On Miles and the Modes
Published online: 1 October 1998
- PDF: https://www.jstor.org/stable/40374318
Speaking with conviction about the musical substance of times long past is not easy. Speculating about how that music may have been experienced by its contemporaries is even more difficult, and thus musicology's most astute figures have warned repeatedly of imposing our own cultural biases on to artifacts of earlier eras, other cultures, even with the best of intentions. Theorizing about matters left unexplained (or even unmentioned) by contemporaneous observers is at best risky, at worst fatuous. In this sense, even our West-European musical heritage is a foreign country, a body of artifacts whose remote ethnicity defies our understanding them as natives. Historians Leo Treitler1 and Frederick Bashour,2 and historian-theorist Carl Dahlhaus3 are but three of many prominent scholars who have insisted that after-the-fact theories of remote musics are high-risk ventures. When those theories lack corroboration in the conceptual underpinnings provided by concurrent writers they play dubious (if not damaging) roles in our struggle to understand. The larger ontological/historical issue, as it pertains to music, has been argued in some depth from several perspectives.4
That Dahlhaus-Bashour-Treitler reading of history does not take kindly to theory makers who find modern wines in ancient vessels (nor vice-versa, for that matter). For example, those who detect deposits of such things as major or minor scales or major triads, in music vinted before their time, are prisoners of the worst strain of stylistic myopia. The formulation is simple: If it wasn't conceptualized, the story goes, then nobody perceived it.5
Speaking directly to that issue, historian Thomas Christensen warns against inferences of "tonal traces" in "pre-tonal musics." We risk "projecting our own culturally biased conceptions of tonality—however defined—upon a repertoire for which it has no conceptual basis."6 And he sharpens that general warning three pages later in a passage that speaks directly to the condition of tonality in earlier music. Music theorists risk anachronism when they interpret earlier musics by norms consolidated much later.
It is a kind of "geneticist" fallacy to pull out of context isolated features of a composition or theory text and posit them as tokens of tonality simply because they may empirically correspond to features that in later contexts are semiotically interpreted as clear tonal signs.7
Suspicions of culpability aren't even confined to our own time. Historians on occasion find incriminating evidence even in the writings of our ancestors. Dolores Pesce finds cause to censure Pietro Aaron, for example, because he "imposes a classification scheme onto music that had not necessarily been composed with such a scheme in mind."8
Professor Christensen is right, of course. One must choose one's semiotics with care. The brand most favored by influential historians of recent times comes exclusively from descriptions formulated during the milieu of the music in question. Continuing faith in this epistemological bias is not hard to find, turning up especially in discussions of earlier music. Patricia Clark reaffirms it when she concludes how to conceptualize the tonal wherewithal of a Dufay motet. In her judgment
The basic principles of structure in this music, and the various procedures by which it is elaborated, can best be understood . . . by means of the theoretical concepts of the time in which it was composed.9
And historian Leeman Perkins struggled to curb after-the-fact theorizing over two decades ago, saying that
. . . a few cautious voices have raised questions about the soundness of an analytical method that could apply to the compositions of the Renaissance, concepts and standards that came to be formulated as late as the 18th and 19th centuries . . .10
The operational norms of modern musicology correspond rather faithfully with the conclusion Professor Perkins draws from these concerns. In his view the historian's task is to assess any work of art "against the intellectual and artistic background from which it sprung."11 And this phrase flashes with the unalloyed brilliance of pure diamonds. On first thought, at least.
Let us grant that the fear of imposing flawed axioms on to any judgment is only prudent. Peerless reasoning is mere sophistry when drawn from fictive bases. At the same time, however, we must note that such a hard stance, and the attitude of epistemic exclusivity voiced on its behalf, comes at a high price; it risks the replacement of potentially true inference with a void of arid nominalism. Indeed, two aspects of what Professor Christensen seems to be saying are dubious as absolute grounds for inquiry: First, that meaningful perception demands an established conceptual basis, and second that "empirical correspondences" are automatically nullified when the historical record carries no confirming verbal report.12
My interest of the moment is much narrower in scope than is encompassed by this vast can of epistemic worms. It has to do more with that matter of how empirical data might (or might not) stack up against stated intentions. For me the current pressing question is a simple one: How much stock may one put into contemporary descriptions of musical events, especially when they appear to lack a tight fit with artifactual evidence? And related but separate: What do we actually know of correspondences (or not) between a creator's professed conceptualizations and resultant product? Can we assume that composers (or theorists) of remote eras were themselves aware of the full array of influences on the compositional choices of the day? Were they in a position to document thoroughly and with precision the background aural imagery that guided their every pitch motion? Would it not also be prudent to recall Ludwig Wittgenstein's remark to the effect that we often overlook the most obvious features of matters, mainly because they are so much a part of our conventional understanding—because they are so obvious.13 Perhaps those who vouch for ultimate authority in coeval explications may assume a verity and thoroughness, on the part of those reporters, that is unjustified.
It's a truism of life that our revealed best intentions—what we say we do or think—are not always realized in quite the way our reports suggest. The problem is not as much one of human veracity as it is knowing with clarity what we are about. This is as true in the creation of music as it is in any other human activity. So it seems reasonable to believe that our ancestors could have been as remiss in their enumerations and descriptions of conditions, causes, and effects as we are. But we have an advantage: We come after-the-fact; it's our good fortune that we can observe potential disparities between conceptualizations and actualizations; we can bear witness by comparing stated intentions with artifactual result.
Provocative comparisons of conceptualization and product are available from our own musical milieu. This is especially true in claims that modes are the pitch-structural basis for the creations of some of our revered jazz artists. Indeed, artists and educators both acclaim today that this resource has flourished over the past several decades as an invigorating new raw material of jazz composition and improvisation.14 To my knowledge there has been no critical study of the musical results, although those results can shed light on this matter of intent and result, conceptualization and product.
There are several reasons to be tentative in accepting at face value these claims made for jazz. One reason is that widespread confusion still prevails among most musicians about just what modes are, in what respect a mode is or is not merely a segment of the major scale.15 And if a musician has no firm grasp of what distinguishes the modal from the non-modal (say the major/minor of common-practice), then why expect anything meaningful to result? But that easy conclusion misses the point. Perhaps modern jazz musicians, as a class, have as firm a purchase on modality, as a basis for music making, as did their medieval counterparts. Perhaps medieval musicians failed to reveal much of the pitch-hierarchic conditions that, along with a finalis and initialis and species and cadence preferences guided their music making.
Whatever our sense of those questions—even whether they need be asked—the proof of the pudding resides not in the alleged conceptualization but in what the musical product reveals, how that may tally with alleged prior conceptualization, and, finally, whether other descriptive paradigms can describe the musical result more successfully. After all, a composer might sincerely claim last week's Dow Jones Index as a guide to all rhythmic decisions made for a piece. But whether such exotic traceries might be independently discoverable in the sonic result must remain dubious. As Schoenberg advised long ago,16 creative ideations (how it was done) are one thing; internal artifactual evidence (what it is) quite another. Claims of modal incorporations in the jazz improvisation may turn out to be little more than composerly shoptalk. Artifactual evidence may shed some light on this question that otherwise goes unasked.
And this, at long last, is where the music of Miles Davis enters our scenario.
THE MILES DAVIS QUINTET: KINDA BLUE
The late Miles Davis is frequently mentioned as a pioneer in the incorporation of modes in his music. One of the revered of modern jazz, it's our good fortune that his music and commentaries about it, made by him and his fellow performers, are readily available today. His much-heralded quintet album of 1959, Kinda Blue,17 is said to contain several compositions based on the modes, so it provides a testing ground. The three soloists who play with Davis on that recording, Bill Evans, John Coltrane, and Julian Adderly, also are well known for their infusions of modality in their work during the 1950s.
For the first track of that album, So What, jazz critic Martin Williams first describes the conventional A A B A pop-tune phrase layout of the composition's reiterated harmonic basis. He then explains the unconventional pitch resources brought to bear.
The players are assigned only the notes of the Dorian mode (a white-key piano scale D to D) as melodic and harmonic material, plus the Phrygian mode (the same scale a half step up).18
Although Williams is clearly misguided about the comparative pitch contents of Dorian and Phrygian modes, his description nonetheless echoes the widespread claims in jazz of "playing in the modes." It also corresponds with Mark C. Gridley's discussion of So What in his 1978 primer, Jazz Styles.19 Gridley's graphic representation of that work's pitch basis incorporates some of the conventions of jazz notation (symbols for D minor and minor seventh chords) to augment the less conventional modal designations said to have been paramount in the work's creation.20
|8 bars||8 bars||8 bars|
Our concern, let us recall, is not with the musicians' syntactical convictions nor with the sincerity of their motivations. It is rather with whether alleged modal properties, as described, are evident as controlling paradigms in what is heard. That question's answer can help us determine whether the product is best—or even appropriately—described as modal.
And why is the answer cogent? Because if modality is not an appropriate descriptive paradigm, then this particular pre-facto conceptualization can be discarded as specious. And it is my contention that master musicians of the 1950s are probably as reliable guides to their music as master musicians of any other time or culture.
A transcription of Davis's opening solo in So What is shown in Illustration 1. That he begins with the best of Dorian intentions is evident from the initial motto, a D-D' octave that encloses a confirming dominant (see bracket "a").
Illustration 1: Miles Davis solo, So What21
To be thorough, however, we must go back to the tonal context established by pianist Bill Evans and the ensemble before the Davis solo begins. It is less than supportive for a D-ness of any kind. A simple two-chord pattern, the harmonically rich motif's two pentachords (Illustration 2) do indeed contain the seven pitches of the Dorian mode. But correspondences of tonal morphology end there. One reason has an historical twist. As medieval choristers discovered in singing chant, the melodic succession prominent in this pattern, the b—a that caps the fetching two-chord vamp, would better be altered into a fictive —a if one harbors notions of projecting the D—A-ness so vital to an authentic Dorian aura—especially so in the near-presence of F. By the time Davis begins to lay out the ambitus for his solo's admirable Mode 1, the C-major-loaded dice have already been cast.22
Illustration 2: Chordal Background Motif, So What
Even Davis's methodical Dorian gamut begins to wither away by m. 17. A semitonal sidestep there modulates everything up to the alleged Dorian. But something sullies that octave as a potential Dorian template: The repeated rhythmic prominences and contoural windings about (mm. 17-22). And this is embroidered by sufficient s, as bottom of a 5th, to strengthen that latter pitch's claim as harmonic axis. This projection is but confirmed at the phrase's end. (See m. 22, Illustration 1.)
Continuing Davis's solo, the third phrase of the form's 8-bar modules slips back down to the D template in m. 23, bringing with it an explicitly demarcated C4—G4 5th. This frame has encroached onto the tonal presence by mm. 30-37, and on through the continuing arpeggiations. Note that the contoural extensions of these C triadic outlinings in the solo, down into A4 and F3, fill out an F 9th chord (f-a-c-e-g), leaving the phrase to cadence on A4 in measure 46, sounding more as an "added 6th" in C major than as a dominant of D-Dorian.23 All of this persistent C-ness of Miles' broadly contoured line makes m. 30-38 sound like the fleshing-out of a conventional jazz sonority of the late 1950s, the subdominant 9th chord (f-a-c-e-g). Like a reformed sinner confronting old temptations, he backslides into more familiar behaviors.
The second bridge of Davis's solo (beginning with the of measure 47) merely shifts the preceding frame up a semitone. Now motion is channeled between the top and bottom . The phrase's termination (the of m. 53) does nothing to contradict that image. So the earlier persistence of is again reinforced.
Illustration 3: Pitch Frame, mm. 49-55
Finally, nothing in the close of this solo except the dutiful A4—D3 termination projects an enduring engagement with D as a prevailing nucleus. Even the opening motif of John Coltrane's solo (Illustration 4) settles in on G3 and E3, whose potential roles as 5th and 3rd of a prevailing C hierarchy were stressed in the Davis solo and projected by the ensemble's background chords.
Illustration 4: End of Davis, Beginning of Coltrane Solos
SO IS IT DORIAN?
A judicious summary of the Davis solo must concur that it is initially suggestive of Dorian. Fastidiously so. But thereafter and overall until the ending, the C—G and — framings, a veritable 5th leitmotif for Davis, impose something more formatively urgent on the proceedings. Unresolved supertonic functions seem to guide things; plain old C major lurks imposingly in the background as prevailing tonal frame. Whatever Davis may have conceived as guiding tonal images before and during his playing, the musical product—once past his first two phrases—is most accurately described as alternating between patternings within C and . The extended melismas that outline C and major triads (mm. 30-38, 47-50, 55-60) contradict any global centrality for D or that may be projected by his solo's beginning and ending phrases. So here, as in many plainsong tunes, there's a bit of tension between initium, finalis, and what comes in the middle.
I find this an instructive case of conceptual and perceptual dissonance for a number of reasons. Improvising artists may well predetermine that their playing shall be limited to the collection d, e, f, g, a, b, c (and alternately f c ), but this can't ensure that D and Dorian will ensue as actualized hierarchies. It takes more than pitch content. In So What the sense of a prevailing D nucleus—projected octave divisions (authentic or plagal), interior cadential preferences and finals—none of those matters of pitch dynamics pertinent to modal attribution are evident to the degree that they singly or in concert become aurally compelling.
Or we can generalize more positively by saying that when tunesmiths order their wares within a restricted pitch pool over several phrases so that the octave of C—C' (or the 5th C—G) is consistently outlined (and with interior cadences made on confirming pitches such as G's or C's), there's a good chance that it will all sound a lot like a community of C-ness. This occurs not because only diatonic pitches have prevailed; it occurs because c—c' and/or c—g provide a vectorial advantage, a framing, that skews everything "toward" chroma C.
To say that So What as a whole is more in "unrequited C major" than in "the Dorian mode" is in no way to demean it, in no way to suggest that it shares the unchallenging kinds of pitch structuring of nursery songs, communal hymns, or Haydn Minuets, each rightfully explicable as C major. It is far more fascinating music than that. It posits a tonal hierarchy, never wholly fulfilled, never explicitly consummated with a rousing anacrusisthesis/non-toniccadence. Indeed, the evasive kind of tonal bundling it represents reminds me of Schoenberg's coinage "suspended" tonality (schwebende) although it does not precisely fit the conditions he designated in Skriabin and Debussy with that term.24So What is not music of tonal ambiguity nor of Schoenberg's colorful harmonic "vagrancy." Instead, it is music of emphatically implied tonal hierarchy, its richly implicative chords providing the supportive backdrop.
I have deep roots in jazz improvisation, so I know something of the creative processes at work in such performances. Having performed So What many times myself, I am directly aware of its most comfortable potentials for creative imaging within the heat of improvisation. Even when struggling to "think in modes," the ideational path of least resistance is the kind of matrix outlined in Illustration 5, exchanges between extended chords erected above D and . Knowing of the inbred personal histories of jazz performers, who learn early to "play the changes," I am led to suspect that my personal modus operandi is not eccentric. It may well have prevailed sub rosa for Davis and colleagues, despite best-laid plans; it engages a more probable set of controls than any description that invokes a history-bound modality. We need not doubt that Davis and his sidemen were focused on a limiting pitch content, the Dorian mode. But the rub is that a pitch collection per se doth not a mode maketh.25
Illustration 5: A More Probable Pitch Matrix, So What
But can we generalize from only one example? It is possible, after all, that So What was a mere fluke misfire in conception/realization processing.
A SECOND TEST OF JAZZ MODALITY: ALL BLUES
If So What is less than convincing as a purveyor of Dorian markers, another track recorded by the same musicians on the same date shatters hope for proof of a defendable modality, in the ecclesiastical sense, in jazz. Explanations of the pre-performance conceptualizing of All Blues are even more robust and complex than those offered for So What.26 Once again, Mark Gridley's description of the music's modal skeleton can be our point of departure.
. . .the sextet followed a preset sequence of five modes. Each mode served as the harmonic guide for improvisation as long as a soloist wanted to use it. Then, whenever he wanted a change, he moved to the next modeIn fact, most soloists used each mode for four measures and then moved to the next.27
Gridley later28 outlines the modal/formal mappings for individual solos.
Phrase 1, 4 mm., C Ionian
2, 4 mm., Ionian
3, 4 mm., Ionian
4, 8 mm., D Phrygian
5, 4 mm., G Aeolian
Observe that each of the five phrases except the fourth consumes four measures. Let us attend primarily to the improvised solos of Davis and John Coltrane (who follows Davis); both solos are representative of the whole piece (which has additional solos by Cannonball Adderly and Bill Evans and a brief reprise by Davis).
Five different modes in twenty-four measures! Quite an order. But what the artists actually play, presumably with this plan in the collective mind's ear, proves once again the potential frailty of excessive conceptualizing, especially in elaborate preconceived pitch schemes for jazz improvisation. Note that the following collections are said to be the basis for the improvisations that ensue.
Illustration 6: The Many Modes of All Blues
Even before listening, two puzzlements arise for persons who have more than a passing familiarity with modal theory, with medieval and Renaissance music, and with musical reality. They might well ask: What in a composition will make it Ionian rather than major? Is there something to identify it with what Glareanus had in mind when he adopted the designation for his expanded modal system, or is this just fanciful talk? And second, it does seem quaint that the final three modes for All Blues ( Ionian, D Phrygian, and G Aeolian), imposing though the succession seems, engages a conspicuously identical pitch collection (D F G A C). And this circumstance leads to an added wonderment: What degree of identifying contrast can one squeeze from three different "modes" of the same pitch content into just sixteen measures?
A pitch analysis of the solos played by Davis, Julian Adderly (alto), and John Coltrane (tenor) raises more questions than confirmations for the pre-compositional plan.
Illustration 7: Miles Davis Solo, All Blues (trans. W. Thomson)
Following a plaintive Bill Evans introduction that projects an enduring C major (Ionian?), Davis's solo leads one to believe that either Mark Gridley's report is in error or else form-mode specs may have been scrambled in pre-performance transmissions: The Davis horn's reiterated frame, as if something "round about G" (G Mixolydian?) is on his mind, does little to confirm C as a principal until the cadential A in m. 4. And even then, that pitch must be accommodated as a tonic "added 6th." (Maybe, after all, it's easy in the rush of a recording studio, just prior to a take, to mistake the sound of Cee for Gee.) Note the pitch content, represented within a four-bar grid, of Davis's first solo.
Illustration 8: Pitch/Meter Outline, Beginning of Davis Solo, All Blues
As music, it's a beautifully brooding creation. But our immediate interest is not aesthetics. Any prevailing C-ness comes from Bill Evans's chords, not Davis's line. What he plays helps to immortalize Charlie Parker's avowed preference for "playin' on the notes up higher in the chord."29 Note further that the second Davis phrase is no less discomfiting conceptually if we gauge it by the Ionian imagery said to guide it. Heard without its chordal accompaniment, an allegiance to is projected unequivocally, complete with s that would be a bit outré in a rigidly Ionian outpouring. The many chordal s sounded within the "Phrygian" phrase provide similar fictive relief. In this case they obviously created for Bill Evans the sound of the so-called "Phrygian cadence" of common-practice (which in effect contradicts the pitch content of ecclesiastical modes 3 and 4).
Let us recall the principal reason for taking this extended look at the claim of a jazz-modality. It comes from questioning our unblushing reliance on coeval description for our understanding of remote musics. Careful study of these mid-20th century passages leads me to the conclusion that perhaps musicians' accounts are not always without blemish. Allegations of modal content in the parts of the music examined is overstated. Overall, there is an apparent disregard for properties that are critical for making a mode a mode, at least for those who trafficked in them most. Pitch collection alone seems to satisfy the mode attributions for these mid-century incarnations, and even that criterion suffers occasional passing ficta. Taken at face value, these jazz masters didn't put their music together in quite the way stated intentions lead us to expect. Imposed "modes" appear to serve only a negative goal: Limiting the pitch pool rather than providing enduring structural templates.
There is no hard evidence that Miles Davis had instruction in formal aspects of music theory, especially those of medieval modes.30 He was nonetheless respected for his intellectual curiosity and his continual attempts to infuse his music with elements he discovered in the broader world of music. It is clear that he was acquainted with the basic nomenclature of modality, with the elemental aspects of their pitch content, and how they differentiate a musical substance from non-modal structures. Anecdotal evidence substantiates that he was prime mover in assembling the pitch/rhythm schema for both of these works. As Bill Evans tells us in his liner notes, "Miles conceived these settings only hours before the recording dates and arrived with sketches which indicated to the group what was to be played." But Miles was easy prey to very real pragmatic tensions. In the heat of creation he reverts to "old ways," back into the rut of harmonic paradigms that channeled his playing from earlier times, times before modes became an issue in jazz performance.
If Miles Davis and Bill Evans were fooled in their playing of So What into thinking they were creating a piece in the Dorian mode, then what insight does their conceptual erring hold for us? How can it help us to better grasp the cognitive/perceptual whirrings that may have prevailed in the minds of tenth-century (or eleventh- or fourteenth-century) musicians? When a pre-Renaissance priest intoned the Sanctus of Illustration 9, what were the total ingredients of the pitch context—the pitch Gestalt—upon which he fixed for his imaging? What was the auralized anchor for his conception of the whole? Can we believe that it was wholly consistent with what accounts of his era have led us to call to mind today when we think of "the Phrygian mode?"
Illustration 9: Sanctus, Gregorian Christmas Mass
Is this tune fashioned in mode 4, as officially claimed? If it is, by what causes? The numerous cadences (especially the final) on e? Is it not possible that all of those patterns, with their pitch ceiling at C3, plus frequent returns to the pivotal G2, exert some control, thereby rendering E a mere harmonic associate of C,31 which lurks behind it all as encompassing axis?
Since our literature is sprinkled with pious remonstrations against just these kinds of questions, we might rephrase our guiding question once again. Is it not possible—not to say probable—that a de facto C major32 (or in some chants a minor, in others even F major, given B-flats of musica falsa) persists within what history assures us is a de jure Phrygian mode? But serious discussions have to deal with apparent probabilities, and I find highly probable that a tenth-century singer "heard" this tune much as I do: As a line of rather limited range whose c2—c4 ambitus, with its phrase endings and beginnings and its internal patterning, project an unequivocal structure of the following dynamics:
Illustration 10: Pitch Analysis of the Sanctus
Seen in this impious light, Miles Davis and colleagues may have been "playing modes" in 1958 quite as authoritatively as did their medieval predecessors,33 those comparably astute musicians who went about the business of tonalities with a creative insouciance, whose Planet Earth orbited the sun, whose hearts dutifully pumped blood, and whose genes were transmitted to every child—all without a clue of conceptualization that any of those wondrous things were going on at the time.
The Liber usualis runneth over with provocative questions of this kind for the asking, melodies with unequivocal allegiance to a pitch nexus that has nothing official to do with any extant mode taxonomy, other melodies whose subtle ambiguities beg of interpretation, burying the fiction of hard and precise modal categories, melodies whose interior trajectories do nothing to predict their finals.
Am I suggesting that writers of the past cannot be trusted? Should the chic nominalism of today be invoked, every opinion regarded as only that, with objective reality a chimera whose content twists as fashion demands?
Of course not. When they are good those reporters of the past are very good and they are indispensable, providing a perspective not only of what their music was like in the sweaty air of real life but what it was they found most captivating about it. And this last point is crucial; it reminds us that they suffered their semiotic twitches too. They, as we, reported what they found most urgent to report. No more. Sometimes their reports were as skewed, unintentionally, as the reports we put together today about our own day's most treasured artifacts. And thus it is that we need not cower quite so impotently behind those traces of musical similarity we find between Haydn and Machaut just because Machuat (or de Vitry or de Muris) didn't call them by the names we use for themor even mention them.
A parting word is in order about modes in some musics, modalities more convincing than what I find in the two Miles Davis works, modes that seem to arise readily and spontaneously without fuss or fanfare. As real-world ironies would have it, modality has been an integral ingredient in the world's folk music, and in ways consistent with the medieval genre, most of it without a word of concurrent conceptualizing about it.34 It is especially evident in the jazz repertory before the neo-modal fancies of Ornette Coleman, Miles Davis, and John Coltrane were enunciated or later jazz writers claimed its formative presence. Commercial recordings from early in the century provide ample documentation of their presence. It is no exaggeration to say that blues-based songs or instrumental improvisations are hard to find that are not heavily plied with heavy doses of Mixolydian. And anyone who lived through the 1960s knows that the Beatles produced a meticulously authentic Dorian in their Scarborough Fair.
1"Music Analysis in an Historical Context," CMS Symposium 6 (1966): 75-88. Treitler's main concern is with later writers who, like Heinrich Besseler, find tonality, even a very "basic form" of it, in the music of a composer such as Dufay.
2 Frederick Bashour, "Toward a More Rigorous Methodology for the Analysis of the Pre-Tonal Repertory," CMS Symposium 19 (1979): 140-53. He argues (especially 141-43) the determining role of normative tonal relationships, as they can be inferred today, experiential expectations grounded in the auditor's culture.
3In Studies on the Origin of Harmonic Tonality, trans. Robert O. Gjerdingen (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1990). A sample of Dahlhaus's inflexibility on similar issues is his refusal to recognize what he calls "harmonic tonality" in music that doesn't conform to his definition of Riemannian functionalism.
4For instance, Naomi Cumming, "Musical Analysis and the Perceiver: A Perspective from Functionalist Philosophy," Current Musicology 54 (1993): 38-53; the exchanges of Paul M. Churchland and Jerry A. Fodor, brilliantly reported in Mark Debellis in "Is There an Observation/Theory Distinction in Music?" in Current Musicology 55 (1993): 56-87; and Peter Schubert's "Authentic Analysis," The Journal of Musicology 12 (1994): 3-18.
5Or what I prefer to call the "No-Concept/No-Percept fallacy."
6In his reviews of Carl Dahlhaus's Studies in the Origin of Harmonic Tonality and Joel Lester's Between Mode and Key, 94.
8Dolores Pesce, The Affinities and Medieval Transposition (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1987), 115.
9Patricia Carpenter, "Tonal Coherence in a Motet of Dufay," Journal of Music Theory 17 (1973): 62.
10In "Modes and Structure in the Music of Josquin," JAMS 26 (1973): 189.
12Briefly, as for the first, we perceive and feel some of the most elemental conditions of life (love for another, for one) before the flimsiest conceptual underpinnings have been provided. The second is too brazenly dismissive of the epistemology of empiricism to deserve our attention. It plays directly to the mysticisms of the ages.
13I can't find the original source. Oliver Sacks quotes it (without a source) in The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1970), 42.
14To my knowledge, the earliest formal incursion of modal concepts into jazz theoretics came with George Russell's The Lydian Chromatic (Cambridge, MA: Concept Publishing, 1959). Mark Gridley's Jazz Styles (Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1972) contains an authoritative discussion of modes in jazz, the alleged adoption of modal paradigms in general as well as artists' productions, as we shall note presently.
15To this day, I hear mature musicians define Dorian mode as "2 up to 2 in the major scale," Mixolydian as "5 up to 5," and so on. Most of the successful jazz colleagues I know, both in and out of academia, are unaware of pre- and post-Glarean distinctions of modes: A mode's a mode! Period. The Glossary of Jerry Coker's Listening to Jazz (Prentice-Hall, 1978) contains the following: "Dorian Mode: a very popular scale for use in modal tunes, structured like a major scale that has been recirculated to the second degree of the scale. For example, a 'D' dorian scale uses the notes of a 'C' major scale . . . but begins on 'D' . . . "
16In a well-known letter to violinist Rudolf Kolisch, dated July 27, 1932.
17Columbia LP 1355 and the later CD, CK 40579.
18N.B. that in the record liner notes pianist Evans refers to "scales" rather than "modes."
19(Englewood Cliffs: Prentice Hall, 2nd ed., 1985.)
20From Jazz Styles, 423.
21My transcription from the recording.
22Perhaps the BF tritone embedded in the background figure is crucial here as a tonal marker, as Richmond Browne, Helen Brown, and David Butler have argued.
23"Added 6th" refers here to the cliché tradition in 20th-century popular music and jazz which added a major 6th (above a designated root) to a major triad. The sonic result is distinctive, readily associated with the pop/jazz repertory from around 1925. It is unrelated to Rameau's "Grande Sixte," (a.k.a. "ii"), although the two share the same sonority.
24Schoenberg first used aufgehaben (Harmonielehre), then later settled on Schwebende (Structural Functions of Harmony). By the former he meant fluctuating, wandering, by the latter more fluctuating than suspended. The conditions he had in mind involved definable chord progressions, "extending" or "stretching" a posited key's boundaries, as in a string of remote secondary dominants.
25The harmonic product, a prolonged supertonic chord, is basically the same as the first fifteen bars of Aaron Copland's 1951 song "The World Feels Dusty" (no. 4 of Twelve Poems of Emily Dickinson).
26Copy material in the original Columbia LP album suffered an unfortunate title-switch between All Blues and a piece called Flamenco Sketches. While writing this chapter I learned that some of my jazz friends have for many years played a piece erroneously called All Blues which, according to Bill Evans's notes on the original Columbia recording, is Flamenco Sketches. For correct matching of names and music, Flamenco Sketches is in a medium-tempo six-eight, All Blues in an extremely slow four. The error was enormously compounded when a book of pop tune chord changes (a "fake" book) entitled The Real Book (space disallows explanation of the title here) was published carrying the incorrect designation. (The Real Book, The Realbook Press, Syosset NY, 1980 ["totally revised ed."], p. 13.)
27Gridley, 219. My reader who knows jazz history will note the influence of Ornette Coleman in this serendipitous plan. In his record jacket notes, Bill Evans refers to "series of five scales," these "to be played as long as the soloist wishes until he completed the series [of 5]."
28Ibid., 221. The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz gives two outlines that differ in details from Gridley's and are themselves mutually contradictory. In that source's Miles Davis entry we read that the piece (misnamed Flamenco Sketches, remember) "contains choruses of variable length in the form a b c d e" and that "each section is identified by a different scale and tonality . . . (including the dorian and mixolydian)." But in the later entry Forms (273) we are told that the form consists of five segments, the first and third of which are " . . . in static major keys, which some analysts have preferred to call the ionian mode, and the second and fifth suggest others of the ecclesiastical modes. The fourth section, on the other hand, is based on a flamenco-like scale (D G A C/ ) . . . "
29In which case Davis emphasizes the 9th and major 7th of C major throughout this solo. Reasonable or not, the line he plays is inconceivable as the projection of a C tonic (or finalis!).
30The goal of his move to New York City in 1944 was to seek out and perform with Charlie Parker, not to attend Juilliard or the School of the Arts.
31If I may be forgiven use of the term "harmonic" in a discussion of plainchant!
32As that condition is defined today, as per pitch-class content and hierarchy.
33The seminal role of these Miles Davis pieces is implied in the definition of Modal tune Jerry Coker gives in his Listening to Jazz (143): "a tune that has very few chord changes, each with extremely long durations (slow harmonic rhythm), and is treated as a scale, usually dorian . . . , rather than chords."
34Both Bruno Nettl (Folk and Traditional Music of the Western Continents, Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall, 1965), and J.H. Kwabena Nketia (African Music in Ghana, Evanston: Northwestern University Press, 1963) have remarked on the prevalence of "blues" 3rds and "Mixolydian" 7ths in some of the musics of Africa.
Last modified on Thursday, 18/10/2018
William Ennis Thomson
After a youth playing jazz trumpet and French Horn, the professional life of William Ennis Thomson (b. 1927, Ft. Worth, Texas) was devoted to collegiate-level music theory and composition. His primary thrust in research and writing centered upon the cognitive/perceptual foundation of music, but the range of his many books and articles extends to political and historical aspects of academe. A complete listing of published articles can be found in Wikipedia, (William Ennis Thomson).
His academic history includes Music School, University of Southern California (Professor and Dean, 1980–1992; SUNY-Buffalo (Music Chair and Ziegle Professor, 1975–80); University of Arizona (Director, Graduate Studies 1972–75); Case Western Reserve University and Cleveland Institute of Music (Kulas Professor, 1969–72); Indiana University (Music Theory Chair,1961–69)); University of Hawaii (Scholar in Residence, 1967–68); Sul Ross State College (Prof., 1951–59); Ford Foundation Composer in Residence, Elkhart, IN (1960–61). From 1967-77 he guided the formation of the public school music curriculum for the state of Hawaii.
1975-79 Thomson chaired the Advanced Placement in Music Test Committee; 1971-75; served as Music Panel Member and Examiner for the National Endowment for the Arts; was Fellow and Policy Committee member of the Ford Foundation CMP, 1963-76; and board member, Buffalo Philharmonic,1976–80.
Early in his career Thomson composed award-winning works for band, orchestra, chorus and various chamber media. He served in the U.S. Navy from 1945-46, mainly as band member aboard the aircraft carrier Lexington.
Now retired from USC, he lives in Bloomington, Indiana.