Michael McClimon

Harmonic Interaction in Stitt & Rollins’s “The Eternal Triangle”

Paper presented to the SMT Jazz Interest Group, Vancouver, BC, November 4, 2016
(Much of this talk is adapted from my dissertation.)


The 1957 album Sonny Side Up is widely regarded as one of the best “jam session” albums in recorded jazz, and on no track is the cutting session between Sonny Rollins and Sonny Stitt more pronounced than on Stitt’s “The Eternal Triangle.” This is a Rhythm changes tune, and provides a wealth of opportunity for the study of interaction, both with the form itself and between the two tenor saxophonists.

After a brief analysis of the tune, this talk examines the twenty choruses of saxophone solos in more detail, showing how suggestions of outside playing in Rollins’s first six choruses are more fully realized when he and Stitt begin trading fours and eights after Stitt’s solo choruses. Drawing on models of interaction from Robert Hodson and Garrett Michaelsen, as well as a transformational model for chord-scales developed in my own dissertation, I examine interaction between the harmony as expressed by the two soloists and the rest of the ensemble, and how it relates to the larger genre Rhythm changes. Finally, the talk shows we might hear a remarkable moment in the final chorus of trading as arising from a process begun eight minutes earlier.