My third and final journal entry for my jazz theory seminar is due tonight. (See Periodic Journal 1 and Periodic Journal 2.) I wrote about the final reading assignment for Dave Liebman's A Chromatic Approach to Jazz Harmony and Melody and tied in some group playing concepts with a Lee Konitz masterclass I attended in September. (I still plan to dedicate a whole post to that.)

Liebman Reading

I thought the section on melodic variation was fascinating, but it seemed like an isolated concept apart from the rest of the book. Liebman mentions several times throughout the book that development of the chromatic playing style he's outlining can only begin after a certain level of mastery of tonal playing has been achieved. I would place this concept of melodic variation firmly in within that mastery of tonal playing. It's a great concept to work with, but I can't tell why Liebman includes it here, especially without mentioning how it should be approached in his chromatic idiom.

The following section on pattern development was clearer in its chromatic implications, but I could have used more applications of the concept and advice on practicing it. The examples given sounded interesting, but there didn't seem to be any reason for choosing them, making it hard to envision a comprehensive approach.

I enjoyed Liebman's unique perspective on classifying intervals into smooth, ambiguous, and angular categories. I had never thought of grouping them the way he does, with major and minor seconds, thirds, sixths together in the "smooth" group; fifths, fourths, tritones in the "ambiguous" group; and major and minor sevenths, ninths in the "angular" group. I can hear his descriptions in the example lines of consecutive intervals from each category, with the exception of the tritone, which I find quite unambiguous. Combine a tritone with any other note, and you've defined a tonal center. I might reserve a separate category for this interval, but who wants to hear a melodic line of only tritones? I was pleased to see an addendum to this section about practicing intervallic lines, which further motivated me to pursue these types of lines. However, I must take issue with the opening statement to this section: "The goal of melodic improvisation, especially chromatic playing, is to hear intervallically no matter what the harmonic source."[1] I agree that hearing intervallically enhances melodic improvisation regardless of the context, but I doubt that it will ever be the goal I have in mind.

I enjoyed the final sections of this reading—three articles on practicing and playing in groups—even though mentions of specific chromatic applications were brief. The bits of wisdom I gleaned will be timeless and invaluable if I can keep them in mind. On practicing: "What sounds stiff and overly intellectualized in the beginning stages will eventually evolve to more ease and comfort. [...] However, repetition must not fall into an unconscious approach in which the student is automatically repeating exercises without any mental awareness."[2] This mindset is essential to staying focused and motivated with one's practice regimen. It's a tough balancing act, because the goal is to internalize and automate things which are initially awkward, but the mental side must always be working. On chromatic playing, I like that Liebman suggests "saturated listening"[3] to familiarize oneself with the sounds of the idiom, and I was greatly satisfied to discover specific examples of these concepts transcribed and analyzed on pp. 84–89 (beyond the current reading).

In the discussion on group playing, Liebman begins by exploring the attitudes necessary for success. I love his conclusion about the mindset of the soloist: "Maybe, in order to be a great soloist, a large ego is necessary. One can only speculate on this subject because the exact process of individual expression is by its nature not open to generalizations."[4] An improvised solo is necessarily an expression of individualism, and it bothers me when people presume to generalize the process. While there are no hard rules in music, the approach to group playing is much easier to generalize. Liebman says the most important elements are "mutual respect and the desire to want the group to sound great."[5] With these elements understood and practiced by musically like-minded members, I think a group's success is guaranteed.

Liebman briefly outlines the separate abilities of good ears in jazz: relative pitch, rhythmic hearing, harmonic hearing, root movement, and form. This was a relatively new idea to me; I had given some thoughts to these different abilities, but never identified them explicitly as distinct hearing skills to be cultivated. On hearing the form, it was only in the past year that I realized how important this is, when I discovered that I could play solos with conviction without even knowing the changes if I were familiar with the form. If I could group my ideas into logical phrases that coincide with the cadences in the form, then it didn't matter so much if I was playing the "correct" notes harmonically.

Lee Konitz Masterclass

Some of Liebman's remarks on group playing had a strong connection with the Lee Konitz masterclass back on 30 Sep 2010. His advocacy of sensitive listening and readiness to react to the others' ideas at any time sounds exactly like the lessons learned from Konitz's group. I remember thinking that their collective compositional improvisation was like telepathy; there were no visual signals or eye contact. It was all about listening to everything and selectively responding. The main principles were to remember the ideas played previously and develop them into a spontaneous composition. The group's discussion of how to navigate their own instruments in ways that avoid conflict with the others leads directly to a line from one of these Liebman articles: "A mature soloist will leave space for the rhythm section to initiate ideas rather than placing them always in a subservient, accompanist's role."[6]


[1]Dave Liebman, A Chromatic Approach to Jazz Harmony and Melody (Rottenburg N., Germany: Advance Music, 1991), 71.

[2]Ibid., 75.

[3]Ibid., 76.

[4]Ibid., 77.


[6]Ibid., 80.

Works Cited

Liebman, Dave. A Chromatic Approach to Jazz Harmony and Melody. Rottenburg N., Germany: Advance Music, 1991.