes where the modulations are. By the way for the improviser if they really know what they are doing uses the chord tones as points of rest while all the other notes are leading tones generally. For example, when you end a musical phrase it is most common to end it on a chord tone because if you end on a non chord tone you are implying a different key. This is why when you insert your own chord substitutes you usually do it when you have a V7 leading to its perfect tonic as in G7-C which is also why the substitute usually occurs in the second half of a bar rather than at the beginning but not always. And to make the transition more musical you approach the substitute from a chord tone of the original chord to the chord tone of the substitute with a half step. For example with G7 you might play it like this D-C-B-D-Db-F-Ab-Db which naturally resolves to C of the perfect tonic (C major).

Another feature that is common from an improv perspective is that when you have II-/V7/I in a minor key beboppers would lower the fifth of the II minor chord by one half step as well as lowering the nine. They would also lower the sixth and the nine one half step on the V7 chord that leads to a tonic minor. Notice that this gives you essentially a harmonic minor scale when you do this which makes sense because the tonic is a minor key. Beboppers would also utilize this when going to a perfect tonic as well.

Posted by Rob Payne at January 6, 2009 07:28 PM

I did not even try to read the post. I KNOW, I would not have understood a single word. I just listen to the beautiful music and enjoy it.

Posted by Rupa Shah at January 6, 2009 07:35 PM

tim: you're asking a very good question. In the end it's not how much theory they learned but how much genius they had. In the case of Robert Johnson, I believe he worked on top of an oral/aural tradition that was extremely sophisticated. It's ironic that the history of the blues is its primitivization: Chicago blues is much more "primitive" than its "Delta" version.

Beboppers were very highly educated musically. Even a classical guy like Benny Goodman couldn't keep up. By this I mean he simply didn't have the theory chops. I have recordings where you hear both Goodman and Charlie Christian. And Christian (hardly the most advanced bebopper) is about 10 years ahead of Goodman harmonically. Coltrane was a theoretical monster: he could play absolutely anything. Because he studied like a madman.
And that you have to learn. No way you can do it by ear, no matter how great you are.

Beboppers used their sophistication as a repellent. Monk's "Epistrophy" was composed almost entirely for that purpose, ie, to kick out swing-era players from the clubs because they couldn't find their way through that music.

Monk and Mingus were as harmonically sophisticated as any European composer of that time, I believe.

Posted by Bernard Chazelle at January 6, 2009 07:38 PM

Great comments, Rob! If the only effect of my post was to entice you to share these thoughts with us, then the exercise was entirely worth my while.

The drummer might toss a cymbal your way if you did.

For those who didn't pick up the reference, I believe this is about Jo Jones humiliating Bird in a jam session by throwing a cymbal at his feet.

Which by the way was perhaps the best thing that happened to Bird.

There's also a saying that Monk made his music difficult to force players to show their A game.
(No idea why I remember all this useless trivia.)

Posted by Bernard Chazelle at January 6, 2009 07:56 PM

Well thanks for posting your essay on Round Midnight. It was fun to read and makes you put your thinking cap on. Yes, that was a reference to Bird and Jo Jones. If I remember correctly Bird had learned how to play over a certain tune and being a young inexperienced player he thought you could play that over any tune. But yes, it certainly was the best thing that happened to him. Jazz was never the same!

Posted by Rob Payne at January 6, 2009 08:26 PM

Gosh! What I would give to be part of this conversation!

Posted by Rupa Shah at January 6, 2009 08:44 PM

So what's the scoop with harmolodics?

Posted by Bob In Pacifica at January 6, 2009 09:44 PM

Bob: I haven't really figured out Ornette Coleman. On the one hand the guy has a deep understanding of the blues (and gospel) and he's been incredibly innovative and brilliant (and enormously influential). No doubt about that. His free jazz compositions can be fascinating. But compared with Mingus or Monk his music can also sound simplistic.

But I do admire him enormously. Because he is the essence of jazz, the most innovative art form ever. And I mean this literally. To toss it all aside and start anew has always been the essence of jazz. The range covered by jazz in 100 years is unmatched in its diversity. And Coleman epitomizes that. I mean, those guys are soooo gutsy! In rock, sure you have people like Zappa and Bowie who try all sorts of things, but Pink Floyd have written really only one song, and covered it in 1000 (slightly different) ways.

Posted by Bernard Chazelle at January 6, 2009 10:28 PM

I suppose it's common sense. I could write a computer program, and many would consider it magic. Yet I still view something like a highly studied musician playing as magic myself, even when I should know better.

but Pink Floyd have written really only one song, and covered it in 1000 (slightly different) ways.
I doth protest muchly. We must be working from different definition of 'song'. I don't have the musical knowledge (much improved by this post though) to try and argue the point, but I just don't see it. (And I tried!)

Posted by tim at January 6, 2009 10:54 PM

I havent had time to read this post yet but I wanted to take a second to mention how much I appreciate your music posts. Consistently very very interesting & informative. Thanks.

Posted by Guest at January 7, 2009 12:54 AM

Tim: First off, I love Pink Floyd, and I hope to blog about some of their songs some day. Probably, Shine on You crazy Diamond, which is a guitarist's dream tune.

What I mean is that all their songs (with no exception I am aware of -- and I've played dozens and dozens of their songs in my various rock bands) have the same constructions. One you've mastered one you've mastered them all. In some sense they are really all the same song. In fact I can't think of any rock band that has been so consistent.

Jimi Hendrix is the polar opposite. Every tune (for a guitarist anyway) is a new challenge.

Posted by Bernard Chazelle at January 7, 2009 01:03 AM

How is this a break from math? ;)

Posted by l.rodrigues at January 7, 2009 09:23 AM

No, I'm not sure I understand what you just wrote, but I suspect that if I did, I'd better understand why I like complex remixes and layered electronic music, most of which I now suspect are just baroque versions of the composing strategies you're writing about.

Posted by Mark Gisleson at January 7, 2009 11:53 AM

Hi Bernard,

Love ATR...Look at it everyday for political insight and such..required reading IMHO!! This is my first post.

Being a guitar player-see my email address for a clue on this!!- for over 25 years I was very interested and fascinated in your comments...You are obviously well schooled musically and I assume you are a guitar player. I found your comments about Jimi Hendrix interesting and I am not quite sure what you meant by them? I like Hendrix a lot but more as a rhythm player than a lead player which most people find shocking when i tell them that!! His lead work, for me, was often sloppy though I admit it was ahead of its time, even though he mostly played the minor pentatonic and the blues scale which was common of most guitarists of his time..I like someone like Jeff Beck more...Beck to me is one the most original players in rock history...especially his later stuff which is off the charts.

Anyway keep up the good work and I look forward to more of you posts on music.-Tony

Posted by tony at January 7, 2009 12:40 PM

Bernard, thank you for this. I love Monk, and even though the theory is tough sledding for me, it's great to get your insight on what made him tick. Your posts on music remind me of a little story Zappa tells in his book:


There were a few teachers in school who really helped me out. Mr. Kavelman, the band instructor at Mission Bay High, gave me the answer to one of the burning musical questions of my youth. I came to him one day with a copy of Angel in My Life -- my favorite R&B tune at the time. I couldn't understand why I loved that record so much, but I figured that, since he was a music teacher, maybe he knew.

"Listen to this," I said, "and tell me why I like it so much."

"Parallel fourths," he concluded.


Posted by Chris E. at January 7, 2009 05:05 PM