Customer Reviews: The Jazz Theory Book
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Showing 1-6 of 6 reviews(2 star). Show all reviews
on March 16, 2011
I can go on all day about the discrepancies in this book and Mark Levine's overpowering influence on jazz education. All you need to do is look up Robert Rawlins's (author of Jazzology: The Encyclopedia of Jazz Theory for All Musicians (Jazz Instruction)) review of the book, and the the Levine spell will be broken! I personally have a large amount of pent up resentment towards the Jazz Theory Book; I bought a copy when I began studying jazz in 2000, and thought of it as "the jazz bible" as so many still do. It has it's useful moments; I have read it cover to cover, looked up just about every song that excepts where taken from, and applied his concepts to my instrument to the best of my capability.

Years later I stumbled upon Bert Ligon's work Connecting Chords with Linear Harmony (Jazz Book) and I bought it on a whim. This was the beginning of my wake-up period. This book contained the meat and potatoes to make solid sounding jazz lines that take advantage of the indispensable dimension in jazz: "time" aka "rhythm and phrasing". For Mark's "99%" theory vs "1%" magic, Bert stepped in like Einstein over Newton. I recently purchased Jazz Theory Resources: Volume 1 Jazz Theory Resources: Volume 2 (Jazz Book). Which are truly the most comprehensive books in print on the subject of jazz theory. They are written and illustrated beautifully. They are easy to follow and logically presented. They are a great remedy for un-learning some of the common pitfalls of Mark Levine. He also sets of clear explanations of "functional harmony" and "modal frameworks" which Mark did not hardly acknowledge a difference between. Bert's concepts have influenced my own book: Chord-Scale Theory and Linear Harmony for Guitar: Creative Tools for Improvisation and Composition in Contemporary Music(My book is not an alternative, mind you, it is a guitar fretboard book; I suggest Ligon's work and Jazzology for comprehensive jazz theory books.)

Here are some critical points...

I resent that Mark has given "chord/scale theory" such publicity and a negative reputation. The method is valid enough, but it needs to be enhanced with the building blocks of melody: voice leading, embellishment devises, phrasing, guide tones, anticipations, delayed resolutions, harmonic generalization/specificity. Hierarchy among note within chord-scales (stable vs tendency tones), polychords, triadic generalization (not just "inside vs outside", triadic superimposition are all worthy of mention in any comprehensive jazz book.

"Avoid" notes are used all over jazz on to resolve to consonant tones within the melodies or chord-scales. The term took off like wildfire, and needs to be tamed down. Bird used a lot of P4's over maj or dom chords and resolves them to the M3's. They are an essential part of the bebop vocabulary. The term "tendency tone" says it all.

"Modal interchange" or parallel keys are not mentioned. There are huge in jazz and should not be overlooked harmonically. This is not surprising because he dosn't even explain functional harmony outside of ii V7 I progressions. Classic tunes like Night and Day, Hot House, Ladybird, Green Dolphin Street are all written with modal interchange.

Post-bop modal jazz is overemphasized. There was "good" jazz before the 60's (though I am a "modal jazz" advocate myself). To fully grasp "jazz theory" all of jazz history should be taken into consideration. There was no chord/scale theory in Armstrong's day, but there was a clear melodic/harmonic/rhythmic vocabulary that was understood by all of the great players. Later jazz was a response to earlier jazz: "no him, no me" - Dizzy about Armstrong.

He almost single-handedly sent the harmonic minor scale into obscurity! It was used to outline V7 chords throughout classic jazz and bebop, and needs to be recognized despite the "avoid" P4 he couldn't deal with. He also turns students away from Aeolian (natural minor) though it too, has common use in jazz. Min(b6) chords are actually major seventh chords with the third in the bass; a simpler vertical harmony. Aeolian is used on tonic minors in jazz, similar to other forms of music. Andrew Hill's (jazz composer/pianist) compositions could not exist without it.

The progression iii V7/ii should NOT always be reharmonized as ii V7's in a key one whole step higher. This obscures the overall sense of key at many times. Also I VI ii V7 are I V7/ii ii V7. His careless use of Roman numeral analysis can really confuse beginners, and frustrate advanced musicians who are familiar with the standard RNA system. He seems to disregard functional theory. Secondary dominants are everywhere in jazz, and they need to me included in order to see the composition as a whole, not a series of fragmented stable (functionless) modes. Modal frameworks are a big part of jazz, but functional harmony is often blended within.

Susb9 Phrygian modal chords are used sparingly in jazz. They are actually Dorian slash chords; Dm6/9/E is clearer (in tertian thinking) than some gobbled up E chord-scale. They never substitute functional iii chords, so calling it the vertical iii is a bit misleading. His lengthy explanation of this chord-scale early in the book overemphasizes the need to master it.

Mixloydian b13 is a melodic minor mode, and has a place worthy of mention in jazz. Just because it has an "avoid" P4 and does not fix his model of interchangeable melodic minor vertical chord-scales, it should not be disregarded.

8-note diminished scales are not used over dim7 chords in many jazz performances, especially pre-60's. The harmonic minor scale or simple diminished arpeggio was used, and still is half of the time.

Again there is no vocabulary of outlines in the book. Connecting scales in arbitrary ways does not instantly produce jazz, and saying that that falls into the "1% magic" is on par with bad science. Linear methods melodic construction guidelines are needed. Most jazz music is a traditional tonal music blended with modal frameworks and a stock vocabulary of melody, rhythm, and harmony. A lot of musical improvisation is spontaneous reorganization of elements internalized by experienced players after years of study and practice. The linear vocabulary should be taught.

'Nuff said! Read the Robert Rawlins review online, read Bert Ligon's books, and shelve your Jazz Theory Book.
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on August 17, 2013
Disclaimer: I learned Jazz Harmony at Berklee and unavoidably talk about it with that terminology. I don't mean to suggest by doing so that that is the only way that Jazz Harmony can be written about or talked about, and don't wish to leave the impression that my criticism of this book is sourced in it not being done the way Berklee does it. Part of my reason for reading this book was to try to get outside of the Berklee mindset to be able to better communicate with musicians who didn't go through that program. To that end this was a useful and good book, however my criticisms below remain.

I bought this book on the strength of Randy Vincent's Drop 2 Book for Guitar which was based on Levine's treatment of Drop 2 voicings for Piano book. In retrospect I wish I had saved my money. While there is a fair amount that is useful in this book, there are long sections that are inexplicably given over to subjects that have little to do with Theory. In particular the end of the book gives over dozens of pages to an index of standards that is both incomplete and self-serving to the publisher as it lists page numbers drawn from Sher Music's inferior series of fake "Real Book" collections and doesn't bother to reference the fake books most players are likely to have, either the actual illegal Real Book, or the Mel Bay licensed version which holds to the pagination of its illegal predecessors. There is more of this too. Long lists of recommended recordings and listening that, while probably correct in that anyone who wants to seriously study jazz should be familiar with, have more to do with ear training or performance than they do with theory.

And what theory there is, is unfortunately incomplete and at times incomplete to the point of verging on incorrect. To begin with, any book on Jazz theory needs to necessarily deal with the various divisions in symbolizations. Because a lot of Jazz analysis built up in different places with people who weren't necessarily communicating with eachother, there are different ways to write fundamental stuff that are used by different folks. Ideally a book on theory would cover all of these: New York vs. Nashville, East Coast vs. West Coast, Berklee vs. Every Other Music School, and Jazz vs. Common Practice Period analysis all create differences in nomenclature and symbology that a good book on theory ought to address. Not only does this book give short shrift to these differences with a mere note that "different people do things different ways" the publication adopts it's own ideosyncratic approach to chords and harmonic analysis rather than sticking to one of the more well-defined practices such as Common Practice Period or Berklee's Harmony notation which, even if not the most familiar to every Jazz musician at least has the benefit of consistency and completeness.

Additionally there are problems that stem from sloppiness or laziness. For example, in his discussion of modality, there is no real discussion of how modal harmony works or is different from the tonal and multi-tonal harmony that dominates 90% of jazz practice. The approach taken here is much more aimed at the improviser than the composer, and the book adopts the shorthand too common among jazz musicians of confusing modes with chord scales. These sorts of errors, while they won't matter to a player who wants to know what scales he can draw notes from over an sequence of extended dominant progressions with interpolated two - fives, it will not assist the theoretical analysis of the moving tonal roots and tonalities of each key of the moment, and can only serve to confuse matters while aiding and abetting the left over artifact of the Bebop eras preference for 6 chords in its reliance on the dorian mode in minor harmony, something that often leads intermediate and even advanced players away from fruitful opportunities in modal options that are more interesting that shoehorning a major 6th into the chord scale of every minor chord whether it takes it or not. In it's place every minor chord becomes a component of a II-V progression whether that's actually what's happening harmonically or not. These are the sorts of errors that happen not because of what this book says, but because of what it leaves out, failing to address these sorts of lazy compromises that are common shortcuts used by performers with an incomplete grasp of the various possibilities of standard tonal and modal harmony.

Finally, the organization of the book leaves something to be desired as well as the space constraints given. The discussion of chords and scales could be much longer, and there is short shrift given to several more advanced concepts like polychords, hybrid chords, and the possibilities of chord voicing and voice leading with inversions are all lumped together as "slash chords" a term that is given the short and completely inadequate description that it's "an instruction to the piano player of what chord to be played over a bass note." guide tone lines are discussed but only described rather than give a full explanation as to why they work. subdominant minor chord function and other modal substitutions are touched on in the section on reharmonization but are not dealt with in any systematic sort of way. Coltrane style constant structure chord progression, cluster based harmony, and quartal harmony are neither discussed nor included in the index, and if mentioned are only obliquely treated by the text. At the same time there are huge sections on practice (any important topic but one that is traditionally the opposite subject matter and complement to Theory, which the title of this book promises) and overly long treatments of both Rhythm Changes and the Giant Steps progression, both of which are interesting important subjects in Jazz theory but that shouldn't be given as much space as they are compared to more fundamental concepts that are only briefly treated.

THese sections are good, and well done, and the section on Rhythm Changes is probably the best part of this book. However, whole books have been written on Giant Steps and this book cuts an uncomfortable middle ground between a brief mention of progressions by thirds and an explantion of how that was used in Giant Steps, which is really all that is necessary in a book on theory such as this, and a book length treatment of the progression for a performer, which in order to be truly useful really should probably be instrument specific like Wolf Marshalls book on Giant Steps for guitar or David Demsey's transcriptions of Coltrane's Giant Steps solo written for Saxophones put out by Hal Leonard. By splitting the difference, this book presents both too much and too little about Giant steps.

Along with the section on Rhythm Changes, the section on pentatonic scales and blues harmony are also quite good and because these are less involved topics are much more complete than other sections. If the rest of the book were up to the standards of those sections and there were much less filler involved with the literally dozens and dozens of pages of unecessary bibliography of standards which is not what I buy a theory book to acquire, I would probably give it three and a half or four stars. As it stands I feel like I wasted a lot of money and got a lot less than was promised in a book of this size. There are better and more complete books on Jazz Music Theory, and I would not recommend this book for anyone other than a curious completist with a solid understanding of Jazz already who was interested in seeing a slightly idiosyncratic approach. Even at that, however, buy it used because there is much in here that is throway and the ratio of information to pages is not high enough to justify the page count given in the description.
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on November 11, 2005
When I finished my classical training, I picked up this book with enthusiasm and have been working with it on & off for 2 years. Levine wrote a book that was sorely needed in music education, but I am anticipating another edition since I have severe criticisms of the book that are probably more the fault of Levine's editors than his.

Firstly, there are too many musical examples in this book. It would be better to stick to a handful of artists to demonstrate a lot of points. Levine frequently goes off into tangents of just listing artists . The book could have been cut in half because of this and more time devoted to explaining concepts.

Secondly, the book is written in a conversational style which often makes it difficult to follow because written and spoken word are two different entities.

Thirdly, the book is overwhelming because of the first reason I mentioned as well as some of the chapters are huge. Ch. 3 should have been 3 seperate chapters.

Fourthly, Levine needs to work with his editors in finding a better way to present the core concepts, especially in Pt. 1, I found myself scratching my head sometimes trying to figure out just what Levine was getting at even though I understand harmony well. It is often on the tip of Levine's tongue and he doesn't lay it out for his reader.

Finally, only half of the page is printed on. Sher Music Publishing could have used the entire page and reduced the price of the book. This isn't related to the actual content of the book, but if your a student tight on money, this is significant.

The fundamental question for any jazz theory book is this: what distinguishes jazz from other types of music? Improvisation is not a sufficient answer since Jazz has some serious rules just as any human language does. Levine still needs to better synthesize his knowledge so it is more accesible to his readers. After reading his book, I still feel that I need to go to another book to find more information.
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on November 15, 2013
Actually found this book a little dense and I have a math and music background. This is definitely not useful for the casual pianist or musician. Probably more suited to someone receiving lessons or classes.
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on May 17, 2013
My creditably: I have a good understanding of harmony. My 3rd harmony book. I've studied a lot.

Problems with this book:

-His book has terrible harmony analysis, and thus terrible scales analysis. Mark speaks mostly through examples, and he does NOT give generalizations followed by use examples to delineate them. He doesn't talk about borrowing chords, (which imo is important.) Like he doesn't talk about how any chord can borrow from a relative scale, ie the II chord (normally Ionian) can be from any other mode, like from the Phrygian, Mixolydian, Melodic, ect. And his analysis on 2nd dominants was weak, and I dont' think he even talked about subsitute minor chords.

-Some people may like how he puts many examples in his book. I however very disliked that. He did not do a good analysis on them, he very often says "play figure 3-28, and listen to the melodic scale in X's song." This doesn't help imo, I could pick up any piece and there will always be a common figure of a sort (melodic scale, ascending 4ths, ect), but I want analysis on structure of all jazz, not just examples. Surly examples help, but his book had hundreds of examples, that's just too much. It felt like a mesh. These examples are from jazz so they are very hard to sight read. I don't have time to learn how to play hundreds of 4 bars from random jazz standards.

-Too wordy. I know jazz is relaxed, and such. But it feels like he rambles.

-I didn't like its organization.

You will learn some things from this book, but if you are beginning with Jazz you really should not start here. And especially if you're new to harmony you will waste your time reading this. It does not cover as much as it should and its inefficiently wordy. You're time will be better spent reading something else. I would say just download B erkly college's harmony pdfs. I found 4 pdfs (Harmony 1 2 3 4) online some years ago, those were extremely good when I began.
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on June 13, 2003
This is a big , and very clumbsy book .
The spiral binding is a complete pain , in a text this size .
It makes 'flicking thru' the text impossible .
Looking into another section of the book with the current page held open is also a pain with this type of binding .
These handling problems pretty well rule out pulling it quickly down from the shelf to look something up .
You'll need a big flat table to read it on . What a drag .
The text itself is often meandering .
The author frequently starts off on one point , and then sidetracks into another .
There are very many musical examples given to illustrate the text .... too many IMO . Most of these should just have been on an accompanying CD .
Many classic / vintage jazz recordings are referred to in the text . I have given up trying to get hold of these . It's far too much trouble JUST to hear the one phrase being referred to in the text !
Why in earth didn't the publishers arrange for an accompanying CD with the hundred or so brief excerpts stuck on it ?
Lastly , this book has a lot of footnotes . You may disagree , but if its not important enough to be in the main text , then its not important enough to be in the book .
This text alone will not do it .... buy it , but beware .
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