Part II: Phenomenological Explorations of Music
What I have in mind with this flexibility that maintains identity (see part I) can be illustrated by way of a jazz musical example, specifically, what is called in jazz parlance, a “lead sheet.” A jazz lead sheet is similar to a notated score for a classical piece; however, only the melody is written out in standard musical notation. In other words, in contrast to a classical score in which the bass line, the chords or harmonic structure, and more or less every note that will be played is written out in full musical notation, a lead sheet allows for significantly more flexibility. For example, above the melody line one simply finds chord symbols, as opposed to chords displayed in standard notation with specific voicings. Writing the chord symbols in this manner affords the pianist or guitarist, as well as the bassist, a significant amount of creative freedom in performing the piece. However, we should be clear that this freedom does not destroy the identity of the piece, as one must choose harmonies and bass lines that fall within a certain trajectory of the specified chord symbol that will support the melody and mark out the general harmonic structure of the piece. Thus, with a jazz lead sheet, one is in a sense “tied to” the “score,” i.e., one must agree to submit to the “givens” that make the piece to be what it is and respond accordingly. Yet, in other sense, one’s own personality, skill level, and creative sensibilities also come through making each performance something unique. One might even say that the flexibility that lead sheets afford, coupled with the distinctly human traits and personal idiosyncrasies that manifest in improvisation, in a sense engenders greater intelligibility and appeal to the piece itself. That is, the built-in flexibility of lead sheets aids in preserving the piece through the passage of time while simultaneously allowing and even expecting various re-articulations and new insights because it “has room for” the creative expansions that come with temporal progression and the furthering of tradition. Here I imagine that someone might object, stating that such places of indeterminacy might apply to jazz, but what about classical music in which the score is very precise? Doesn’t the extensiveness of the written score in classical music ipso facto rule out the possibility of the kind of indeterminacies that I have described? Although this is a commonly held opinion, it seems to me based upon a number of assumptions, two of which include: (1) the idea that jazz is a kind of free-for-all in which musicians simply improvise as it were ex nihilo, whereas classical music, in contrast, eliminates all improvisatory elements, and (2) the notion that a strict division exists between the work (as a kind of suprahistorical essence) and its performance (which allows for variations and supplementations). In the next post, I shall address the issues and questions surrounding (1).
 For example, one would simply see “C major 7” or “D minor 7” written above the melody line, instead of the actual musical notes C, E, G, B (for C major 7) or D, F, A, C (for D minor 7) or the various specific voicings in which these harmonic structures may be displaced (e.g., E, G, C, B or C, G, B, E and other possible variations for C major 7).  The communal aspect of jazz performance is an important factor here as well. For example, if the pianist simply decides to play chords that have no relation whatsoever to the chord symbols, the rest of the group or ensemble will be affected (not to mention thoroughly frustrated) as their parts will not correlate at all with the random harmonic superimposition on the part of the pianist.