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What Is Modal Jazz and Bitonality

Exploring the World of Modal Jazz: Islands of Sound.

Modal jazz is a genre of jazz that differs from traditional jazz in that it is based on a single scale or mode. This allows for a much freer exploration of harmony and melody, without the constraints of traditional functional harmony. In modal jazz, the focus is on creating "islands of sound" – distinct areas of harmony that can be explored freely, without the need for a predetermined chord progression.

The concept of "islands of sound" perfectly captures the essence of modal jazz. When playing modal jazz, musicians create a space to think about a particular scale and explore all the different possibilities that it presents. They can switch to another scale at any time, without the need for a ii-V-I turnaround that is common in traditional jazz.

This freedom allows for a much more exploratory approach to music-making, with each scale having its own distinct flavor, color, or feel. Musicians can hop from one scale to another, exploring each "island" for a bit before moving on to the next one. They can come back to the original island at any time, creating a sense of continuity and connection.

The beauty of modal jazz is that it allows for a much more intuitive approach to music-making, without the need for complex theoretical frameworks. There is no need to worry about roman numerals or functional harmony – each island of sound is a fresh start, a new opportunity to explore the possibilities of the music.

Herbie Hancock's "Cantaloupe Island" is a classic example of modal jazz. The melody is in F minor, and it uses the minor pentatonic scale. The harmony, however, is much more exploratory – Herbie starts off playing F minor harmony, but then he switches to D flat seven, which is not directly related to the original key. He then takes the music even further out, creating a sense of tension and excitement.

But Herbie never loses sight of the original melody – he keeps it in one place, while the harmony shifts and changes underneath. This creates a sense of tension and release, as the same notes in the melody take on new meanings and relationships with the changing chords.

In modal jazz, the focus is on exploration and discovery. Each island of sound presents new possibilities and challenges, and musicians are free to explore them in their own way. The result is a much more organic and intuitive approach to music-making.

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