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    History of extended tertian chords in jazz

    Dear theorists,

    I am trying to figure out when and if possible how extended tertian sonorities (especially "eleventh" and "thirteenth" chords) became standard ingredients in jazz harmony without doing an extensive corpus study. (I love jazz, but I am not a jazz musician and know very little about early jazz in particular.) My question is relevant for a paper I am working on about Schoenberg's Von Heute auf Morgen (so it's not directly jazz related). 

    If any of you have ideas about this or suggestions of articles/books that might be helpful to me I would very much appreciate it. The standard jazz history books I am familiar with treat jazz harmony and theory only in a cursory fashion.

    Thanks so much!

    Aaron Sunstein

    Ph.d/DM student

    Indiana University 




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    • 4 Comments sorted by Votes Date Added
    • Interesting question, Aaron.  I'm curious though why you are looking into jazz for this paper.  As a jazz theorist I certainly encourage you to explore the subject, but extended tertian chords of all types were common in Western classical music by the time this opera was written (Ravel, Scriabin, Rachmaninoff, etc.), and also may be found in the common-practice period.

      Rich Pellegrin                                                                                                                                             

      University of Missouri





      It is more of a lingering question that my Schoenberg research has raised again---it's only indirectly related. In regards to my paper, Von Heute has a complicated relationship with German zeitoper of the 20s and especially with Krenek's Jonny spielt auf. In Von Heute, Schoenberg is responding critically to Jonny in many ways, but at the same time he incorporates zeitoper elements (especially from Jonny) that he hoped would popularize the opera. In Jonny there is what Krenek thought of as American jazz (he apes it without really knowing the faintest thing about it) and Schoenberg incorporates "jazz" as filtered through Germans and especially Krenek to some extent. The obvious "jazz" references (again it is in many cases not actually anything to do with American jazz) in both Jonny and Von heute are most obviously instrumentation, specific dances, and a few specific rhythmic figures that musicologists have identified as prevalent in German jazz handbooks from the 20s. 

      I don't want to get into the harmonic stuff here too much (I'd be happy to send you a draft of my paper when I have one I'm ok with) but suffice it to say that Schoenberg's desire to write a popular opera is reflected in his twelve-tone harmony as well. 

      I understand perfectly well that extended tertian chords are very much a part of early 20th c. Russian  and French music, but in looking at many early 20th c. European classical works that purport to be American/Jazz influenced it would be helpful to have a narrative about the back and forth of harmonic influence. E.g. did American jazzers incorporate extended tertian chords because they heard them in European music or did they arrive at them organically from improvisational practice? If it's a mixture of both can that be documented in some way from extent recordings or recollections etc.? 

      Obviously by the time Schuller's jazz history books were written in the sixties there's a fully fledged system of chord symbols in which it's perfectly normal to see "C13" or things of that nature, but I'd love to know more details about how jazz got there.


    • American jazz players in France—there were lots of them—during the 1920s and 30s hearing Debussy, Faure, Rave, et alial? Don't know where I heard that rumor, but it might be worth looking into. Sorry I have nothing more substantive.

    • Jazz players took the harmonies from European music. Most jazz pianists (Waller, Johnson, Smith, etc.) were classically trained. Bix, in the early twenties, was known to be a fan of Dubussy, Ravel and Eastwood Lane. Many dance band leaders of the 20s were classically trained and deliberately incorporated Impressionist elements in their scores.