Sam DiCamillo wrote a very interesting response to Jeremy and Jessica’s post (see comments). He sees chromaticism as a way of adding ‘color’ which is what the word connotes and in classical music chromatic (non-chordal) tones are often used for that purpose. He then says:

“Bach created some of his great masterpieces almost completely devoid of “chromatics” and others such as his “Chromatic fantasy” were brimming with color tones, and who is to say which were more “Mature”.

Some of Chet’s ( Baker ) solos, in the same vein, are almost void of chromatics, and others are full of them.”

I’m not sure it is maturity as much as the use of musical resources. Bach modulates a great deal, with within each key remains diatonic and certainly there is no reason to want more musical interest than Bach (or for that matter Mozart) offers. But by the time you get to Beethoven things start to look rather different.

My sense is that Charlie Parker’s innovations (extensions of the dominant 7 chord as I discuss in my response to Jessica) is adding the harmonic richness of the romantic composers (which lets you play 11 notes against a dominant chord- every note except the major 7th). Coltrane’s use of whole tone divisions of the octave (Giant Step changes) moves jazz improvisation into the impressionist composers of the first half of the 20th century (permitting all 12 notes to be played, but in a patterned way). Post-Coltrane musicians, for example, Erik Dolphy and Cecil Taylor move chromaticism into the realm of later 20th century music with true poly-tonality and the free juxtaposition  all 12 notes against any chord.

This is more than adding color, it is forcing the improvisor to develop sequences that have integrity even when they are not supported by the chords (Coltrane was working with sequences throughout his later recoding).

Naturally you can make music with any of these approached. Louis Armstrong made great music with only blues colors added to a basically diatonic vocabulary.

Please keep the comments coming. Thank you Sam for your provocative post.


6 Comments on “Chromaticism

  1. To Mark, quoting you:
    “I’m not sure it is maturity as much as the use of musical resources”
    Well of course I agree with you here, (However) something I do really object to is the attitude that the more musical resourses one resorts to, the better his/her playing will be.
    I am now at the point where I believe the only goal or ideal in improvisation is, or should be, the “Vocal” quality of the phrase.
    Meaning the phrases have to “Talk” to the listener : and crazily enough not : “Sing”,
    and this being crazy because I do sing myself, and I have the utmost respect for good singers.
    I had this discussion with a fantastic German Trumpeter players years ago, and he did agree with me that the line, the improvised line must : “Talk” and not “Sing”, and I am still trying to figure out : Why.
    Anyway, speaking of Amadeus Mozart, well I am posting from Mannheim, and he actually lived in a hotel for seven months directly across from a one time appartment of mine, and that is where he penned his two magnifgicent flute concertos, in G and D, in the year of 1777.

  2. And Mark ,

    it’s still “Color” ( “Chromatism”) no matter how you coin it : Altered dominant harmony, whatever, and of course the “color aspect” of it being the friction thereby created.

  3. This is an interesting issue. But if our only concern is ‘singing’ then we might as play blues or rock and roll where powerful statements are made easily because of the directness of the form. My view of jazz has always been that the choice to play jazz is the choice to have a ‘high bar’ within which expressiveness is to be sought for. So the intellectual demand is to communicate within a genre that demands sophistication as well as expression.

  4. Regarding the inference of a “Singing” quality while improvising, and I mean singing “Through” one’s instrument, I remember reading an interview with Bill Evans years ago in which he stated that his highest goal and focus was to bring the Piano to sing, and he surely was not engaged in the performance of Rock or Blues.

    My point being that all of the musical “Resources” cannot distract from the initial purpose of performing music ,and that being communication, and as I tried to express in my previous post : After sixty years of musical endeavor, I have arrived at only one conclusion and that being, in the Jazz idiom at least : The line must “Talk” to the listener, and strangely enough the manifestation of this “Vocal” quality seems to present itself in the the quality of “Speaking”, or of “Talking” and not singing.

    I have recently obtained a set of Parker discs, which have been digital-remastered, and the clarity is beautiful and astounding, which in turn then presents this “Talking” and not singing, aspect of Bird’s playing better than I have ever witnessed, and then again fortifying and exposing this mystery, the “Mystery” of : “Why does the ( competent) Jazz line “Talk” instead of “sing”, at an even more profound level of obviousness.
    By the way my instrument is also the Flute.

  5. We have no argument. All of the greatest jazz musicians communicated and all created memorable melodies (singing) and expanded the harmonic vocabulary (talking) in a way that spoke to other musicians. As a musician my main focus is to do the latter. My goal is to play music that communicates to the audience (singing) but that offers new possibilities for other musicians (talking).

    An interesting perspective on singing was the challenge of my latest album, Todo Corazon, to be released early in 2013. The material is classic tangos and the setting was quite traditional. I had to play diatonically in all of my solos and it was the most difficult challenge I have ever faced as an improvisor.

    I especially hope that I have something new to offer to flute players, so I am really pleased that you are one!

  6. One of the most startling moments, musically , I have ever experienced was decades ago, while listening, for the eleven thousandth time, to Trane’s out of this dimension, magnificent solo on “Ole”, when it hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks :
    He’s not singing ; he’s talking. and at the point I started to listen to everyone else from this aspect, from the aspect of : What is he/she saying in a spoken vein, and this again changed my own approach to soloing and this radically.
    Until then my ldeal had always been the “singing” approach, but it somehow did not gel while I was improvising, while playing the melody, the tune, no problem, but as soon as I got into the soloing segment of the tune at hand, the things got muddy.
    Well the revelation while listening to Trane cinched it for me, and from that point forward it became more and more obvious that the goal is : “Talking” while soloing,. sure singing is somehow a part of all of this, but without the “spoken” angle, solos just come off as shallow and uninteresting.

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