Friday, December 30, 2011

The Life and Music of McCoy Tyner

In the fall of 2008, I began a PhD program in jazz studies at the University of Pittsburgh. On December 8, 2011,  I was advanced to PhD candidacy. Yeah!!!!!!!!  For those that don't know what this means, I completed all of my course work, wrote and defended my MA Thesis, passed comprehensive exams, and my dissertation proposal was accepted by my dissertation committee. Sounds like a lot huh? Well it was!!!! lol  For those that are interested, here is a summary of my dissertation proposal.  As I acquire the necessary research to write my dissertation, I'll share the interesting information with you.  Here is the summary of my dissertation proposal, and those of you that have any information or resources that can help me complete this project, please share them with me. Thanks!


My dissertation delineates the social and cultural forces that shaped jazz pianist McCoy Tyner’s famed improvisational style.  Additionally, core components of Tyner’s improvisational techniques will be identified and insight into how his right hand works in conjunction with his left hand while improvising will be rendered.  The final part of my dissertation will examine some of Tyner’s improvisations to see if evidence of the social and cultural forces that shaped his musical paradigm can be found in his improvisations.
     McCoy Tyner is a preeminent voice in the history of modern jazz piano performance.  With the advent of modal jazz at the end of the 1950s, Bud Powell’s bebop framework of jazz piano improvisation, utilized and expanded upon by a host of pianists in the 1950s, was no longer viable.  During his tenure with the John Coltrane Quartet between 1960 and 1965, Tyner brilliantly developed an influential approach to jazz piano improvisation that assimilated the developing modal innovations of the 1960s.  As Bud Powell pianistically assimilated the innovative bebop style of the 1940s led by saxophonist Charlie Parker, McCoy Tyner pianistically assimilated the innovative modal style of the 1960s led by John Coltrane.  Tyner’s style of improvisation has influenced a host of extraordinary musicians in the twentieth and twenty-first century. Specifically, his harmonic, melodic and rhythmic contributions to jazz improvisation have been assimilated into the musical vocabulary of notable musicians like Chick Corea, Larry Young, Kenny Kirkland, Geri Allen, Dave Kikoski, Joey Calderazzo and a host of other pianists.
     My dissertation is divided into a historical and analytical section. Historical research will be rendered first and will consist of a biography and discourse delineating the social and cultural stimuli that shaped Tyner’s musical paradigm.  The findings of this data will be presented on micro and macroscopic levels.  The microscopic level will render information on Tyner’s family (great grandparents, grandparents, parents, siblings etc.), economic status, early musical training, musical influences, friends, teachers and mentors.  The macroscopic level will address the sociocultural level possibly rendering discourse on topics like Black Nationalism, the Muslim faith, tensions between Muslims and the black church, black Indian practices passed on to Tyner by John Coltrane and internal civil wars among blacks.  If applicable, my research findings will also state ways in which my historical and sociocultural data did not affect Tyner’s music.
     The historical section of my dissertation demands a lot of primary research.  This will be facilitated by personal interviews with McCoy Tyner and musicians that played with him such as Tootie and Jimmy Heath, Benny Golson, Curtis Fuller and Odean Pope. A trip to Philadelphia, Tyner’s birth place, is also planned to look at birth records and other relevant documents and places that lend insight into the social and cultural environment in which Tyner grew up.  E-mail, Skype and other forms of electronic communication will be utilized to continue discussions with informants in Philadelphia and other relevant areas.  Secondary sources like taped and written interviews of Tyner, along with books, periodicals, newspaper articles and album liner notes will also be consulted to gather the social and cultural data integral in my study.
     The analytical part of my dissertation consists of selecting, transcribing and analyzing several of Tyner’s improvisations.  My purpose in doing this is to unveil some of Tyner’s key improvisational techniques, particularly how Tyner utilizes his left hand in conjunction with his right hand while improvising.  The selected improvisations will also differ from one another to assess how Tyner improvises in different musical environments.  Some of these contrasting musical environments include the blues, modal improvisations, tonal improvisations and open and structured solo forms.  In addition to the contrasting attributes of the improvisations, an attempt will be made to select improvisations that have an interesting connection to the way Tyner thinks as revealed in the first part of my dissertation.  These improvisations will be transcribed and analyzed utilizing Dr. David Baker’s analytical approach as evidenced in his “The Jazz Style of…series” as a starting point, but I will ultimately develop my own analytical system for analyzing Tyner’s improvisational techniques.
     Scholarly studies on Tyner have solely focused on isolated components of his improvisational techniques. My research looks to significantly add too the scant body of knowledge by providing discourse on how Tyner uses his left hand in conjunction with his right hand while improvising. Moreover, I will delineate the social and cultural forces that shaped Tyner’s musical paradigm during his formative years to produce the improvisational style many have and continue to champion.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Double Diminished Harmony

     Several years ago, I transcribed a song entitled "Chance" by Kenny Kirkland.  It is from his self titled album released in 1999. Within his composition, Kirkland utilizes double-diminished harmony amongst other sophisticated harmonies.  The sound of double diminished harmony intruiges me so I decided to share a thorough explaination of the concept in this posting.
     Double diminished harmony isn't soley used by Kenny Kirkland, but is utilized by a host of modern jazz pianists in the 21st century. Piainsts like Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and Joey Calderazzo also utilize double diminished harmony extensively in both their compositions and improvisations. Chick Corea's composition "Now He Sings, Now He Sobs" for example, exemplifies the double diminished harmony. Listen to it here.

What is Double Diminished Harmony?
     Double diminished harmony is constructed by playing two fully diminished seventh chords in which the root note of each chord are a major ninth apart from each other. An illustration of this can be seen in example one below. (F diminished 7th chord in the left hand and G diminished 7th chord in the right hand.) The sound of this harmony is thick and dense. Also, an interesting fact about double diminished harmony is that the two fully diminished 7th chords making up the harmony possess all the notes of a diminished scale- starting whole step. (see example 1 and 2)

One Chord - Eight Different Chord Voicings
     The double diminished chord, as explained above, is one chord that can be used to voice eight different chords as follows:  Fdim7, A-flat dim7, Bdim7, Ddim7, G7#9, Bb7#9, Db7#9, E7#9. The root of these chords are derived from each note of the double diminished chord. 
     The fully diminished seventh chords originate from the four notes on the bottom of the double diminished chord.  The corresponding scale that can be played with each fully diminished 7th chord is a diminished scale starting whole step as illustrated in example 3 below.  F fully dim7 with F diminished scale starting whole step and Ab fully dim7 with Ab diminished scale starting whole step.  Following example 3 below is a list of the four fully diminished seventh chords and corresponding scales that can be extracted from the F diminished scale starting whole step.
Example 3

Fdim7                  =     F diminished scale (starting whole step)
A-flat dim7           =    Ab diminished scale (starting whole step)
Bdim7                 =     B diminished scale (starting whole step)
Ddim7                 =     D diminished scale (starting whole step)

     Additionally, added notes derived from the diminished scale may be added to fully diminished 7th chords rendering a more dissonant harmony. Note how the 7th of the F fully diminished seventh chord is replaced by the E in Example 4 below, and the 7th of an Ab fully diminished 7th is replaced by G in example 5 below, which is also derivied from the diminished scale. Melodically, diminished scales starting whole step can be used with these harmonies.
Example 4                              Example 5
Note, for any of the diminished chords above you may add any combination of notes from Gdim7 chord to add more dissonance to the harmony.

     Dominant sharp nine chords are derived from the four notes on top of the double diminished chord. The corresponding scale that works with each dominant 7 #9 chord is a diminished scale starting half step. Example 6 below illustrates this utilizing G7#9 with a G diminished scale starting 1/2 step and example 7 below illustrates Bb7#9 with B-flat diminished scale starting 1/2 step. Following example 6 and 7 below is a list of the four dominant 7 #9 chords and corresponding diminished scales that can be extracted from the F diminished scale starting whole step.

Example 6                               Example 7

G7#9                  =     G diminished scale (starting half step)
Bb7#9                =     Bb diminished scale (starting half step)
Db7#9                =     Db diminished scale (starting half step)
E7#9                  =      E diminished scale (starting half step)

Melodic Shapes Within Diminished Scales
     Within diminished harmony in general, melodic shapes such as major and minor triads and many others can be constructed to stimulate melodic interest. Example 8 below illustrates the use of major triads within diminished harmony. Particularly, B-flat, G and E major triads are played in conjunction with a F fully diminished 7 chord.
                                           Example 8

Example 9 below illustrates the use of minor triads within diminished harmony. Particularly, B-flat, G and E minor triads are played in conjunction with an F fully diminished 7 chord.
Example 9

     Something important about double diminished harmony is that both the fully diminished 7th chords (with added notes if you choose) and dominant sharp nine chords can be used in conjunction with diminished melodic lines. This is very useful when improvising because a pianist for example can vary the comping chords utilized in the left hand.  Example 10 below illustrates the use of various chords found within diminished harmony while playing major and minor triads in the right hand. 

Example 10

Because the diminished scale is a symmetrical scale, a host of melodic patterns can be constructed within the diminished scale beyond major and minor triads. Example 11 below illustrates the use of rootless dominant #9 chords being arpeggiated within the F diminished scale (starting whole step). Beginning on beat 2 of measure one G7#9 is arpeggiated, beginning on beat 1 of measure two E7#9 is arpeggiated, and beginning on beat 4 of measure two Db7#9 is arpeggiated. Note, this is just one example of many melodic patterns that can be created within the diminished scale. Purpose to create your own!

Example 11