Justin Kerobo

Home > A Wider Lens: Positing George Russell’s Conception of Mode in a World Music Theory

A Wider Lens: Positing George Russell’s Conception of Mode in a World Music Theory

Mar 2022 15


The term of mode as it applies to Western music theory has an extensive and far-reaching grasp. It has three main applications in musical practice, which historically tie to music. Still, since the 20th century, the benefit strays more toward designating certain kinds of norms or models for composition and improvisation. George Russell and The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization help position mode as a forefront in Jazz and popular music during the development of Modal Jazz in the 1950s, and that uses and highlights the Lydian Scale. Under this work, Russell carved out a unique niche for himself in jazz’s history, his treatise representing the first theoretical work to come out of the jazz tradition. This paper grounds George Russell’s Lydian Chromatic Concept (LCC) in broader arching music theory from jazz theory by looking at modal views (theory) historically and looking at how Russell’s conception of the Lydian Chromatic Concept and mode, in general, differ from traditional concepts of mode and mode practices at the time.

It will do this in two main ways. It aims to trace this musically before the publication of his theory by looking at George Russell’s “Ezz-thetic” (1950), examining and connecting mode theory through practice in prose by a view of the notion’s several different components, including characteristic intervals, modal degree affinities, and essential voice-leading principles in comparison to Beethoven’s “Heiliger Dankgesang” (1825) the third movement of op.132. Finally, I argue that the LCC connects to a “pan-stylistic” approach of music theory by fermentation of his ideas in other theorist-composers such as Tōru Takemitsu and Frank Zappa. “Pan-stylistic” approach combines mode as a concept in the history and theory of Western music and ‘mode’ as a modern musicological concept applied to non-Western music.