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Counterpoint in jazz piano with specific relation to the solo work of Fred Hersch

Heinen, Bruno Benjamin (2019) Counterpoint in jazz piano with specific relation to the solo work of Fred Hersch. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University in collaboration with the Royal Northern College of Music.

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Abstract

My doctoral aim was to develop a solo piano language of my own in which I improvise contrapuntally, and to use the work of the American pianist Fred Hersch as a starting point for my research. My study of Hersch’s style was informed by a NWCDTP-funded trip to New York, in which I heard Hersch play at the Village Vanguard, and spent two afternoons with him, discussing his contrapuntal approach. Through analysis of Hersch’s work, and comparisons with other notable contrapuntal pianists (Lennie Tristano, Keith Jarrett and Brad Mehldau), several personal aspects of his use of counterpoint became apparent. His detailed practice of the Bach chorales has given Hersch the contrapuntal tools necessary to improvise several parts simultaneously, and his exploration of tension and release through marked ‘arrival points’ is particular to Hersch. However, it is his use of counterpoint as a route to surprising himself, and by extension the listener, that has informed my own practice and compositional/improvised outputs. I set out to write, practice and improvise contrapuntally using this central model as inspiration. My explorations were wide-ranging: writing a re-imagining of the Vivaldi Four Seasons for piano and string orchestra, exploiting multiple aspects of counterpoint, as well as composing a portfolio of solo compositions, which explored two-part counterpoint, counterpoint using overdubs, contrapuntal post-production techniques, as well as counterpoint as concept in the form of a musical discourse with an original Stockhausen music box. These outputs were documented in the form of two published albums (Changing of the Seasons and Mr. Vertigo), as well as a live tour, which included a recorded performance at the RNCM. I set out to explore counterpoint not only in a melodic sense, but also in a rhythmic, harmonic and conceptual way, challenging the nature of counterpoint itself.

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