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The Implementation of Contemporary Gospel Organ and Keyboard Techniques in Jazz Piano Improvisation, Accompaniment and Composition

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posted on 2024-06-28, 01:37 authored by Can Olgun

Sophisticated keyboard accompaniments are central to contemporary gospel music, a genre inextricably intertwined with jazz but seldom discussed in jazz scholarship. Deeply rooted in the African American church, contemporary gospel keyboardists and organists such as Travis Sayles, Quennel Gaskin, and Jason White have developed complex harmonization methods to create and (re-)harmonize melodies in real-time. In this, their music-making corresponds to some of the creative and performative processes that characterize jazz piano improvisation and accompaniment but, at times, differs from those models in terms of the harmonic language.

To date, scholars have paid little attention to the commonly used chord voicings, chord progressions, and harmonization techniques (often referred to as ‘movements’ or ‘moves’ by practitioners) in contemporary gospel organ and keyboard playing, nor have they investigated the application of such approaches in the related field of jazz piano performance. This research project explores this gap in the scholarship by analyzing representative gospel organ and keyboard (re-)harmonization and voice leading concepts and proposing ways they can be applied to jazz piano performance – in the contexts of accompaniment and improvisation – and composition.

Drawing on transcriptions of performances shared by artists on social media, my musical exchanges with other church musicians while serving as musical director for an African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in New York, and interviews with practitioners, this dissertation presents examples of chord voicings, chord progressions, and harmonic concepts characteristic of gospel keyboard performance. I also demonstrate, by way of a creative portfolio, how exploring these techniques through creative practice informed my own approaches to (re-)harmonization and improvisation in harmonic frameworks common to jazz standards and my own compositional practices.


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Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Socio-Economic Outcome code

130102 Music; 130104 The performing arts

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

3 Applied research

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

New Zealand School of Music


McKinnon, Dugal; Meehan, Norman