Watch this video of Jacob Collier talking harmony:


Jacob is a genius of harmony – his explorations have taken him in fascinating and aurally challenging directions, including things like dividing an interval symmetrically to create unusual colors (for example, dividing a descending minor third into four equal steps).

What he drives home in this video, more than anything, is that harmonic choice is something he uses to express emotion. Telling a cohesive story does much to clarify the best choices to make, and from there it’s a question of personal artistry and sensibility.

Stay to the end to hear Herbie Hancock talk about mishearing Miles Davis and what he learned about not playing “butter notes.”

As I begin to work again in the harmonically rich world that is vocal jazz music, I’m struggling to balance my own passion for rich harmony with my understanding of harmony as really a subset of melody – good harmony as resultant from simultaneous melodic statements. Collier is among the most vertically minded musicians I’m aware of, so I balance listening to his work with attention to Bach and Alice Parker, with their distinct focus on horizontal musical statements.

Is it possible to balance the rich harmony of Collier or Puerling with the linear motion of Bach or Parker? That’s what I’m trying to discover.