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chewy-chew-chew-bean-benitez

according to wikipedia, in jazz education, theres a word: "Contrafact"

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In a sentance: 

Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh played many contrafats of jazz standards.  

 

its a word to describe when you write a different melody over another songs changes.

 

So my question is: i always thought you called that, "when lennie wrote a new head ontop of this or that standards changes", never heard this word before- "contrafact" is that what theyre teaching with those fancy jazz schools.  It sounds completely made up.  When someone was wasting time inventing that word, (do we know who invented it, not wynton right lol jk) they should of been diggin around the library of congress or somethin instead and make themselves useful

Edited by chewy-chew-chew-bean-benitez

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It's a term borrowed from classical music (or mediaeval music, rather), and modified to suite the taste of the jazz riff-raff. A contrafactum is a piece of music that has had its lyrics replaced by others: usually a secular song that became a hymn or part of a mass, or vice versa.

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Interesting. I'm currently reading a book (Dameronia by Paul Combs) that frequently uses "contrafact". He's an academic and the book is published by U. of California Press.

My dictionary (New Shorter OED) has "contrafactum" but not "contrafact", so I assume the latter is a relatively new term. I'd like to consult the OED, but don't own a copy and it's not available online.

The Wiki entry says "not to be confused with contrafactum", so I have some doubt that the jazz term derives from the classical one.

 

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Thanks. Meaning was clear enough from context. I'm curious about the etymology.

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1 hour ago, Larry Kart said:

"A contrafact is a musical composition built using the chord progression of a pre-existing song, but with a new melody."

E.g. "Donna Lee"/"Indiana," "Casbah"/"Out of Nowhere," thousands of lines based on "I Got Rhythm," etc. Tristano and his associates generated many contrafacts.

So ... scholarly linguists to the fore and explain the etymological relationship (or not?) between "contrafact" and "counterfeit" (a pair that immediately comes to mind). ;)

(BTW, the first link given below DOES have some etymology, including some relationship of the ABOVE pair. ^_^)

Anyway ... that term sounds rather inflated and pompous to me - one of those dressed-up terms that I'd bet one or the other self-professed "scholar" may well find impossible to NOT use once it gets repeated often enough (after all they've got a reputation to live up to among their fraternity :lol:), rendering their blurb even more high-browishly stuffy to read.
(FWIW I think I have done a fair bit of reading of jazz literature during the past decades - out of deeper interest in the subject matter, including suffering through some overly academic rambling here and there, but I cannot recall having read this term before seeing this topic, so apparently it has not made me cringe often enough to consciously remember it - so all hope is not lost ... :lol: ... and I do trust this is one term that GOOD writers projecting the feel and core of the music can do without ... )

 

Further random Googling indicates there are some out there who take offense at the use of the term in this context: ;)

 

"Suffice it to say that to me, it has a whiff of the ivory tower about it and is yet another $300 word, which jazz has enough of already, thanks."

"While I approve of the idea behind contrafacts, I deplore the term, it’s egg-headed, dreary and cumbersome, utterly lacking the earthiness and humour of jazz."

https://wallacebass.com/contra-contrafact/

 

After doing a bit of research and discussion with a very eminent musicologist, my initial thoughts are correct. A contrafact is not a tune written to the chord sequence of another tune, it is as I thought, different words to a tune.
The Wikipedia entry is bogus. No surprises there as any old Tom, Dick and Harry can write stuff there and people take it as some kind of authority.

-- So what would you call a tune written over the same changes?

I'd call it a tune written over the same changes as another tune.
Otherwise I'd have to say that every 12 bar blues (except the very first one) is a contrafact.
This is an example of extreme jazz musicologist ponciness IMO. Did Bird say, "Hey Diz, let's write a contrafact of Indiana/I Got Rhythm/etc."

https://forum.saxontheweb.net/showthread.php?310850-Contrafacts-Database

 

Edited by Big Beat Steve

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I don't like the word. I understand it, but I don't like it. For one thing, it makes it seem that doing this practice was always an intellectual endeavor rather than sometimes an economic one. Chord changes are not eligible for copyright. Melodies are. You - or somebody - can get paid for a melody.

And, as already stated, I really wonder how many people who have done this thing used that word. Nobody I know has, but now that we got schools teaching people how to make a jazz noise, maybe that's part of it now.

Funny thing, though. The practice of writing new changes to an existing melody has a simple word that is immediately understandable - reharmonization (or if you're a hipcat Daddy with a sheepskin beat, "reharm".

That's easy enough.

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4 hours ago, Big Beat Steve said:

So ... scholarly linguists to the fore and explain the etymological relationship (or not?) between "contrafact" and "counterfeit" (a pair that immediately comes to mind). ;)

(BTW, the first link given below DOES have some etymology, including some relationship of the ABOVE pair. ^_^)

Anyway ... that term sounds rather inflated and pompous to me - one of those dressed-up terms that I'd bet one or the other self-professed "scholar" may well find impossible to NOT use once it gets repeated often enough (after all they've got a reputation to live up to among their fraternity :lol:), rendering their blurb even more high-browishly stuffy to read.
(FWIW I think I have done a fair bit of reading of jazz literature during the past decades - out of deeper interest in the subject matter, including suffering through some overly academic rambling here and there, but I cannot recall having read this term before seeing this topic, so apparently it has not made me cringe often enough to consciously remember it - so all hope is not lost ... :lol: ... and I do trust this is one term that GOOD writers projecting the feel and core of the music can do without ... )

 

Further random Googling indicates there are some out there who take offense at the use of the term in this context: ;)

 

"Suffice it to say that to me, it has a whiff of the ivory tower about it and is yet another $300 word, which jazz has enough of already, thanks."

"While I approve of the idea behind contrafacts, I deplore the term, it’s egg-headed, dreary and cumbersome, utterly lacking the earthiness and humour of jazz."

https://wallacebass.com/contra-contrafact/

 

After doing a bit of research and discussion with a very eminent musicologist, my initial thoughts are correct. A contrafact is not a tune written to the chord sequence of another tune, it is as I thought, different words to a tune.
The Wikipedia entry is bogus. No surprises there as any old Tom, Dick and Harry can write stuff there and people take it as some kind of authority.

-- So what would you call a tune written over the same changes?

I'd call it a tune written over the same changes as another tune.
Otherwise I'd have to say that every 12 bar blues (except the very first one) is a contrafact.
This is an example of extreme jazz musicologist ponciness IMO. Did Bird say, "Hey Diz, let's write a contrafact of Indiana/I Got Rhythm/etc."

https://forum.saxontheweb.net/showthread.php?310850-Contrafacts-Database

 

Your musicologist is wrong; contrafacts involve changes to the musical material of a song  (harmonies, melodies), not to lyrics.

I first became aware of the term while reading Andy Laverne's liner notes to his excellent 1993 album of standards and contrafacts based on those standards, "Double Standards" (Triloka). Laverne: "I realized that for many years musicians had been enhancing the harmonies of standards by way of substitute chords and reharmonization. The flip side of this process is what fueled many bebop players: taking standards and creating new melodies over the extant harmonic structure, a technique known as contrafaction."

I don't find the term pretentious but useful in its specificity, especially because there is no other one word I'm aware of that does the same job.

P.S. Sorry -- Your musicologist was right about what contrafactum was in Medieval music (as Lipi has explained) but not about what a contrafact now means/refers to in jazz. And Jim --  yes, of course people don't need to know the term to do it, but until and unless here's another word for doing that thing, what's the problem? Seems to me like the anti-pretentiousness police are out of control here.

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It's useful, but neither useful nor necessary to/for anybody who would actually do it. But now, Pandora's bottle is out with Jeanie, so much for a natural inclination just being done without being mindful of it having a formal name. Doing a thing is not the same as consciously doing a named thing, instinct corrupted by (at least) one degree of separation if/when that happens. Oh, look at me, I've made a CONTRAFACT!!!

littlejackhorner-national-227x300.gif

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5 hours ago, T.D. said:

The Wiki entry says "not to be confused with contrafactum", so I have some doubt that the jazz term derives from the classical one.

It's wikipedia...

No need to invent weird etymologies linked to counterfeit: they, eventually, do share the same roots, namely contrafacere (contra + facere, opposite + to make) in Mediaeval Latin. Contrafactum made its way directly into English, while counterfeit made its way into English through Old French.

From Merriam-Webster:

contrafact

 noun
con·tra·fact | \ˈkän‧trəˌfakt\
variants: or contrafactum \ˈ⸗⸗ˌ⸗təm, ˌ⸗⸗ˈ⸗⸗ \
plural contrafacts\-ts \ or contrafacta\-tə \

Definition of contrafact 

 

: a 16th century musical setting of the mass or a chorale or hymn produced by replacing the text of a secular song with religious poetry

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2 hours ago, JSngry said:

I don't like the word. I understand it, but I don't like it. For one thing, it makes it seem that doing this practice was always an intellectual endeavor rather than sometimes an economic one. Chord changes are not eligible for copyright. Melodies are. You - or somebody - can get paid for a melody.

And, as already stated, I really wonder how many people who have done this thing used that word. Nobody I know has, but now that we got schools teaching people how to make a jazz noise, maybe that's part of it now.

Funny thing, though. The practice of writing new changes to an existing melody has a simple word that is immediately understandable - reharmonization (or if you're a hipcat Daddy with a sheepskin beat, "reharm".

That's easy enough.

A "reharm" and a contrafact are not and/or need not be the same thing. Again quoting Andy Laverne (who is not necessarily the font of all wisdom but did produce an excellent  album of contrafacts:  "I realized that for many years musicians had been enhancing the harmonies of standards by way of substitute chords and reharmonization. The flip side of this process is what fueled many bebop players: taking standards and creating new melodies over the extant harmonic structure, a technique known as contrafaction."

In particular, many "reharms" leave the original melody of the reharmonized tune relatively or wholly intact. Most contrafacts do alter the harmonies of the original tune as well as its melody, but one can imagine a contrafact in which the melody is  new while the original harmonies remain intact.

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9 minutes ago, Larry Kart said:

A "reharm" and a contrafact are not and/or need not be the same thing. Again quoting Andy Laverne (who is not necessarily the font of all wisdom but did produce an excellent  album of contrafacts:  "I realized that for many years musicians had been enhancing the harmonies of standards by way of substitute chords and reharmonization. The flip side of this process is what fueled many bebop players: taking standards and creating new melodies over the extant harmonic structure, a technique known as contrafaction."

In particular, many "reharms" leave the original melody of the reharmonized tune relatively or wholly intact. Most contrafacts do alter the harmonies of the original tune as well as its melody, but one can imagine a contrafact in which the melody is  new while the original harmonies remain intact.

Yeah, that's what I said. A reharm is just that - a reharmonization of an existing melody.

See now, with this "contrafact" thing/word/bullshit there's language happening instead of music.

Too much math for R&B.

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I like reharm(onization) because it needs no further explanation (unless, of course, you don't understand what harmony/harmonization is, in which case, that's on you, if you want to know, it's readily available knowledge).

What's a "reharmonization"? Duh - it's exactly what it says it is. Exactly, the noun and the verb reinforce each ohther.

Now, "contrafact", just what is that, exactly? What is the verb to go with this noun? Hey everybody I just contrafacted the "I Got Rhythm" chord! Well, isn't that special! You could just be a grown up and say "rhythm changes", or "All Of Me changes" or, "Things changes", that's all you need to say. You don't need a special word for it, you juist call it waht it is.

Well, I guess now we have a word for it. Thank god I'm probably never going to be on a gig where some respectable young schoolboy puts a chart in from of me and makes sure to let me know that this new piece of music is a contrafact on Stella changes, like I need to know that because if I wasn't told, it would have gone on for 10 minutes and I'd never have figured it out, my god, you ARE clever, the melody was SO fresh that I completely did not notice the changes. Good job!

C'mon, seriously? I'm with Chewy on this one, 100%.

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45 minutes ago, Larry Kart said:

Your musicologist is wrong; contrafacts involve changes to the musical material of a song  (harmonies, melodies), not to lyrics.

I first became aware of the term while reading Andy Laverne's liner notes to his excellent 1993 album of standards and contrafacts based on those standards, "Double Standards" (Triloka). Laverne: "I realized that for many years musicians had been enhancing the harmonies of standards by way of substitute chords and reharmonization. The flip side of this process is what fueled many bebop players: taking standards and creating new melodies over the extant harmonic structure, a technique known as contrafaction."

I don't find the term pretentious but useful in its specificity, especially because there is no other one word I'm aware of that does the same job.

It's not MY musicologist, it's "wallacebass"'s musicologist (see link in my post above). I just quoted a few statements from the sites I linked.
IMHO there is a point to what he says against the term and about its etymology. ;)
But then, whatever I feel and (sometimes) write about my favorite music(s) certainly does not have any scholarly or academic aspirations.

Besides, in my everyday work with what others saw fit to put to paper I've seen enough pretentiousness, hollowness, show-offiness and "just blah" (to adopt Dexter Gordon's comments about one band's music as a description of the substance of certain writings) to be unimpressed by unnecessarily high-brow terms such as these.

Does jazz really need this level of academic dress-up a to have its creative processes described and put into words? (You can be precise, in-depth, "scholarly" in a positive sense of doing well-researched work and still be down to earth)
Sorry, "emperor's clothes" to me ... ;)

 


 

 

 

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19 minutes ago, JSngry said:

I like reharm(onization) because it needs no further explanation (unless, of course, you don't understand what harmony/harmonization is, in which case, that's on you, if you want to know, it's readily available knowledge).

What's a "reharmonization"? Duh - it's exactly what it says it is. Exactly, the noun and the verb reinforce each ohther.

Now, "contrafact", just what is that, exactly? What is the verb to go with this noun? Hey everybody I just contrafacted the "I Got Rhythm" chord! Well, isn't that special! You could just be a grown up and say "rhythm changes", or "All Of Me changes" or, "Things changes", that's all you need to say. You don't need a special word for it, you juist call it waht it is.

Well, I guess now we have a word for it. Thank god I'm probably never going to be on a gig where some respectable young schoolboy puts a chart in from of me and makes sure to let me know that this new piece of music is a contrafact on Stella changes, like I need to know that because if I wasn't told, it would have gone on for 10 minutes and I'd never have figured it out, my god, you ARE clever, the melody was SO fresh that I completely did not notice the changes. Good job!

C'mon, seriously? I'm with Chewy on this one, 100%.

I'm no etymologist, but I would quess that "contrafact" is simply "contra" (against, opposite, other) plus "fact" (do). That it has no verb to go with it is neither here nor there. What's the verb that goes with "sidewalk"? Now if snotty young "educated"jazz guys were throwing around the term contrafact and expecting extra credit for doing so, I'd whack their pee-pees too. But until then...

BTW, bassist Steve Wallace is a guy I have a lot of respect for. I'll take a look at his thoughts on "contrafact."

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29 minutes ago, Larry Kart said:

 What's the verb that goes with "sidewalk"?

Why would there need to be a need for one, it's already got "walk" in it. Other than that...

The point, such as there is one, is just that "reharmonize/reharmonization" is perfect. "Contrafact" is silly, a noun with NO direct/natural connection to the act itself. It's a word that only somebody who needs a word to teach/pontificate with has a need.

And it really is ignorant in that it makes no reference, direct or interfered, that the real genesis of this thing was/is to get a few extra pennies, and if they were lucky (and the publishers always were) dollars. Who gets money from Donna Lee? Not the writers of Indiana.

Plus, if we swallow whole the notion of jazz improvisation being "spontaneous composition" (and that's in some ways for some players truer than is "romantic" enough to be a compliment), then damn near every jazz solo on changes, including original changes(!), can then be considered a "contrafact", and I mean, really, who needs that kind of thinking?

Hey, I'm not improvising, I'm CONTRAFACTING!!!

 

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"Reharm" is horrible...I know you don't mean this, but..."harm again"????....Gawwd, please stay away from this.

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Yeah, the vernacular is funny like that. I always cringe when I hear it and use it. But you know how it's so fashionable today for people to say "come with", like "we're going to lunch, wanna come with? That gives me the creeps too, and I try not to use it. But "reharm" in a musician's environment is just cutting to the chase. And for me, as somebody who can NOT ype, it's a few keystrokes. But yeah, in a civilian context...it's potentially creepy, and the more civilian the context, the creepier it can get.

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Nowadays "contrafact" is going to be bring up "alternative facts" (and etc.). But...In previous years I've seen it dropped in places and not known what it's meant (being a non-musician there's loads of examples like that) - never particularly bugged me.

Edited by Simon Weil

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31 minutes ago, JSngry said:

Why would there need to be a need for one, it's already got "walk" in it. Other than that...

The point, such as there is one, is just that "reharmonize/reharmonization" is perfect. "Contrafact" is silly, a noun with NO direct/natural connection to the act itself. It's a word that only somebody who needs a word to teach/pontificate with has a need.

And it really is ignorant in that it makes no reference, direct or interfered, that the real genesis of this thing was/is to get a few extra pennies, and if they were lucky (and the publishers always were) dollars. Who gets money from Donna Lee? Not the writers of Indiana.

Plus, if we swallow whole the notion of jazz improvisation being "spontaneous composition" (and that's in some ways for some players truer than is "romantic" enough to be a compliment), then damn near every jazz solo on changes, including original changes(!), can then be considered a "contrafact", and I mean, really, who needs that kind of thinking?

Hey, I'm not improvising, I'm CONTRAFACTING!!!

 

"The real genesis of this thing was/is to get a few extra pennies, and if they were lucky (and the publishers always were) dollars. Who gets money from Donna Lee? Not the writers of Indiana."

You can't be serious. The "real genesis" of all those bop and Tristano-school lines etc. was to make "a few extra pennies"? No, it was to make new pieces of music to play on/jump off from that one found both musically and emotionally more attractive/more compatible with one's own already burgeoning musical style and sensibility. 

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Ok, sure. I don't recall Dizzy talking about how people were like, hey, why don't we get some of this bread and write our own lines, my bad.

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3 hours ago, Larry Kart said:

A "reharm" and a contrafact are not and/or need not be the same thing. Again quoting Andy Laverne (who is not necessarily the font of all wisdom but did produce an excellent  album of contrafacts:  "I realized that for many years musicians had been enhancing the harmonies of standards by way of substitute chords and reharmonization. The flip side of this process is what fueled many bebop players: taking standards and creating new melodies over the extant harmonic structure, a technique known as contrafaction."

In particular, many "reharms" leave the original melody of the reharmonized tune relatively or wholly intact. Most contrafacts do alter the harmonies of the original tune as well as its melody, but one can imagine a contrafact in which the melody is  new while the original harmonies remain intact.

A pianist I play with a lot, studied with Andy for six years, and the first thing Andy told him was, "After studying with me, you'll be playing so many reharms, you won't be able to get a gig in any club in New York!" 

His words proved to be prophetic...

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28 minutes ago, Larry Kart said:

"The real genesis of this thing was/is to get a few extra pennies, and if they were lucky (and the publishers always were) dollars. Who gets money from Donna Lee? Not the writers of Indiana."

You can't be serious. The "real genesis" of all those bop and Tristano-school lines etc. was to make "a few extra pennies"? No, it was to make new pieces of music to play on/jump off from that one found both musically and emotionally more attractive/more compatible with one's own already burgeoning musical style and sensibility. 

 

26 minutes ago, JSngry said:

Ok, sure. I don't recall Dizzy talking about how people were like, hey, why don't we get some of this bread and write our own lines, my bad.

Ok, not to be too flip, so let me pull it back in just a little bit. Of course there were esthetic considerations (and in Tristano's case, a, for lack of a better phrase, systemic imperative).

But -

implicit in the "self-determination" of the musical esthetic was a financial element that was more than an afterthought. For Dizzy, he was a good enough businessman to realize the implications  And Bird was a shrewd enough, uh...consumer to do the same.

Money is not a dirtty word in the creative process.

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The money thing, I would say, came as much or more from (in the case of Bird for sure) record companies like Savoy not wanting to pay royalties to the publishers of the standard songs that Bird's lines were based on.

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I am not disagreeing with any of the money comments, but I thought that Bird's original motive was to be able to hire a rhythm section who would have a clue what to do.

He would in effect tell the pianist du jour, "You just play Cherokee, while I play this thing I wrote called Koko."

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