Keith Waters

Postbop Grammars

This paper focuses on the 1960s jazz compositions of Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, and Chick Corea, particularly those with tonally ambiguous harmonic progressions. I question rigid tonal/hierarchical approaches to  this repertory, such as Schenkerian (Strunk 2000, Martin 2013), layered (Strunk 2000, Julien 2003), and others (Strunk 2005). I suggest instead that the compositional paths are largely cyclic, with harmonic and/or melodic motion guided by transpositional cycles. First order grammars match the cyclic motion in both the harmonic and melodic dimensions. Second order grammars use harmonic substitution sets to accommodate the melodic cycles. These grammatical structures activate unusual harmonic progressions, and offered postbop composers powerful alternatives to more conventionally tonal procedures.