Monash University
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Improvised counterpoint: a study of contrapuntal strategies and interchangeable roles between two soloists in jazz improvisation

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posted on 2017-03-01, 02:39 authored by Beeche, Jack Trewhella
Contrapuntal improvisation was an integral part of jazz at its inception in New Orleans and has continued to provide communal spontaneity to the music ever since. In particular, Dixieland, Cool Jazz and Free Jazz have maintained multi-voice, contrapuntal improvisation, however the music’s focus often shifts to an individual jazz soloist, removing opportunities for collective dialogue in the moment. In our current period, exploring, cultivating and evolving this improvisatory practice is of great value to the collaborative sound of jazz and its future. This research (recording and supporting exegesis) investigates melodic counterpoint between two jazz soloists, simultaneously improvising over a common form, harmony and tempo. It draws from an extensive body of literature on interaction in jazz, which commonly explores the rhythm section interacting with one soloist. Whilst detailed analyses of interaction between two simultaneous soloists exist, they are often limited. This artistic research in music (ARiM) aims to contribute to the field by identifying a systematic method of analysing and performing improvised counterpoint, in transcribed examples of selected musicians and myself. Applying this to performance encourages equal levels of influence from both soloists who must react to each other in the moment. An initial ‘outside-in’ investigation into the improvised counterpoint of three selected ‘Cool Jazz’ musicians (Lee Konitz, Gerry Mulligan and Jim Hall) aims to identify improvisatory strategies that lend coherence to their counterpoint. This will assemble a series of strategies that can be separated into comping and soloing roles depending on the aims of the improviser. Having developed this through practice, a second ‘inside-out’ investigation will observe the same strategies in my own performance, demonstrating coherent counterpoint and influences of the selected musicians. Further reflection upon my performance will then explore transitions between roles, revealing interactive ‘triggers’ that influence role changes in the other musician. Using the metaphor of jazz improvisation as conversation, this paper compiles a contrapuntal syntax of eleven strategies, developed from the selected musicians, and a framework of four common triggers for role transition found in my performance. These are articulated through transcription analyses and recordings. Although this is a case study of improvised counterpoint inherent to my performance and that of selected musicians, it aims to provide a model for analysing and developing cohesive counterpoint, between two equal soloists, in any improvising musician.


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Robert Burke

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Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music

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Faculty of Arts

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