Monash University
4719547_monash_173011.pdf (8.1 MB)

Developing approaches to jazz composition and improvisation informed by the dissonant counterpoint methods of Charles Seeger and Ruth Crawford

Download (8.1 MB)
posted on 2017-03-02, 23:39 authored by O'Connor, Joseph
This project investigates how Ruth Crawford’s applications of concepts from Charles Seeger’s Manual of Dissonant Counterpoint can inform non-tonal jazz improvisation and composition. Crawford and Seeger’s collaboration between 1929 and 1931 culminated in a distinctive compositional approach called dissonant counterpoint that was founded on a dialectic between the traditions of Western concert music, and experimentation with various types of dissonance. This commentary argues that innovation in jazz emerges from a similar dialectic between convention and experimentation, which is enriched by practices extrinsic to the jazz tradition. I have developed a collection of recordings for solo piano and piano trio that embody various syntheses of dissonant counterpoint and jazz. Following a critique of mainstream jazz practices, I refer to Crawford and Seeger’s discourse to advances two primary aims: Firstly, to develop distinctive approaches to non- tonal pitch organisation suitable for both composition and improvisation; and secondly, to develop templates for improvisation (called referents) that encourage sophisticated, contrapuntal musical textures. Each type of referent discussed in this commentary requires the performer to engage with the construction of reference materials while they improvise. Rather than relating to chord progressions that are unchanged during multiple repetitions (solo choruses), improvisers are provided with multilayered reference information that can be configured in a variety of ways. Some compositions provide independent, contrasting harmonic streams that are synthesised and juxtaposed by the performer as they improvise. Some referents supply metrical and rhythmic information that co-ordinates multilayered improvisations. Other compositions supply sets of modules that are sequenced, combined and varied by the improviser. Each referent engenders textural sophistication by embedding a concept of counterpoint within the information that performers relate as they improvise. I conclude by considering ways that my assimilation of modernist techniques reveals a metamodern sensibility, an emergent trend identified by cultural theorists Velmeulen and Van Den Akker. Additional material(s) submitted with thesis.


Principal supervisor

Thomas Reiner

Additional supervisor 1

Tony Gould

Year of Award


Department, School or Centre

The Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music and Performance

Degree Type


Campus location



Faculty of Arts

Usage metrics

    Faculty of Arts Theses


    No categories selected


    Ref. manager