Walther Stuhlmacher

Schemata in Jazz Compositions

Recent publications by Gjerdingen and Sanguinetti show (and fuel) a renewed interest in the 18th-century musical schemata-based education by means of partimenti and solfeggi. There are many parallels between the 18th-century all-round musician and the jazz performer/arranger/composer, singer/songwriter and media composer of today - more perhaps than to the performer of classical music. Although archetypal patterns like II—V—I, turnaround, rhythm changes or 12-bar blues have always had their place in the teaching of jazz music theory, the possibilities of systematic teaching of schemata have not yet been widely explored. It is my believe that the teaching of schemata can enrich both the vocabulary and referential network of the student. It adds another dimension to the taxonomy of harmonic phenomena (and their chord/scale implications) by linking stylistic ideosyncracies with general (melodic, harmonic and syntactical) principles.
The schemata or archetypal patterns can be categorised into four levels: 1. the 'song level' (mostly 32 bars), 2. the 'phrase level' (mostly 8 bars), 3. the 'motif level' (2 or 4 bars), and 4. the 'cell level' (1 or 2 bars).

The paper discusses the compositions: Whisper Not (Golson), Madalena (Lins), and Seven Stars (Ferrante). The common denominator in these pieces is the use of the same pattern, a modulating chord sequence built on a descending bass lin
e, Cm—Cm/Bb—Aø—D7. The analysis has the following objectives: to identify the archetypal patterns; to reveal the compositional possibilities and challenges of the used schemata by defining their intrinsic harmonic and melodic implications, and to compare the 'solutions' offered by the composers with exemplars of the American Songbook repertoire.