The Music Of JC Harris

positively the most intelligent progressive rock on this here planet

positively the most intelligent progressive rock on this here planet


Cartoon Time Signatures Part II

Three gigs in one weekend on Fall Tour 2014 New Orleans. Maurice White. Tchaikovsky. More on unusual rhythms that taste just as good as white bread.

Roger CortonThree gigs in three days. You OK?

JCHThat was a lot of drivin’, buddy. I wish I’d had more time. I got a chance to drive around Metairie and see a few things. It struck me how un fixed New Orleans still is, even after all these years after Katrina. I only wish it was February. That whole area is just a tonic during the winter.

RCAnd record sales seem pretty good?

JCHYeah, I’m actually pretty stunned. I sold out the first run in a week and now we’re at the bottom of the second run. What is interesting to me is that it’s pretty much exactly following the sales curve that you’re supposed to expect.

RCYou’re saying this stuff is predictable? Even for you?

JCHFor me ? Yes, even for someone with four figure sales!

RC(Laughs.) OK, we’ll have to talk about that at some point. For now, where were we? I mentioned last time that people couldn’t clap along with your songs at the show I saw. The beats didn’t seem to line up.

JCHRight. I was gassing on about ‘The Blues’ and irregular beats.

RCBy the way, I wanted to interrupt you for a second and say how catchy “I’ll Be Right There” is. You should do a video on that.

RCNoted. I do like that song. It’s an unconscious attempt to redo ‘Stand By Me’ I suppose.

RCThe old Ben E. King song?

RCNo. I mean the Maurice White version from the ’80’s. That’s just the slammingest tune (for me) ever, ever, ever. A lot of my life has been spent trying to get something as groovy sounding as that. If it’s out there and legal, maybe you could post a link on the site?

RCMaurice White. Stand By Me. Got it.

JCHSo “I’ll Be Right There” is like a lot of old Blues. There are three or four places with bars that have extra beats. But it’s not noticeable unless you were actually counting which is why people got stuck clapping along.

RCGod forbid people should actually want to clap along.

JCHGod forbid. But that’s what I called ‘Cartoon Time’. I coined that term because if you watch old cartoons like Bugs Bunny the music sounds perfectly natural but it’s very hard to play because the phrases aren’t in nice even bars like pop music. The music follows all the ‘hits’.


JCHYes. A ‘hit’ is any visual cue. Like when The Coyote hits the Acme Brand wall. Or a trombone waggle when Elmer Fudd’s head shakes in amazement. The music has to line up with the action. But it’s more than that. The entire score has to sound natural to the ear. The phrases all line up with what’s going on. The melody will fit exactly into the amount of time it takes for The Roadrunner to zoom up the highway. It’s quite an art to to do this and not make the transitions a train wreck. So if you saw a score for one of those cartoons they are filled with time signature changes and odd numbers of beats because the action is what counts.

RCBut sometimes you want the music to make the transition clear. There are many, many snappy ‘cuts’ in cartoons.

JCHSure, but my point is that everything has to flow and most of these hits are not. Most people think of time signatures changing as sort of a Stop Sign; an abrupt change in direction. But a lot of great music isn’t like that. Tchaikovsky for example. He liked 5/4 quite a lot and you’ve heard that all your life in his ballets and symphonies. But it never sounds like it.

See here’s the thing: when people think ‘Progressive Rock’ of ‘Fusion’ they think of quirky beats that call attention to themselves. Other than the golden cape, I think that’s the common stereotype: a song in 7/4 time like Genesis used to do. Showy. You’re a real player!

RCNot because of your cape. Because you can play in these odd meters.

JCHUmmm… right. Now some of that odd time signature stuff is very cool, but to me it’s a lot more challenging to do something like what the old Blue guys would do–just making phrases be whatever they want to be to flow. Or Led Zeppelin moving the tempo around a little like in ‘Stairway To Heaven’. Everyone knows Peter Gabriel’s Solisbury Hill. Well, that’s also in 7/4.


JCHSure. It’s like whole wheat bread that actually tastes good (laughs).

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