Appreciating (a) pattern language through views of (a) jazz language

Many coming to pattern language focus to much on pattern and not enough on pattern language as a first-class concept.

Watching a criticism of movies on jazz by Robert Glasper, I noted that we can might also separate jazz from a jazz language .

[01:49] This particular scene takes place in 1939.
[01:52] So the actual style of music they’re playing fits the time the time period.
[01:57] They’re playing bebop. It’s just a language.
[01:59] Like we all have a language of Spanish. There’s Japanese, there’s English.
[02:03] Bebop is the actual language,it’s basically how to get from one note to another note through other notes.
[02:08] So it’s basically like a maze of notes to get to another note.

Source: “Jazz Musician Robert Glasper Breaks Down Jazz Scenes from Movies” | January 28, 2021 | GQ at

It’s the maze of notes … or maze of patterns that make the language useful. Focusing on just one note, or even a short series of notes isn’t sufficient.

In architecture, and in music, there’s something beyond just copying that which has come before. Bill Plake notices how novice musicians often miss the point.

Is there a jazz language? If there is I don’t know how to define it.

Is it certain harmonies used in modern jazz? Nope. All those extended harmonies are found in many different pieces of 20th century classical music.

Is it the chromaticism? No. There’s plenty of chromaticism from other forms of music. Beethoven used it to great effect.

Is it the types of rhythms that are predominantly used in jazz? Not that either. There’s no such thing as a “jazz” rhythmic figure. Even syncopation has been around forever.

Is it the time feel? Now at least were getting close. Jazz musicians have a certain way of feeling time and expressing it rhythmically that is immediately palpable.

But what is it exactly? The so called “swing” eighth note feel isn’t even close to being codified. Some musicians (I’m thinking of Clifford Brown here) play jazz eighth notes virtually “straight”. Yet when you hear them play, you can easily tell it’s jazz.

And that’s usually the case. You might not be able to define what the jazz language is, but you can sure recognize it when you hear it. But the bottom line is that for every rule or principle of the jazz language there are countless exceptions. So why all the “learning the jazz language” emphasis?

If you examine the work of the great innovators in jazz they all had one thing in common: They redefined, edified and expanded the so called jazz language. Sure they might have spent quite a bit of time copying other players and learning tunes and heads and so forth.

But they also did one other very important thing. They spent the vast majority of their time improvising (truly improvising) to find what they had to say as artists. In fact, many had to actually ignore the jazz language of their time. They needed to free themselves from it in order to find a more personal expression.

Source: “The Problem With Studying The ‘Jazz Language’” | Bill Plake | September 2, 2011 at

This reminds me of a conversation I had had with @gmetcalf , when he was describing the challenge in getting adult learners to learn to get the feel of swing .

In a contemporary academic work, Jonathan Goldman interviewed jazz musicians (Eric Alexander, Julian Lage, Ingrid Jensen) about the private study of jazz.

Participants discussed a number of private study activities, including: transcription, aural modeling and listening to jazz (Alexander), mastering technique and the jazz language (Lage, Alexander, Jensen), as well as other methods. More significantly, participants described a bottom-up approach that involved first learning the basics of the jazz language, studying the history of the music, and spending time with the music generally. Alexander said:

…unless you sit down and have sort of a private process of trying to figure it out for yourself…you‘re really missing the boat in terms of developing sort of a personal approach…It‘s like learning a language the way children do and the way babies do. You just listen, and imitate, and eventually we all have our individuality that usually will come out in the end… (Alexander).

Jensen added ―that [a unique voice] also comes from really spending time with the music…spending time learning and analyzing the music from a very intellectual, scholastic side of things… you have to get inside and spend some time with it… (Jensen). Jensen also explained the importance of learning the history of jazz: ―…learning the history really helped me in school to figure out who I was in relation to all the different characters on the trumpet and on other instruments as well…‖ (Jensen). Zenón agreed that:

…for me the path [to a unique voice] had to do with understanding the history of the music…Trying to take that basic approach to learning the music from the bottom up…You have to understand the history and the tradition to understand the language. For me it took a long time of studying and listening and transcribing just to be to understand the basics of the language. You‘ve got to move forward, but you‘ve got to start from the beginning (Zenón).

He suggested that ―the guys who have a bigger chance of developing into a stronger personality are the guys who are going farther back [to study the history]… (Zenón)

Two participants made a reference to the notion of authenticity, insofar as certain players seem detached from the history and tradition. They said: ―…there is a way to sound more authentic, but I think you first have to learn the origins [of the music]…what it means to be authentic… (Cohen); and ―…[some] people don‘t sound like they‘re really part of the game, they don‘t sound like native speakers…kind of superficial…there‘s a certain thread of authenticity that runs through all the master musicians (Alexander).

Source: " The shape of jazz education to come: How jazz musicians develop a unique voice within academia" | Jonathan Goldman | 2010 | McGill University, Schulich School of Music at

It’s always important to recognize that the 1977 book by Alexender, Ishikawa and Silverstein was titled A Pattern Language, and not The Pattern Language.

  • Reading the series of publications by Christopher Alexander – and I recommend reading from most recent, backwards! – shows that a pattern language was developed for each of the built environments to be constructed.
  • While the architects had experience with pattern languages, they were not copying the same languages over and over again, for different situations.

I like that the jazz educators say that an appreciation of history and scholarship contributes towards authenticity. We could say the same for pattern languages, across the variety of domains.

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