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Fundamentals of Jazz Composition

An Exploration of Musical Language

by Sam Jackson
ISBN: 978-0-9957273-4-2

This book presents an in-depth analysis of the vocabulary, methods, and tools of jazz composition. Written from the perspective of the composer, it explores the ways in which the jazz greats wrote the music that has become the standard repertoire.


Harmonic devices, the use of scale, modes, and chords, arrangement, and the vast array of compositional nuances are systematically laid out, explored, demonstrated, and explained, allowing the reader to build themselves a toolbox of compositional tools to bring to bear on their own work.

Front cover of fundamentals of jazz composition by sam jackson and jonathan curtis

Fundamentals of Jazz Composition contains 23 chapters covering such topics as:

  • Rhythm and Meter

  • Pitch and Harmony

  • Turnarounds and Cycles

  • Key Modulation

  • The Blues

  • Melody and Song

  • Chord Tones and Non-Chord Tones

  • Harmonising Melodies

  • Melodic Phrases

  • Arrangement

  • Substitutions

  • Elaborations

  • Modes and Modal Jazz

  • Non-Functional Harmony

  • Scales

  • Melodic Techniques

  • More Harmonic Techniques

  • Chord Voicings

  • Writing for Rhythm Section

  • Writing for Melodic Instruments

Fundamentals of Jazz Composition

This is a beautifully presented paperback book with a pinched crown quarto trim. The 314 pages present a comprehensive, intellectual, and accessible account of modal and tonal harmony as it applies to the jazz canon.​

As a textbook, it guides the student through the fundamental concepts required to build a functional compositional dictionary of jazz language.

For experienced composers, this book provides a wealth of nuanced ideas, from simple chord substitutions to entire modulations, as well as providing a rich reference for the myriad tools available.

"It is a most comprehensive coverage of this most fascinating area of study.

I have often found that with music composition, particularly jazz composition, an understanding of the structure and functions of the various elements is essential. This is where this book fits. It is an advanced book. 

Somehow, dissembling any composition into an analysis of the technicalities is a bit like dissembling a Painting by Monet into an analysis of the different frequencies reflected by the pigments on the canvas. This book does this so very well!

This is an academic book which would fit so well into a course of higher study where there is time and space for the students to explore the creative side of this wonderful subject in parallel.

It is the most erudite book on the subject that I have read!"

 - Jon Wakefield, jazz pianist, composer, music teacher

Back cover of fundamentals of jazz composition by sam jackson and jonathan curtis
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