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E.g. in Paul Desmond's "Cecilia", around 0'48" (linked below) there is a brass melody consists of the notes C F Bb Eb Ab A, of which the first five notes are stacked fourths. I find this kind of melody frequently appears in Jazz music, as a bridge-ish section. Is there a name for this kind of melody?

3 Answers 3

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This is what would be called harmony of fourths or quartal harmony. Up until the later 19th century harmony would usually be interpreted as based on thirds, resulting in classic triad based harmony. Starting with late Franz Liszt, Debussy, Ravel &c. and growing quite popular in 20th century (c.f. Schönberg, Webern, Berg, Hindemith, Bartók, Ives, Stravinsky, Orff, ...) is harmony that is based on stacking fifths and fourths on top of each other. This concept was then adopted by modern jazz to some extent.

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Melodies in fourths don't have a particular term, but the recording given shows an example of "quartal harmony". The brass are building a quartal chord one note at a time. Notice that upon each entrance, that player hold the note until all the other entrances are complete.

McCoy Tyner was particularly noted for his use of fourth-based chords. Listen to his recording of "Effendi", for example:

"Effendi" is quite similar to Miles Davis's "So What", which also involves quartal harmony. The melody is a call and response between the bass and piano, with the piano playing quartal chords (as well as throughout the rest of the piece).

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  • I seem to remember the intro by Britten to 'The New York Volunteer' (I think!) consisted of quartals built up, from the '60s. Can't find it anywhere now...
    – Tim
    Jan 5, 2023 at 9:42
  • Just come to me - Lincolnshire Poacher!
    – Tim
    Jan 5, 2023 at 11:32
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In a bridge, as chord changes, this is commonly referred to as "rhythm changes bridge".

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