Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Musical Arts (DMA)



First Advisor

Michael Gurt

Second Advisor

David Smyth


Though the number of theoretical studies of jazz has increased in recent years, detailed analysis has been applied to only a small fraction of the body of jazz music. Chick Corea's Piano Improvisations are of particular interest: high quality transcriptions are available, the pieces have never been dealt with in detail, and they embody an intriguing mixture of classical and jazz styles. Analysis of Corea's Piano Improvisations raises issues as to what methods are appropriate in the analysis of jazz. There are currently two, somewhat conflicting, schools of thought. Some believe that analytical techniques traditionally applied to classical music (e.g. motivic and Schenkerian) are inappropriate for use in jazz analysis because the types of relationships sought by these methods are too complex to be created in improvised music. Formulaic analysis is proposed as an approach that takes the improvisation process into account. Others view improvisation as more closely related to composition. Schenkerian theories have been applied to jazz improvisation, giving evidence that the music can contain the same sorts of relationships expected of classical composition. Without denying the value of formulaic analysis, the present study leans in the other direction, focusing on the music as an end product, rather than the process by which it was created. The present study applies traditional formal, harmonic, and motivic analysis to five of Corea's Piano Improvisations, along with reductive techniques related to Schenkerian analysis. The five pieces analyzed are Noon Song, Song for Sally, Ballad for Anna, Song of the Wind, and Sometime Ago. The analytical techniques used prove to be an effective means of considering these pieces. Much is revealed about the nature of the Piano Improvisations including harmonic language that combines elements of jazz and classical music, coherent forms generated largely by variation, and a wide variety of melodic invention based on economical motivic materials. Analysis of the Piano Improvisations points to common elements shared between classical music and jazz, and between composition and improvisation.