Bait and Switch: The Accessible and Challenging Repertoire of the Atlantic jazz catalogue in the 1960s and 1970s.

A thesis proposal submitted to

The CCM Graduate Thesis and Research Committee

in partial fulfillment of the

requirements for the degree of


Division of Composition, Musicology, and Theory

College-Conservatory of Music

January 23, 2018


Jason S. Branscum


B.A., The Ohio State University, 2003

712 Hand Ave. 

Cincinnati OH 45232


Faculty Advisor’s name printed


Reader’s name printed


Reader’s name printedAbstract

Statement of Purpose

This thesis will explore jazz recordings produced by the Atlantic label in the two decades following the hiring of producer Joel Dorn in 1963 by veteran producer Nesuhi Ertegun. Daniel Goldmark has observed that many of the label’s more historically prominent artists associated with “Ertegun’s Atlantic-Coltrane, Coleman, and Mingus-had moved on to other labels by the mid-1960s.” Looking forward to the mid-1970s, Atlantic’s incredible diversity in their jazz catalog, indicative of the state of the music at large during this era, might seem to be a necessary component of the historical canon. However, as Goldmark has again observed, “It’s revealing that Atlantic’s story, which has been told numerous times by journalists and in the trade press, has received little attention by scholars.” This thesis will analyze recordings by two artists associated with Atlantic jazz during this era and will provide evidence of these recordings’ unique innovations by developing tools to better understand and expand upon their musical content.

The first of three chapters will give a historical overview of Atlantic Records with attention to its jazz records of the 1960s and 1970s and historiographic interpretation. A backdrop of the creation of the label by Herb Abramson and jazz fan Ahmet Ertegun will be established before turning to Nesuhi Ertegun and the jazz records he produced on the label. Great attention will be given to Joel Dorn and the changes that are associated with him in the 1960s and 1970s. Given the commercial success of these records, and the aforementioned dearth of 

scholarly attention, comparison’s with David Axe’s commentary on Louis Jordan and his curious exclusion from jazz history will be explored. Atlantic’s absence will be examined in the same manner that Axe has with Jordan, “to discern the implications of his general absence in these works.”

The second chapter will examine the recordings made by Eddie Harris for Atlantic. Special attention will be paid to Harris’s unique melodic approach. While Harris occasionally writes and improvises in established jazz styles, a unique approach to melody is prevalent in specific compositions and solos. These melodies resemble exercises which are presented in the culminating pages of his book, The Intervallistic Concept. Compositions and solos on Harris’s Atlantic records that feature melodic material which falls into this category will be analyzed as it relates to the harmony below via Roman numeral analysis as it is employed in a jazz context. This will be compared with analysis of the interval relationships of these melodic passages and set theory analysis. After establishing the specific parameters that compromise this stylistic approach, comparisons will be made with Harris’s solos which emulate the styles of other musicians.

The rest of this chapter will focus on other innovative elements associated with Eddie Harris’s Atlantic records and briefly describe elements of these records that emulate mainstream music of the time and his commercial success. This will necessarily include Harris’s unconventional expansions to the Giant Steps progression and compositions based on root movements of thirds. Also, the electric saxophone and brass instruments played with reed mouthpieces, along with Harris’s use of humor will be discussed. Finally, the chapter will conclude in demonstrating that all of these elements existed in a format consistent with more popular music of the time and will inspect the reception and position of these albums on the popular music charts.

The third chapter will examine the Atlantic releases of Rahsaan Roland Kirk, with a focus on the large-scale form of the LPs. Goldmark has observed that Dorn, compared to Ertegun, “embraced a more conceptual approach to making albums.” In his analysis of Kirk’s album, The Case Of The 3-Sided Dream In Audio Color, Montgomery Cole has also observed that, “effects permeate the tracks of 3-Sided Dream, adding content and formal structure to the entire body.” Cole’s table demonstrating this form and the subsequent analysis will serve as a template for a more expanded analysis of this album and others. These albums will be compared with the formula more commonly used for other jazz albums at the time. Kirk’s other innovations as well as his use of these albums as platforms for social commentary will also be addressed. Kirk’s use of humor on his Atlantic releases will be discussed, and contrasts with Eddie Harris will be drawn. This chapter will conclude in addressing the commercial considerations both John Dorn and Rahsaan Roland Kirk have described in making records with Atlantic during this era.

Conclusions will be drawn about the contributions of these albums to the musical language that followed both immediately thereafter and to the present day. The tools developed to analyze the innovative elements in these records will be presented for use in future analysis of music derived from these records, or as compositional tools. Finally, the role that Atlantic Records played in providing these opportunities will be accessed and compared with other labels marketing jazz music during these decades.


Lewis Porter has observed that, “The distinctions among some types of African-American music-gospel, blues, jazz, rhythm and blues-were at least blurred in the sixties.” Nevertheless, one can easily resonate with Daniel Goldmark’s observation that in the 1960s and 1970s, “Blue Note represents the home of hard or post bop; ECM evokes modern, experimental jazz; Impulse! is inextricably tied up with Coltrane and the avant-garde; and Atlantic translates into R&B and eclecticism.” One might imagine that these divisions would give the eclectic label’s artists a leg up in being included in a history describing the blurred lines mentioned by Porter. However, despite recording number one hits on Billboard’s jazz charts and number two hits on Billboard’s R&B charts, even one of the label’s most viable artists in the 1960s and 1970s, Eddie Harris, is excluded from standard jazz histories. More significantly, Harris developed a melodic style that influenced his contemporaries, including Miles Davis, and subsequent generations.

Rahsaan Roland Kirk attracted attention in the 1960s, partially through the endorsement of John Coltrane. His recordings on Mercury and other smaller record labels established him as an innovative multi-instrumentalist, willing to engage extended technique and musique concrete in a jazz context. However, his relationship with Joel Dorn and the Atlantic record label produced records with large formal structure unknown at the time and unexamined to the present day. These recordings present new venues for formal analysis in the same manner that Harris’s playing invites the synthesis of different analytical methods to understand the creative expansion in this era.

Literature Review

Literature on jazz historiography, Atlantic Records, and each of the artists used as case studies will be consulted for this project. The works of David Axe will play a pivotal role in understanding jazz historiography as it is relevant to the study. His book, Jazz Cultures will play a special role in determining how aspects of music history that might be prevalent in the cultural knowledge at large are nevertheless ignored in written, scholarly histories. Parallels will be drawn between Atlantic Records and Axe’s assessments of Louis Jordan. Jazz/Not Jazz: The Music and Its Boundaries, edited by Axe, will be explored for Daniel Goldmark’s essay specific to Atlantic Records in the 1960s and 1970s. This essay describes explicitly the different directions taken by Dorn during this era and ponders the scholarly silence about this music.

Helpful for understanding the history of Atlantic Records as a whole are the two biographies of Ahmet Ertegun. Music Man by Wade and Picardie and The Last Sultan by Robert Greenfield. Both detail the creation of the label and the label’s relationship with jazz music. More detailed information concerning Dorn’s tenure at the label will be drawn from John Kruth’s interview of Joel Dorn in Wax Poetics in 2007, shortly before the producer’s death. In this article, Dorn shares details concerning the manner that he approached making records, and how it differed from Nesuhi Ertegun. Furthermore, he discusses the creation and marketing of Atlantic jazz releases. More insight will be drawn from Dorn’s own writing in the liner notes of re-releases of Atlantic jazz recordings on Dorn’s subsequent label, 32 Records.

There is no published biography of Eddie Harris and his exclusion from literature concerning jazz history is conspicuous. However, the musician wrote many books for music instruction and usually included an updating biography in each of them. This includes all three books of The Intervallistic Concerpt. Furthermore, an extensive biography exists on a website run by his widow and daughters.

For information on Rahsaan Roland Kirk, the primary biographical resource will be John Kruth’s biography, Bright Moments: The Life and Legacy of Rahsaan Roland Kirk. This will give not only insight into Kirk’s biography, but also first-hand information on his relationship with Dorn, his view of making commercial recordings, and his philosophy of record making from an artistic perspective. From an analytical standpoint, Charles Montgomery Cole’s “The Life and Music of Rahsaan Roland Kirk” will be used as model, not only for his great analysis of Kirk’s solos and compositions, but also that of Kirk’s album forms.


This project will study Atlantic’s jazz records in the historical backdrop of the 1960s and 1970s. These records will be compared with those of other labels in both their content and their marketing. A background of both Atlantic Records as a whole and also the changes that took place within the label during this period is therefore necessary. This will include not only biographical information on the pertinent people, but also an understanding of their unique strategies and philosophies in making records. Once this is understood, it will be possible to examine the innovations these records added to the art form.

Significant to this argument is developing a tool for understand Eddie Harris’s “intervallistic” music. In Book III of The Intervallistic Concept, Harris gives a list of, “recorded melodies that are intervallistically constructed.” The list gives examples of compositions that have melodies constructed over functional, non-functional, and static harmony. Sometimes these melodies outline the supporting harmony explicitly and sometimes they veer into territory that is very hard to interpret. As a result, it will be helpful to employ both elements of Roman numeral and set theory analysis. Sometimes both will be applied independently and sometimes it will be helpful to use one approach to describe larger sections and another to describe smaller sections.

In addition to understanding the “intervallistic” material in these releases, other elements will be scrutinized. Harris’s development of the electric saxophone will be placed in its historical context, including a study of how the instrument has developed from then to this present time. The stylistic diversity and the way it increases with time on each of these releases will be assessed as well.

Likewise, with Rahsaan Roland Kirk, a tool to understanding his album construction during the Atlantic years will be developed. Fortunately, the graphs made by Montgomery Cole for his thesis, The Life and Music Of Rahsaan Roland Kirk will serve as preliminary models for making this type of diagram. It will be just as important to discuss Kirk’s other contributions, including his multi-horn technique. Some of his more atonal music may be appropriate to approach via the synthesized Roman numeral and set theory analysis developed for Harris. By demonstrating the unique contributions these albums made to contemporary music, it will become urgent to incorporate the Atlantic catalog from the years after 1963 into scholarly discussion about this period in music history.

Preliminary Findings

Presented below are excerpts from both composed melodies and improvised saxophone solos by Harris that show stylistic consistencies and shed light on the intervallistic approach. Following this is an example of a transcribed lead sheet from a Harris composition that demands multiple analytical tools to fully appreciate. All of the following examples come from Atlantic recordings that feature mostly accessible music with functional harmony and were marketed alongside rock, soul, and folk acts.

Figure 1 is taken from Harris’s 12 bar blues composition Hey Wado and features the last four measures of the melody. The highlighting of the Viennese trichord in this functional context is noted now out of curiosity, but may become more relevant as research progresses. More notably, the figure of ascending fourths, separated by an interval class of 3 (minor third) is important, as it is a consistent part of Harris’s melodic style. One could say, it is a part of his melodic vocabulary. Ultimately, this is a very simple, and contrived twelve tone row. What sets this line apart is its contrast with the type of vocabulary normally used over a hard-bop style swing that the rhythm section is playing. Most musicians of the time would play a combination of bebop influenced, voice-leading dependent lines, blues licks, and quartal lines based on pentatonic scales. Any quartal vocabulary would not be separated by minor thirds, such as one sees here, but more likely be would be in the key of the underlying harmony or another key specifically chosen to be dissonant with this harmony. As a standalone example, this passage may seem contrived, but Harris uses other variations of this phrase.


Figure 1

Recorded around this same time is Harris’s solo on Mean Greens. Another simple song with basically static harmony on I and IV, Mean Greens is a funky piece, but is still performed in an acoustic jazz setting. Figure 2 is taken from Harris’s solo at 1:45 in the recording and starts with a variant of the phrase from Figure 1. Now, a strong offbeat effect is created by putting the three note groupings in a 4/4 eighth note context. The F#s in the second measure are interpreted here as leading tones, and therefor add variety to the phrase. The last two measures Harris uses the b9, #9, b5, and b13, all of which are standard, functional pitches one would use over an altered chord approaching a new key center (in this case Bb), albeit using some wider, potentially more awkward intervals than normal.


Figure 2

Applying this technique in the context of functional harmony seems to be where creative problem-solving produces the most interesting results. In Figure 3, found at 2:42 in Harris’s recording of Love For Sale, one can see Harris outlining appropriate notes for both the C half-diminished and F7 chords. However, instead of continuing the change by interval class 3 in the pattern, he changes by 2 for the next iteration of quartal ascent. With only one exception, the resulting notes, C#, F#, B, E, A, and D, would all be considered avoid tones for the Bb minor chord expected. However, with this amount of dissonance, the remaining notes of the row, D, G, and C, make a perfect resolution as they fall squarely on the Bb7. As research progresses, one can anticipate further development of this approach and other vocabulary of a similar nature. 

Figure 3

Another intriguing element of Figure 3 is that every single interval movement is either interval class 0, 2, or 5. In fact, the bulk of Harris’s solo from Love For Sale is interval class 2 or 5. This is particularly intriguing given that the song, and particularly Harris’s arrangement of it, features a number of very distant harmonic destinations. We can see this in a context of static harmony in the composition Ambidextrous. Figure 4 features the opening statement, and one can see that every interval is either interval class 2 or 5. Given that this is one of the compositions that Harris lists as being “intervallistically constructed,” it may shed light on how these melodies are made. Ambidextrous, while also functioning as the shout chorus in between the solos of Mean Greens, exists on its own towards the end of the album, How Can You Live Like That? This album features mostly music consistent with the top 40 sound of the time and it is intriguing that Ambidextrous found its way onto this release. However, hiding the unconventional amongst the popular can be seen more and more consistently in Harris’s Atlantic recordings as the 1970s progresses.


Figure 4

An extreme example exists at the very end of this period in the album, The Versatile Eddie Harris and the “intervallistically constructed” Steps Up. This 1981 album’s opening theme begins with an unashamed, four-on-the-floor disco beat, complete with walking octaves in the bass and a lyrical total of seven words. Nevertheless, the album meanders back and forth between the avant-garde and the popular, sometimes within the same track. Tucked at the end of the album is the frenetic, bizarre, and so-called intervallistic Steps Up. Shown in figure 5, the interval class distinctions are describing the movement of chord roots and not the melody. The root movement here is not only a far cry from the disco music on the other side of this record, but even from other jazz compositions of the time. There are essentially three ways the roots of the chords move. First, they are embellished with 3 non-functional, ascensions by an interval class of 1. After a descent by an interval class of 4, the total movement of these roots is 1. The next section is an unembellished planing of interval class 2. The third section is a movement by interval class 3, embellished by a functional ii V I progression. Finally, the unembellished ascent by interval class 2 continues to round out the piece. As different iterations of this form are performed, a cycle of movement of 1,2,3,2,1,2,3,2,1… alternating sections with no embellishment and either nonfunctional and functional embellishment. While it remains beyond the scope of this project to determine the artistic merit of this approach, certainly it can be determined that ground was broken that wielded a different musical aesthetic.


Figure 5


  1. Introduction
    1. Atlantic Records
      1. Founding and history including biographic info of the Ergetun family
      2. Atlantic jazz
        1. Ahmet Ertegun’s original interest in jazz
        2. Nesuhi Ertegun and Atlantic jazz before 1963
        3. Joel Dorn and the changes after 1963
    2. Jazz history and historiography
    3. Eddie Harris
      1. “Intervallistic” composing and improvising
      2. Dance music vs. “art” music
    4. Rahsaan Roland Kirk
      1. The concept album in jazz
      2. The relationship between gimmickry and artistic expression
    5. Thesis: This thesis will demonstrate that the functional orientation taken by Atlantic Records with their jazz artists after the mid-1960s opened up unexpected avenues for creative expression.
  2. Atlantic jazz and jazz history
    1. The Atlantic jazz department
      1. A brief history of Atlantic Records
      2. Nesuhi Ertegun and Atlantic jazz before 1963
      3. Joel Dorn and the direction of Atlantic jazz in the 60s and 70s
    2. Jazz history
      1. An overview of jazz historiography
      2. Atlantic records in jazz histories before and after Joel Dorn
  3. Eddie Harris’s LPs on Atlantic
    1. Eddie Harris and commercial success
    2. The “intervallistic concept”
      1. Analysis of The Intervallistic Concept
      2. Analysis of “intervallistic” compositions
      3. Analysis of “intervallistic” solos
      4. The development of intervallistic creation in a commercial context
    3. Other innovations
      1. The Giant Steps progression and other non-functional harmony
      2. Free improvisation in a commercial context
      3. Inventions
        1. Instruments including brass adaptations
        2. Instrument accessories including electric pickups for wind instruments
        3. Historical development of these inventions
      4. Humor in Harris’s Atlantic LPs
  4. Rahsaan Roland Kirk LPs on Atlantic
    1. The jazz concept album
      1. Analysis of concept albums as large scale formal works
    2. Social commentary
      1. Race relations in the United States
      2. Technology
      3. Music and public reception
    3. Other innovations
      1. Multi-horn technique
      2. Cuckoo-clocks and music boxes
      3. Nose flute and flute multiphonics
    4. Humor in Kirk’s LPs
  5. Conclusion
    1. Revisit historical interpretation of this period for Atlantic jazz and some of its artists
    2. Development of analyzing less understood melodic vocabularies
    3. Development of understanding and analyzing recorded albums as large scale formal works

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