Michael Bruschi
MUS 262 Final Project
Professor Reynolds
13 May 2014
The Evolution of Jazz Styles
Four original compositions are considered here, each of which is modeled after a
particular canonical jazz form or idiom. This essay will briefly discuss each tune, with special
attention given to how the set as a whole exemplifies and demonstrates the evolution of jazz
styles.
Chronologically speaking, the first song in the set is “Come to Me,” a playful and
intimate medium swing chart reminiscent of the Tin Pan Alley popular songs of the 1920s and
1930s, with a vocal line that sounds like it could have been easily sung by Bing Crosby or Frank
Sinatra. Inspired musically by American songwriters such as George Gershwin and lyrically by
F. Scott Fitzgerald’s contemporaneous novel, The Great Gatsby, “Come to Me” is a 32-bar
popular song form—motivically AABA—that juxtaposes a harmonically simple A-section
(oscillatory in nature, using mainly I, vi, ii, and V) in F major with a sequentially driven Bsection replete with semitonally ascending ii-V-I’s. As such, its harmonic structure is most
similar to the 1937 Rodgers and Hart standard, “Have You Met Miss Jones.”
The second song in the set is the upbeat 12-bar F blues, “The Sock Hop.” Harmonically,
the tune makes use of a form that dates back to the very roots of jazz (c.f. Bessie Smith, Ma
Rainey, Mississippi Fred McDowell, etc.). However, both its melodic contour and its title
suggest a later era—that of bebop. Historically positioned between Bird and Trane, “The Sock
Hop” has a brisk and serpentine melody that is full of chromaticism, encirclements, pickups, and
transformations of a four-note gesture. The tritone substitution in the tenth measure adds some
harmonic complexity, and the hits notated underneath the main staff add a forward-driving layer
of rhythmic interaction with the head. Though no one instrument is specified to play the head, it
sounds most idiomatic on saxophone.
The next chart in the set of four is “To Go of Lands,” a rhythm changes contrafact in C
written for trombone, inspired in part by JJ Johnson and Carl Fontana. Like “Come to Me,” it is a
32-bar form inspired by Gershwin, and like “The Sock Hop,” its harmonic origins predate its
melodic vocabulary. Harmonically, there are a few notable tritone (measure 2 beat 1) and tertian
(measure 3 beat 1) substitutions that are deployed to optimally express the nuances of the
melodic contour within the harmonic strictures of the rhythm changes. Melodically, the lines are
generally bebop-inspired, heavy on chromaticism, and rich in color tones. There are a few choice
infusions of the octatonic scale (measures 9 and 10) and a couple of unusually bold melodic
leaps (such as the diminished octave leaps in measures 3 and 4, and again at 27-28), contributing
to a wholly more modern tonal syntax than the previous two pieces considered. Again, hits are
notated on the staff below the main, included for the purposes of answering melodic phrases
(mm. 5 and 11) and providing rhythmic grounding after (mm. 7 and 8) and during (mm. 15 and
16) syncopated phrases. This piece is characteristic of the 1940s/1950s, an era in which
contrafacts of rhythm changes became increasingly popular, especially with the advent of the
bebop paradigm.
“Who You Is” closes out the set with a straight and soulful 32-bar form preceded by a 4measure vamp harmonically reminiscent of Robert Glasper. The A sections are driven almost
entirely by sequential motion: both melodically, via exact transposition of a four-note phrase
(slightly altered in each A section to highlight a different chord tone [9, 5, and 7, in that order]),
and harmonically, via a progression of successive major ninth chords whose roots descend by
minor third, a tertian-based harmonic approach evocative of “Giant Steps.” The B section is
harmonically sequential on a more macroscopic scale—a four-bar phrase transposed up by step
(pedantically speaking, by diminished third) and repeated, with a break on the downbeat of
measure 28 to lead back into the last A. The harmonic language itself in the B section is freer,
more variegated in terms of voicings, and chromatically richer. The #11 chords in measures 21
and 25 provide brightness, the fourth-based voicings in measures 23 and 27 provide a gospelinspired structural contrast to the tertian-dominant A-sections, and the transposition upwards by
step acts as a directional foil for the descending minor-third harmonic cycles of the A-section.
On the whole, the chart is decidedly modern in its soundscape; The Bad Plus and Brad Mehldau
come to mind as two artists who would do it justice.