[Smt-talk] Early Tritone Sub

Dmitri Tymoczko dmitri at Princeton.EDU
Thu May 28 08:45:42 PDT 2009

On May 28, 2009, at 11:28 AM, Brian Hoffman wrote:

> Regarding the premise of your question:  Would the existence of  
> tritone subs in pre-bebop music actually complicate their placement  
> in jazz history? What importance do you place on consistent,  
> conscious usage of the device?  Perhaps you’re suggesting that more  
> distinction should be made between the “discovery” of a certain  
> progression and its adoption as a meaningful part of a harmonic style?
> This issue is someone I have been thinking a lot about as I  
> research musical theatre harmony. If you discover an early example  
> of something that you thought was stylistic for a particular  
> period, to what degree does it still have meaning as a new element  
> in the style?
> I’m not yet sure which way I feel about this.

These are really interesting questions, and I'm not sure I've thought  
enough about them to have a definitive answer.  Right now, I'd just  
like to get clear on the basic historical trajectory -- when did  
TTsubs first start appearing in popular music (broadly construed)?   
How did they eventually become an integral part of the jazz  
vocabulary?  I was embarrassed to discover how little I knew about this.

I totally agree that there's an important difference between  
something that happens sporadically and something that happens much  
more frequently.  A great example is the common-tone diminished  
seventh, which you can find in Mozart, but which becomes much more  
common in Schumann and Brahms -- and as such, is an important part of  
their distinctive harmonic styles.

Personally, my interest is in tracing connections between 19th- and  
20th-century art-music procedures and various features of  
contemporary jazz.  Not because I want to take anything away from the  
jazz greats, but because I think you can make the case that jazz is  
in many ways the inheritor of the classical music tradition.  I'm  
really interested in the way that jazz acted as a conservator of a  
certain kind of advanced tonal thinking -- forming a bridge between  
impressionism and late Romanticism on the one hand, and  
postminimalism (and other modern forms of tonality) on the other.   
For many late twentieth-century composers (including myself) jazz  
provided the most obvious example of a sophisticated, living tonal  
language.  In this sense, the history of twentieth-century tonality  
might run through jazz.  Which means we can't really understand what  
happened to tonality in the twentieth century if we think only about  
notated music.


Dmitri Tymoczko
Associate Professor of Music
310 Woolworth Center
Princeton, NJ 08544-1007
(609) 258-4255 (ph), (609) 258-6793 (fax)

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