Work for Art is an example of a twentieth century Impressionist-inspired jazz composition. It is a twenty-eight-measure blues of sorts with several changes of rhythmic feel: Brazilian samba, Afro-Cuban 6/8, and straight-ahead continental swing. These various feels, each accompanied by different, specific and related rhythmic hits, are designed to supply a built-in yin and yang of tension and release.
Its melody is based on the so-called Dorian Flat Nine mode, the second mode of the Melodic minor. Based on an A priority note, it contains the following Septachord (7-note pitch collection): A, Bb, C, D, E, F#, G, A, which is transposed up a minor third.
Dorian b9 mode is established by both quantitative and qualitative emphasis, by employing more A’s than the other pitch classes, and by placing them in prominent places.
Its harmonic chord succession is on the modal priority chord (Am7) as the i7 chord, where it oscillates with its diatonic bviiMA7 chord, the latter of which creates a short and recurring buzz of richness on the weaker, even-numbered measures of the phrase. This is briefly transposed up a minor third in imitation of the blues transposition to the iv chord, a sort-of 20th century substitution.
In mm.17-24, a bridge of sorts appears, replacing and elongating the normal V-IV section of a blues; and there is a change of rhythmic feel there to an Afro-Cuban 6/8—also with oscillating parallel quartal chords. This is accompanied by a change of pitch source to quartal harmony—another Impressionist influence, before it returns to the priority chord with its Brazilian feel.
For the improvisations in the development section of the composition, the rhythm section flattens out to a straight-ahead swing to release the tension which has been built up in the exposition (except for the 6/8 feel).