Just a square, I guess.
June 10, 2009 6:22 PM   Subscribe

Music types: help me identify exactly what it is that I dislike about these particular types of jazz!

Recently, a friend has been trying to get me into jazz. When exploring, though, I run into a weird hurdle: I really like jazz made up through the thirties, but somewhere in the late 40s/50s/60s, it acquires a specific harmonic quality that I absolutely can't stand. I tend to listen to music mostly for the harmonies and chord progressions, and this particular element literally raises hairs on the back of my neck.

It's not just that later jazz is more free-form and deconstructed; we're talking a particular type of chord or harmony that, in most cases, I can pick out within less than a measure. And it's not just the sheer quantity of dissonance, because (while not the biggest fan), I can listen to Stravinsky or Schoenberg forever without it bothering me in the same way.

Sadly, to say, "I don't do jazz after about 1940" sounds kind of ig'nant, like maybe I'm just an uptight fuddy-duddy who can't handle the Cool. I’d like to be able to identify the specific harmonic quality that bothers me (e.g. "I just don't like augmented fourths," or whatever) but I haven't been able to find any theory-oriented histories of jazz that specifically break down its development into nitty-gritty musical elements. So can anybody help me figure out what chord/interval/harmony/progression I'm talking about?

Some specifics:
  • I associate this with wind/brass ensembles, but I'm not sure why.
  • It turns up A LOT in Miles Davis's work. As far as I can see, I hate just about everything the poor guy's ever done.
  • Definitely present in E.S.P.
  • Also in Giant Steps, where the opening chords after the solo pretty much typify what I'm talking about.
  • And it's even in some pop, like The girl from Ipanema. You know the generic light-jazz that plays in elevators in the movies? Totally.
  • But it's not (obviously) present in Take Five , even though that's later jazz
  • Also not in Sing, Sing, Sing , even though that's plenty dissonant. If it'd help, I'm happy to try additional test-cases. What is this harmony? Any ideas, AskMeFi?
posted by gallusgallus to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: 6/9 chords? Parallelism in dense four note chord voicings, including parallel fourths?
posted by umbú at 6:39 PM on June 10, 2009

Isn't this why some people don't like Bird, claiming that he ruined jazz?
posted by Rash at 6:39 PM on June 10, 2009

I don't think I understand exactly, especially considering that the sonorities that you seem to be drawn to are in a lot of be-bop and post-bop but you don't seem to be a fan. I think the key is to keep trying different jazzers. You might be surprised by what you find.

Try these on for size:
Art Blakey, Night in Birdland Vol. 1
Bill Evans, Explorations (Although this one might be too intense in some parts. Mostly it's just lovely.)
Zoot Sims, Zoot!
Clifford Brown and Max Roach, Clifford Brown and Max Roach

posted by cachondeo45 at 6:42 PM on June 10, 2009

It sounds like you're reacting to modal jazz in general.

(Here's an analysis of The Girl From Ipanema which shows how much complex stuff is going on in a superficially simple tune.)
posted by holgate at 6:54 PM on June 10, 2009 [3 favorites]

Best answer: When I think of jazz from the 30s and earlier, I think of simpler chord structures -- mostly 4-note 7th chords, and a lot of screaming 6th chords, which are a softer dissonance.

Some things in post-1940s jazz tha might be rubbing you the wrong way:

-More extended chords (9ths, 11ths, 13ths) -- rhythm players often add extensions to nearly every chord as the norm. The 5th is often omitted so instead of hearing a familiar 1-3-5-7 you might be hearing some variation of 1-3-7-9-13 on most chords. Also, the chord root is often avoided by everyone but the bass, which can be disorienting if you're not accustomed to these kinds of sonorities.
-Modes of the Melodic Minor Scale, and the Alt chord that comes along with it (#9 and b9, #5 and b5 living together, it's mass hysteria!)
-More Lydian-ish sonorities - the #4/#11 is a sound I personally love, but it creates a bright, sharp dissonance
-A lot more use of tritone substitutions -- good ol 5-1 root motion is often replaced by half-step motion . If your ear wants to hear some familiar 5-1, this can feel somewhat unresolved.
posted by Alabaster at 7:07 PM on June 10, 2009 [4 favorites]

Also, soloists in earlier jazz tended to stick within the key, often working around simple arpeggios. Later jazz tended to value playing "out" -- venturing far away from the harmony and then (sometimes) working your way back.
posted by Alabaster at 7:12 PM on June 10, 2009

Could it be a texture thing? You mention you listen for harmonies, and when the combos got smaller, there was less harmony over all. "Sing Sing Sing" has dissonance, but it's being produced by a lot of horns in lockstep. Playing in Bop and Cool get a lot more reedy. How does Mingus work for you? Melodically, he's modern, but his textures were closer to swing and R&B.
posted by bendybendy at 7:16 PM on June 10, 2009

Best answer: Sounds like you hate modal playing and parallel voicings.
posted by sourwookie at 7:47 PM on June 10, 2009

Your link to "Giant Steps", which looked to me like the way to listen to the thing you're talking about in the shortest time, is wrong. It's another link to "Sing, sing, sing".
posted by AmbroseChapel at 8:42 PM on June 10, 2009

Gallusgallus, I have a similar problem to you, thanks so much for putting it into words. I would second Cachondeo45's recommendations, as despite all, I do love Clifford Brown and Max Roach's album.
posted by Jon_Evil at 11:07 PM on June 10, 2009

Best answer: Alabaster: I think your analysis would help explain why a lot of people have trouble with jazz from bebop onward, but in the poster's case, I'm not so sure, since Giant Steps doesn't seem to have much in the way of the qualities you describe (typically played with few extensions, few substitutions, and somewhat stable chord voicings, if I remember correctly).

umbú: I think parallelism could be the quality that's eliciting revulsion, since that's what I'm hearing in ESP (parallel fourths) and in Giant Steps (parallel ii-V progressions, and to a lesser extent ii-V-I progressions).

Poster: Can you identify which instruments make the neck hair stand up, and at which parts in the songs?

It's been a while since I've studied or listened closely to jazz, so take with a grain of salt.
posted by univac at 12:09 AM on June 11, 2009

I think it's do with hearing melodic lines that are sporadic and broken by abnormally large tonal gaps, which I think some people really struggle to find any sort of beauty in. I can't really word it any better than that, if I were in the same room listening to it I'd probably be pointing when it did it and saying 'like that...'

What I would have to add sort of as an aside, as I think you'll not find that here (and to anyone who says they don't like jazz, or modern jazz) is to try Esbjorrn Svenson Trio. Them or Bad Plus, or NiK Bartsch's Ronin.
posted by opsin at 5:27 AM on June 11, 2009

Response by poster: Sorry to drop out of the conversation for a bit there, and thank you so much to everyone who weighed in-- I've never seen jazz analyzed at this level, and I'm finding it really fascinating.

bendybendy: Thanks for suggesting Mingus; after some Youtube browsing, I've determined that I do indeed enjoy the texture of his stuff, but still dislike the sonorities. Illuminating!

cachondeo45, Jon_Evil, opsin: thanks so much for the listening suggestions! I’m looking forward to exploring some new artists.

Alabaster, univac, umbú, sourwookie, others: after reading the responses, I went to the piano, played 1-3-7-9-13, and OMG THAT IS TOTALLY IT!! Extensions, they’re called, then? Good to know! And after adding, then omitting, the fifth, I find it amazing what a huge difference that makes, as well. Although after re-listening to the original recordings, I don’t think I’m loving the parallel voicings, either.

So, in the last analysis, a two-part solution to the mystery: for me, no (1) extensions, or (2) parallel movement. Thank you so much!
posted by gallusgallus at 2:32 PM on June 12, 2009 [1 favorite]

Just to clarify, I bet you mean no parallel movement other than 3rds, 6ths, octaves or 10ths. 4ths and 5ths are the ones that are generally avoided in Western classical common practice, and can sound more strident.
posted by umbú at 9:17 AM on June 19, 2009

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