A contrafact is a musical work consisting of a new melody overlaid on a familiar harmonic structure. Essentially, it is a musical composition consisting of a new melody superimposed over a familiar harmonic structure. Contrafact can also refer to the practice of writing lyrics to instrumental standards.
The term is often used in the context of jazz, where musicians frequently create contrafacts as a way of composing new tunes on familiar chord progressions. This allows the composer to create a unique work while leveraging an existing, well-known foundation, providing listeners with a sense of familiarity alongside the novelty of the new melody.
An example of a contrafact in jazz is Charlie Parker’s “Ornithology,” which is a contrafact of the standard “How High the Moon.” Parker’s new melody is superimposed over the original chord progression, resulting in a distinct, yet recognizably grounded composition.
Contrafacts are legal and do not require permission from the original composer, as copyright law does not protect chord progressions. However, if the contrafact uses the original melody or lyrics, it may be considered a derivative work, and permission may be needed from the copyright holder.
For more in-depth information, consider visiting the Contrafact page on Wikipedia.