Barry Harris Harmony Jazz Theory reharmonisation Standards

The truth about Stella

You may have looked at the standard, Stella By Starlight, and wondered what horrors lurk beneath those chords. This article is a deep dive into various versions to explain what is going on.

The song, written in 1944 by Victor Young as horror film music for The Uninvited (A composer and his sister discover that the reason they are able to purchase a beautiful gothic seacoast mansion very cheaply is the house’s unsavory past). He also wrote Ghost of a Chance, My Foolish Heart and Beautiful Love. But this is by far the most sophisticated of the song he wrote which became jazz standards.

It is 32 bars long as is most common for jazz standards, but it is ‘through composed’ meaning every section is different, so I call the form ABCD (8-8-8-8). There is little of the usual repetition found in AABA or ABAC songs.

We’ll look at the song in Bb major, as it is most commonly played and seen in jazz real books. Here is my playlist of recordings of this song to compare.

In the beginning …

As usual, I don’t have the original sheet music to refer to, but I do have Spotify, YouTube and an internet connection, so I set out to find the earliest recording I could and transcribe the changes. It was the Frank Sinatra recording in the key of G from 1947, arranged by his musical director, Axel Stordahl. I show those chord changes here transposed to Bb for ease of comparison with other versions.

The melody is much more modern than most jazz standards.

  • It contains a lot of suspensions so that the melody does not directly fit the chords underneath until it resolves (eg B section bars 1 and 5).
  • It does not finish on the tonic. So, there less of a feeling of conclusion than usual.
  • There are a lot of chord extensions emphasised by the melody (eg maj 7, 9, 11). See the C section in particular.

And the harmony is more modern than most jazz standards. The tonic chord is not stated until bar 9. The chords for each 8-bar section are all different.

The A section

The first chord is Bb dim7 or chord I dim7 and lasts for two bars. This is a common sub for chord I in major keys and adds tension and I’ve written about that before. It works particularly well here becasue the melody note (A) is the major 7 — a very pretty sound. It is also the same notes as bIII dim7 which beautifully voiceleads to a cadence home (II V I).

However, the second chord (bar 3) is F7 (V) and also lasts for two bars. The third chord is Bb7 (V7/IV), also two bars and in bar 7, we arrive at Eb (IV). And then in bar 8 there is an overrun to Ab7 (bVII7) which acts as a ‘backdoor’ dominant to Bb (I) to begin the B section.

So, the original harmony of the A section is really quite simple. Just five chords in 8 bars; it would be relatively easy to play in other keys without writing it out.

If we break the F7 and Bb7 down into II-V pairs (C-7 F7; F-7 Bb7), we keep the bebop police happy and there is no impact on the functional harmony. This also would allow the bIII dim7 to II move described above. And the result is pretty much what you would find in any real book for this tune. Except for the first chord.

Perhaps diminished chords were considered more difficult to analyse than other chord qualities because it it not obvious that they belong to a particular key. Let the meddling begin! If you don’t have a bunch of different things to play on a diminished chord and that chord lasts for two bars and the tempo is slow, you are in trouble. But if you substitute the diminished chord for a dominant 7b9 chord, you can break that dominant 7 chord down into a minor II-V pair, soloing over the changes is easier and bebop police won’t come a callin’.

Bud Powell and Barry Harris played Bb dim7. But most jazz artists since the time of Miles Davis play the Eø A7b9, including Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett. So, I am not with Barry Harris to insist that it is wrong. Things move on, but it is incumbent on the student to understand where the chords come from and how to connect them smoothly.

But something beautiful in the original composition has been lost. The extremely pretty A melody note as major 7 against Bb dim7 has become 11 against E-7b5 (quite cool) but a mere root against A7b9. Meh …

Harmonic regions

In jazz standards in major keys, we expect tunes to make frequent borrowings from keys IV and V as well as all three relative minors.

This is because they are the closest keys on cycle of fifths and, therefore, have the least different keys signatures:

  • I: Bb; G- (two flats)
  • IV: Eb; C- (three flats)
  • V: F; D- (one flat)

Stella By Starlight harmony does visit all of these harmonic regions, albeit briefly.

My spirits were slightly lifted by listening to the Erroll Garner recording from the late 60s/early 70s where he actually plays a major II-V (E-11 A13). He has smashed us into the key of D for the first two bars, four keys sharper round the key cycle. This harmony is so bad it is good!

Was it deliberate or did he not know what he was doing? All I know is he avoids all m7b5 chords except one (A-7b5 in the B section) in the whole piece, so something was going on. The obvious advantage is that soloing is even easier. Maybe this is part of his secret of sounding so happy on everything? And it is such a relief after trying to mimick Bill Evans perfect harmony and voiceleading.

The B section

In this section we see a couple of minor plagal cadences (IVm I) in the original. Something else that the bebop police felt is necessary to replace in order to make everything II-V based. As an aside, the chord progressions V I and IVm Im are negative harmony reflections of each other and therefore resolve equally well in terms of classical voiceleading.

Bars 2-3 in the Frank Sinatra arrangement would be G-6 to D-7. Usually replaced with E-7b5 A7b9 | D-7. Note that Barry Harris often says, the beboppers thought of E-7b5 as G-6 with the 6 in the bass. So it is the A7 that is the interloper here!

Bars 4-5 in the Sinatra arangement have Bb-6 to F/C. This is IVm I in the key of F. It feels like the song has modulated by stealth (Stella Stellar Stealth?) to key V.

So far we have seen harmony in Bb, Eb, D- and F. Four of the six related keys. The A-7b5 D7b9 below is from G-, so we are just looking for harmony from the key of C- to complete the set.

The bebop police don’t like inversions and we know they don’t like minor plagal cadences, so what do they play here. Well a backdoor cadence is the answer. Bb-6 sounds like a rootless Eb9 so it works well if we sub Eb7 (VII7) here. So, real books usually have Eb7 F at this point.

Bar 6 is Bb dim7 (which sounds like a rootless C7b9) in the Sinatra arrangement dropping down to the A-7b5 in bar 7.

However, some elegant versions of Stella replace the bar 4 approach to F with something more subtle and then have a turnaround in F before moving on:

  • B-7b5 Bb-6 |
  • F/A D-7 | G-7 C7 | A-7b5 | D7b9 ||

The D7 acts like a pivot chord acting as both V7/II in F and V7/III in Bb.

Others still (eg Miles Davis, My Funny Valentine album) replace bar 6’s Bb dim7 with E-7b5 A7b9, the chords they use at the beginning of sections A and D to replace the diminished chords.

The C section

This section feels like a bridge to me. It is not clear cut, but it is contrasting in as much as the harmonic rhythm returns to one chord every two bars. Also, the melody is largely focused on extensions on main beats and sustained, rather than chord notes:

  • Bar 1 G7: Eb = b13
  • Bar 3 C-7: F – = 11
  • Bar 5 Eb-: D = maj7
  • Bar 7 Bb: C = 9

The C section starts with a surprise G7+ where we are expecting a G-7. The G7 makes a chain of dominants with the preceding D7 and propels us towards C-7 as a V7/II in Bb. Or you could argue that this is the V I in C- we were waiting for.

And the home key of Bb is confirmed with the last two chords of this section Eb-(maj7) Bb/D (IVm I). As we know by now, the bebop police don’t like minor plagal cadences, so that replace the Eb- chords with Ab7#11 making it another backdoor cadence.

There is a reason that the original chord at the end of the C section is Bb/D. It’s voiceleading using the bass part into the first chord of the final section.

It is common for jazz players to briefly play chord I dim7 as a suspension of the harmony on the last chord of the C section. It is a nod the the original chord at the beginning of the A and D sections and it sounds great with the C melody note being the maj 9 of Bb dim7. Remember, the extensions to a dim7 chord come from the dim7 chord a semitone below.

The D section

Sometimes the form of Stella is said to be ABCA. The first two bars of the D section are the same as the A section, so it feels like the longed-for reprise the listner is expecting, but 75% of the section is new.

The Sinatra arrangement has Db dim7 in bar 1 leading to Bb dim7 in bar 2. So, effectively the same chord as the beggining of the A section. The Db root allow for good voiceleading from the preceding Bb/D.

Bar 3 in the Sinatra arrangement is Ab7 acting as sub V7/VI followed by G7 in bar 4 acting as V7/II, setting up a chain of dominants heading towards the final II V I cadence we expect at the end of most jazz standards (although the II chord signals minor harmony with C-7b5 to acommodate the Gb in the melody).

The beboppers prefer to make the whole last eight bars a sequence of II-Vs. So, the Sinatra arrangement chords are changed as in the table below:

Original: Db dim7Bbdim7Ab7G7C-7b5F7Bb%
Sideslip:E-7b5 A7b9 Eb-7 Ab7D-7 G7Db-7 Gb7C-7 F7Bb%

The third row of the table shows how side-slipping can be introduced resulting in chromatic II-V pairs from bar 3 to bar 6. Back to Erroll Garner’s avoidance of minor II-Vs. You can see how he accomodated the Gb melody note in bar 5 by using the Db-7 Gb7 reharmonisation.

From the trailer for The Uninvited, 1944.

Main take aways

Layers of understanding need to be built up. This is a complex tune and not one for jazz beginners to start with.

Melody matters. There are a lot of suspensions in this melody and you need to understand how to accommodate these in the accompaniment.

There are many reasons why we might make changes to the chords of a song:

  • Making it easier to improvise over by making the chords a common jazz progression where a less common one exists.
  • Making a conventional chord progression more interesting to listen to.
  • Making the melody a more interesting note against the chord.

This last point does not apply so much to Stella because the melody already is placed on interesting notes of the chords.

Converting minor plagal cadences to cadences using dominant chords is common in jazz probably because the dominant chord is the most flexible and provides for the maximum possibilities when harmonising and improvising:

  • IVm Im becomes IIø V7b9 Im.
  • IVm I becomes bVII7 I.

For more check out my link tree:

Barry Harris in memoriam memorising

Conrad Cork RIP

EDIT: Conrad’s partner, Ali Cork, has made a Eulogy site where memorial contributions can be submitted.

I was saddened to learn that Conrad Cork died on Sunday 25 April 2021. Amongst other things he was a UK-based jazz musician, educator and author of Harmony with LEGO Bricks.

Though I worked closely with Conrad and helped him produce the 2008 final edition of his book, we never met. I wrote summaries of all the chapters as well as suggesting changes as I read through the whole book. I used Sibelius to produce engravings to replace all the music staff examples from the previous edition. All contact was by email; there was not a single phone call. But Conrad was always very supportive.

Some of my suggested changes were too much for the stage that Conrad had got to with his book (which had evolved through various editions since first published in 1985) and his plans for retirement. But he encouraged me to take them forward myself with his blessing.

In the following year I collected the ideas that had formed from working with and on Conrad’s book and wrote my own book, Insights in Jazz, which was published in November 2009. I made a series of podcasts to support my book and generally tried to update to approach where I felt I could. I was asked to take over running the discussion group about the LEGO bricks method. Conrad volunteered to write a review.

Money was never the motivation for Conrad. He was a true educator and keen to help as many people as possible learn about jazz music. Shortly after publication of the final edition of his book he sold the rights to Charles Alexander for £1 and did not ask for any royalties on subsequent sales of his book.

In further posts to the discussion group in 2016, he made it clear that if ever his book became unavailable for sale, he would wish it to become free to all:

What I would really like is for the whole thing to be public domain, with people free to help themselves to as much or as little as they want.

Conrad occasionally contributed to our discussion group. An example of his passion for the LEGO bricks method:

Blue Bossa us an ideal tune to let the LEGO Bricks penny drop.

The second halves of each line are exactly the same as each other in terms of chords. So you could play them as just that.

But you would lose the sense of the song’s ‘journey’. Each time you arrive at that last cadence it is from a different place (and the second time is from a major, when the song is predominantly minor, which is a whole change of atmosphere).

By using the LEGO terms , sad backslider to get into it first time and sad downwinder to get into it the second time, you will feel different and so play differently.

I may say I got a big ‘Yes!’ from Barry Harris when I showed him why the tune was in my book.

In Nov 2020 I told Conrad that after almost 30 years working in IT consultancy, at the age of 55 I was planning on stopping to find another focus, but felt too young to retire. With characteristic insight he replied:

Don’t think of it as retiring. Think of it as entering a new period of self-fulfilment on your own terms. Jung knew about it, as did the Zen masters. You still have the health and energy to do it properly. If you give your subconscious the space, it will tell you what to do.

Impressive blog btw.

So, I took Conrad’s advice, resigned from my job and focussed on my musical activities full time: playing, teaching and writing.

In 2017 he wrote in an email to me: “Perhaps one day we will meet? If you can put up with an agoraphobic recluse. :-)”. I’m sad to say, we never did.

I’ll leave the last words to Conrad from an email to the discussion group: “Thanks guys. It has been a privilege to get to know the people here. Means more than I can say.”

EDIT: Conrad’s partner, Ali Cork, has made a Eulogy site where memorial contributions can be submitted.

Jazz Books Keys memorising

Masterless Effortry

I had a painful experience about 25 years ago and I found a really powerful solution that I know will help others and is worth sharing.

I was the pianist in a big band populated mostly by amateur players run by a retired professional trumpet player. We were on a gig in a local town hall and played the first half of our set of arrangements that we had rehearsed. All was going according to plan. And then it happened.

The leader chatting with the audience over the microphone suddenly said: “Any requests?”

Someone shouted back, “Pennies from Heaven”.

Our leader turned to me and said off mic, “Can you play it?”

I shook my head in a mild panic. He looked at me for a few seconds more, then said, through a Cab-Calloway-like smile, “Try.” Before adding, “In Bb.”

With that he turned back to the audience and started to play. He played once through the melody in order to fulfil his contract with the audience member and fashioned a small cadenza on the last chord which I joined him for, knowing it would be Bb. Almost every other chord I played before that was wrong. No matter how hard I tried, there was nothing I could do because I did not know what I was doing. In short, it was a train crash. For me at least.

In hindsight I displayed “masterless effortry” (an amusing take by a friend of mine on the title of Kenny Werner’s book, Effortless Mastery, a book I would not come across for another 15 years or so).

The sense of shame I felt for not being up to the job was extreme. I quickly dealt with that uncomfortable feeling inside my head by blaming the leader (again, inside my head) for taking such an irresponsible risk by creating these unhelpful thoughts:

  • How could he be so rash/stupid/unkind?
  • If I’d had a chord sheet, I could have read it with ease.
  • It was not my fault! No one else in the band could have done it.
  • Why is the job of pianist so much harder than that of any of the other musicians in the band?
  • It would be ridiculous to expect me to know the chords to random jazz standards in whatever key he decides.

If I had read Nick Bottini’s, Just Play book about overcoming our unhelpful thoughts, I may well have handled the thoughts in my head better. Nick recently gave me a free copy of his book for making him laugh on his Wellbeing and Excellence Facebook group with a Limerick:

There was a young man called Bottini

Whose methods were rather unseemly

He’d post up a graphic

With words psychopathic

And host Zoom calls in just a bikini.

But I digress; back to my story: I received sympathetic looks from the rest of the band. We finished the set, packed up and went home. Nothing more was said about it.

Playing in jam sessions I occasionally found similar experiences would occur. I remember being so ashamed of my performance after being called to play on a standard tune I had not learned that I had to leave the building and walk the city centre for half an hour just to calm down. And when accompanying singers, it was often worse because you were lulled into a false sense of security by being given a chord chart in their key that usually turned out to be completely useless.

The Penny Drops

Eventually, I realised that the problem was never going away if I kept expecting the world to change. You can only change yourself and how you respond to the events that come your way:

  • Deal with your internal thoughts: Problems for musicians commonly occur becasue of the stories we tell ourselves in our heads about what other people think of our playing and what they expect of us. Learning to clear this out of the way can remove a massive barrier to our enjoyment of playing music. See the reading list below for a couple of books on the subject.
  • Learn the territory: You need to identify and practice in many keys the chunks of chord progression that occur in the kinds of music you play. If you focus on the perfect voicings of Bill Evans playing with no-one else but his own trio, you will not be well prepared for what the world throws at you. There is so much listening and responding needed in a jazz performance, it is not possible to do if you don’t know the material and impossible if you are reading.

Something had changed. I knew that I wanted to know how to hear and memorise the changes to a song without having them in front of me to read. And I was on a journey to find out how I needed to change in order to achieve it.

I’d never had an experienced jazz teacher who could teach me about the oral tradition, common song forms and how chord progressions work. What I did know, I had mostly taught myself from books. Though I had done quite a lot of transcription, it was of random songs that I liked in order to learn a cool voicing from Oscar Peterson or Bill Evans and I rarely transcribed more than a few bars. And, therefore, I did not get to understand how songs are put together and, thereby, how to hear where a song will probably go next.

Another friend of mine mentioned a book by Conrad Cork about an approach to learning jazz harmony like LEGO bricks that join together to make songs. It was sold by Jazzwise, a UK publisher, at the time. This was in the days of books printed on paper. I read it from cover to cover.

I was hooked because I knew this was the key to the answer to my problem. Not only did it explain the method of analysing and memorising chord progressions in a key-independent manner, but it had at least half of the book dedicated to explaining how jazz should be taught and explained why most teachers from the classical music tradition simply don’t understand how to teach jazz. His approach is based on listening to recordings of the masters and the oral tradition. But also he explains very well the difference in mindset between classical and jazz musicians. One idea that really helped me was the notion that each jazz performance is just a report on progress on playing that song. It is not meant to be some kind of perfectly finished product.

It all made so much sense to me. So much, in fact, that I started to analyse jazz standards using the approach in order that I could analyse and memorise them.

I can be a bit obsessive about things. I soon found that I had analysed over 200 songs using a spreadsheet to build visual roadmaps for each song. It occurred to me that others could benefit from my work and, with Conrad’s blessing, I wrote my own book extending the method and including all the song roadmaps.

Conrad’s book is no longer available. My book was also published in paper form by Jazzwise for a few years, but I decided from the beginning to also publish it myself as a PDF e-book which continues to be a popular form.

Things have moved on since 2009 when I first published my book:

  • PDF e-book is more convenient than paper form because it is electronically searchable. Owners can print out pages should they wish to. Less paper is wasted, sunk costs are reduced and everybody wins.
  • I made a series of free podcasts about the method and examples song analyses.
  • I run a discussion group online where users of the method can share their experiences.
  • Practice charts for the chord “bricks and joins” are available for free on the iRealPro Forum. The iRealPro app can be used with the free charts to learn all the sequences in any key with auto-generated backing tracks.

Pennies from Heaven

So, back to my devastating experience with Pennies from Heaven. What have I learned since then? Well, it is actually one of the simplest jazz standards and its chord progression is very easily memorised in a key-independent way.

Here is the roadmap from my book for the song:

The overview is as follows:

  • The chords are written in the key of C, but once the bricks and joins are understood, can be played in any key.
  • A section: a common jazz turnaround. (Many variants are possible and you can find them by listening to various recordings of this song to see what people play.) Play the turnaround twice and that is the first eight bars covered and the key is firmly established.
  • B section: Cadence to IV followed by the Slow Launcher (II7 V7) that we learn to expect at the end of B sections.
  • A’ section: Starts like the first A section but ends with a cadence to IV like we saw at the beginning of the B section.
  • C section: a “meta brick” over eight bars that is probably the most common sub-sequence in jazz. A variant of this is the last eight bars of the 12-bar blues, so it’s sound will be familar to you for sure.

One of the advantages of this approach is that you are not phased by chord substitutions. It encourages you to think in large chunks of chord progression within which some chords might be substituted, but you still know where you are in the song and where you are going.

As an illustration of how powerful this approach is, take the last eight bars of the chord sequence. This brick is labelled as the “Pennies Ending” after this song it is found in. But it is well worth becoming familiar with because it (or a close variant) is also found in the chords for the following songs:

  • Last eight bars of the blues.
  • The More I See You
  • There’ll Never Be Another You
  • A Weaver of Dreams
  • You Go to My Head
  • I Thought about You
  • It Had to Be You
  • You Turned the Tables on Me
  • Moonglow
  • I Can’t Believe You’re in Love with Me
  • East of the sun
  • Emily
  • I Fall in Love Too Easily
  • It Could Happen to You
  • It’s You or No-one
  • In a Mellow Tone

Taking this approach allowed me to memorise hundred of jazz standards and retain a trio gig for 12 years before the global pandemic temporarily stopped live music.

If you would like to read more about my book, download sample pages or purchase it, please check out my website. If you would like to read more about handling your own thoughts and emotions which are stopping you playing music, check out the reading list below.

Further reading

Elliott, J, Insights in Jazz, 2009.

Werner, K, Effortless Mastery, Jamie Aebersold Publishing, 1996.

Bottini, N, Just Play, ReThink Press, 2018.

Barry Harris block chords Harmony Standards

Block chording like George Shearing

Shearing had a real swinging ‘lollop’ to his style of block chording. I learned some of his techniques transcribing and analysing his arrangement of his classic, Lullaby of Birdland. Have a listen to his arrangement played here with Neil Swainson.

In this article I discuss applying the techniques found to the opening of Fly Me Too The Moon. This song is ideal because the melody largely moves by step.

Most chords can be represented by Sixth chords

Most often in this style, the chord played is a maj6 or min6 chord (or an inversion). This leads to the notion of Barry Harris’s Sixth/diminished scales. But this is not as limiting as it might first seem. Using these voicings and scales it is possible to cover a wide variety of chord qualities because:

  • A-7 has the same notes as C6
  • Aø has the same notes as C-6

So that covers off four chord qualities right away. If you are wondering about maj7 and m(maj7) chords, these are covered by their respective major and minor 6 chords with borrowed notes, explained elsewhere.

Of the other needed different chord qualities generally used in jazz, this just leaves dominant 7 and diminished 7 chords:

  • C-6 can sound like a rootless F7 with a natural (unaltered) 9th.
  • C-6 can sound like a rootless B7 with b9 and b13. A sort of “B7 alt”.
  • Diminished chords can be used either for diminished chords themselves or to represent rootless 7b9 chords (eg G#o7 sounds like E7b9.

Drop-2 voicing

Notice that Shearing is mostly using drop-2 voicing (close position voicing with the second from the top voice dropped down an octave). This gives a fuller, more pianistic sound and it makes the great voice leading between the chords easier to hear.

Connecting with diminished chords to make scales

Shearing is using the well-known technique of inserting dim7 chords between the chord inversions to allow scalar movement of melodies.

When we combine a 6th chord with a dim7 chord a semitone below, we get a 6/dim scale, as Barry Harris calls it. Eg C6 and Bdim7 combine to give the C6/dim scale, sometimes called the C major bebop scale. It’s the same as C major but with one extra note (Ab).

The “target chords” are on the main beats (1 and 3); the dim7 chords are on the weak beats (2 and 4).

The Bdim7 sounds like a rootless G7b9 which is chord V of C6. So, as we play chords up the scale, we hear I V I V I V I V I. Barry Harris calls this “movements”; you can move chords within this scale and the harmony stays the same (V + I).

As an easy way to remember which dim7 chord to add, it is the one a semitone below the root of the target chord. This guarantees the strong leading note voice leading that is required for the V I sound.

Notice how the exact same notes also works for A-7 as explained above. And this goes some way to explain the extremely close relationship between the major and its relative minor.

If the chords being connected are not sixth chords, dim7 chords can still connect them:

  • Dominant 7 inversions can be connected with dim 7 chords. This results in the bebop dominant scale. See bar 3 below.
  • Finally, even dim 7 chords can be connected with dim 7 chords. This results in the diminished scale. See bar 7 below for an example.


A common bebop melodic device is known as enclosure. It turns out that this is easy to do in drop-2 voicing of scalar melodies moving downwards when playing the dim7 chords in between the target chords. See the enclosure exercise below.

The melody moves D down to C. By inserting a B in between, the target note, C becomes enclosed by D and B, the notes immediately above and below in the 6/dim scale. It fits nicely under the fingers and gives a nice Shearing ‘lollop’. Go back and listen to the recording and see if you can spot where he is playing these enclosures in his melody.

Applying these techniques

Here is my arrangement of the first eight bars of Fly Me To The Moon. Remember, this is meant to be in the style of George Shearing, so it is not going to sound like contemporary jazz. I have written the rhythm of the melody as straight crotchets. Obviously, you can add more swinging rhythms such as starting one half-beat early so as to land on 4&, rather than squarely on beat 1. I did not do that in the notation, because it makes it harder to read and write!

Let’s take four bars at a time:

  • Bar 1: A-7 uses the C6/dim scale. The C6 represents A-7. The G#dim7 represents a rootless E7b9. I’ve added an enclosure in the pickup bar.
  • Bar 2: D-7 is represented by the F6/dim scale. Again, enclosure is used in the last beat of bar 1 using the C#dim7 which represent the secondary dominant, A7b9, which propels us to D-7.
  • Bar 3: G7 is represented by the G7/dim scale. Therefore the pick-up is an F#dim7 enclosure representing D7b9. Notice that the melody of bar 3 does not allow G7b9 until the last beat of the bar. But that is ok because …
  • Bar 4: C6 has a pickup of Bdim7 enclosure representing G7b9.
  • Bar 5: F6 is represented by the F6/dim scale with a pickup enclosure of Edim7 representing C7b9.
  • Bar 6: Bø is represented by D-6/dim scale with a pickup enclosure of A#dim7 representing F#7b9.
  • Bar 7: this bar is E7b9 as V7 of A-6. As usual the pickup enclosure is chord V7 of the target E chord which is B7b9 represented by D#dim7. For the bar itself, I decided to use the “double diminished” scale G#dim7/Gdim7 giving us C#, the natural 13 on the E7b9 chord. This bar is the only place in the melody so far that is not scalar movement. The G# moves down the F. That is a minor third and requires drop-2 G#dim7 inversions for both with no other chord in between.
  • Bar 8: I decided to tonicise the A- chord and so used A-6/dim scale. Therefore the pick-up enclosure is G#dim7 representing E7b9 (which the preceding bar was anyway).

What and how to practice

Remember, these drop-2 scales and voicings are a lot easier to play than they are to read (or write for that matter). I suggest practicing in stages:

  • Learn to play the target 6th chord in all inversions (so you know the notes)
  • Learn to play that in drop-2 voicings all across the useful range of the keyboard.
  • Learn the dim7 chord in the same manner. Remember it is built from a semitone below the root of the target chord.
  • Put the two chords together using the appropriate bebop scales and play them in drop-2 across the useful range of the keyboard.
  • Consider adding enclosures. Perhaps just targeting beat 1 of the bar. Practice until you can add them spontaneously as you move down the the voiced scale.
  • Practice moving through a chord progression playing down a scale for the first chord and up the scale for the next (this stops you going too high or low). No more than one chord per bar. Use a (secondary) dominant enclosure the propel you into the chord change. Just like the melody of Fly Me Too The Moon. See below for this idea applied to the Autumn Leaves progression. .

Practice using authentic swing rhythms. Listen to the Count Basie band playing Fly Me To The Moon and try and phrase your drop-2s like them. Bill Miller was Sinatra’s pianist for years and you can hear him (not Basie) playing the introduction to this song. He plays drop-2 voicings and he plays A-6 at the top of the song, not A-7.

For more check out my link tree:

Harmony Jazz Books Jazz Theory Keys reharmonisation

Minor harmony and Modal Interchange like Tord Gustavsen

I thought it would be interesting to talk about minor harmony and Modal Interchange and see how Tord Gustavsen used it in his composition Where Breathing Starts. It was originally recorded by the trio in 2003. This was Gustavsen’s debut album with the ECM label. There is a duo version with Ulrich Drechsler on clarinet from 2006.

This article considers how minor harmony is approached in jazz with reference to some of the standard texts on the subject. It is really interesting to see how the way jazz musicians think about minor harmony has changed since the 1950s.

The ECM label is based in Germany and is famous for jazz recordings with European and classical music influences featuring such artists as Keith Jarrett, Jan Garbarek, Eberhard Weber and Kenny Wheeler.

It is interesting to notice that the voicings found in this transcription are almost exclusively classical tertiary voicings (built in thirds) with inversions, rather than the typical voicings found in jazz piano from the US discussed in the article about Kenny Barron.

Other classical features of the arrangement include the use of bass lines featuring chord inversions and Mozart-style ‘Alberti bass’ lefthand arranging (see end of second A section).

This song is a tango. Tangos are usually in two sections which each repeat. The form here is AABB (16-16-16-16). The A sections are in C minor. The B sections are in C major.

What is Modal Interchange?

There are a number of terms for this concept which mean the same thing:

  • Modal interchange
  • Modal mixture
  • Modal borrowing

You may well be familiar with the idea of using several source scales to generate the chords used from jazz tunes in minor key harmony. Nettles and Graf as well as Mulholland and Hojnacki point out that minor tunes routinely use chords from:

  • Natural minor (Aeolian)
  • Harmonic minor
  • Melodic minor
  • Dorian minor (the second mode of the major scale)

They call it ‘Dorian minor’ because it is a mode of the major scale which happens to have a minor third. Other minor modes would be Phrygian, Aeolian (the natural minor we already have) and Locrian. ‘Major modes’ are Ionian (the major scale), Lydian and Mixolydian. These last two can all be used as source scales for chords.

Unlike major tunes, minor tunes are rarely diatonic to just one scale. For this reason, some think of the combinations of these 7-note source scales into a single 9-note source scale for minor tunes. The first five notes are the same anyway, for the sixth and seventh degrees we have both major and minor (6 and 7). This amounts to the full Melodic Minor scales in its classical ascending and descending forms combined).

In 1959, Mehegan said almost all jazz tunes are in major keys and that only five or six begin and end the minor. He goes on to say that minor-key jazz had ‘evolved’ to use melodic minor (ascending) to preserve the conventional bass lines familiar from major keys (eg I VI II V), while using the harmonic minor for the inner notes of the chords. Resulting in just seven available chords for C minor:

  • C-maj7
  • Eb+maj7
  • F-7
  • G7(b9, b13)
  • Bo7

A short, but useful list. And pretty much all we need for the minor parts of Gustavsen’s tune. But not quite complete enough for all contemporary minor jazz. For example, no C-7, F7#11, Abmaj7 or Bb7.

Dave Berkman points out that the vast majority of minor harmony chords are derived from the first three source scales above. And it is true that the only additional chord that Dorian provides is bVIImaj7 (Bbmaj7) because none of the other three scales has both Bb and A present at the same time. His list of most common minor chords is somewhat longer than Mehegan’s:

  • C-6, C-maj7, C-7
  • Ebmaj7
  • F-7
  • G7b9b13
  • Abmaj7, Ab7
  • Bbmaj7, Bb7
  • Bo7

Notice that there is no B7alt on the list. This is supposed to be derived from the seventh degree C melodic (ascending) minor, and yet cannot be found by stacking thirds. Mark Levine attributes this to the limitations of traditional music theory and goes on to choose the fourth note as the third of the chord.

Jack Reilly takes a simpler approach by simply using the melodic minor ascending and descending, he derives a 9-note source scale from which all parallel minor chords can be constructed. Mulholland and Hojnacki also go on to do this calling it a composite scale combining their four into one. They also point out that there is also the Phrygian minor mode to consider if you want to justify chords containing the note b2 or Db such as Dbmaj7 when in C.

Interestingly, Mark Levine’s books only consider harmony derived from major modes and Melodic Minor (ascending). Unlike the other authors, he gives no special consideration to the harmony of minor tunes in general and how they tend to behave differently from major tunes. He effectively excludes the harmonic minor without which it is not possible to explain a traditional minor II V progression. His books are excellent in many areas, but this seems like a significant omission to me. He also makes no mention of the concept of modal interchange, not even in his chapters on reharmonisation.

I’ll aim to keep it simple by talking only about chord source scales rooted in C. The relative minor of Eb major is C minor. The natural minor is the Aeolian mode of Eb major starting on C. Because the scale contains the same notes as Eb major, and chords derive from scales, they share the same chords. But if C minor is to function harmonically as a key, we need its V chord to be a dominant seventh to provide the expected tension and release of a V I cadence. The chord on G is actually G-7. The solution is to change the mode by raising Bb to B to give us a G7 chord. This mode is called the harmonic minor and we routinely borrow this version of chord V when creating minor harmony.

That raised B natural also gives rise to a full B dim 7 chord on degree VII. So, when in the key of C major and we use B dim 7 to represent G7b9, we can consider that we are borrowing chords from C harmonic minor. This is called modal interchange (borrowing or mixture).

So, it is common to see modal interchange in both major and minor keys. And this is what we will see when we analyse this song. But some take the view that it is only called modal interchange when it is the major key borrowing because minor does it all the time.

It is important to understand that these chords from other source scales are not just parachuted in without care. Voice leading is crucial to making good music. When we listen the Tor Gustavsen play this track he makes much of the movement, say from G on a C chord to the Ab on a minor subdominant chord.

A section

Listen again ➡️to the recording⬅️.

The A section is predominantly in C minor. As explained, minor harmony already draws on a wider choice of chords than does major because of the 9-note combined source scale commonly used. The transcription in this article shows the piano part above the double bass part.

The chords of interest in this section are:

  • Bars 3 and 6: G7susb9. It is voiced as F-6 or Dø over G, a slash chord.
  • Bar 11: Eb+maj7. The #5 is the B. This chord can be considered to have a source scale of either of C harmonic or melodic minors. In the recording, it is voiced as a G triad over Eb in the bass—a slash-chord voicing.
  • Bar 12: the B resolves to the usual Bb, making the chord Ebmaj7, but we do not hear a modulation to the relative major because this occurs in a weak place of harmonic rhythm. You can view this chord having the natural minor (Aeolian) as its source scale.
  • Second time bar: F and unaltered G7 are both borrowed from C major (aka the Ionian mode) hinting at the change of key to C major to come in the B section.
  • However, the G+7 and C- chords bring us back to C minor to complete the A section.

B section

Listen again ➡️to the recording⬅️.

Without preparation, the B section starts out in C major, the parallel major to the A section’s C minor. It really feels like the sun just came out.

Notice that the C major chords at the beginning of the B section are voiced as C triads with added 9th. There are no 6ths and no major 7ths. It’s a more modern sound than many jazz players use. Almost like something out of pop music.

Modal interchange chords of interest include:

  • Bars 2 and 4: A minor subdominant chord is borrowed from C minor and played over a C pedal. It can be viewed as F-/C or Dø/C.
  • Bar 9: F#ø. This chord has an E natural but does not naturally occur in C major. It is borrowed from the C Lydian mode.
  • Bar 10: Fo7. This symmetrical chord functions as a Bo7/F representing G7b9 and is borrowed from C harmonic minor as already mentioned.
  • Bar 11: The Bo7/F voiceleads perfectly to C/E confirming that we are still in C major.
  • Bar 12: But then the tonic chord itself has its bass lowered to become C-/Eb signalling that we are back in C minor without any warning. The sun went behind a cloud.
  • The final four bars of the first time ending are a slow minor II V confirming the return to C minor just in time to set up the surprise opening of the B section in C major on the repeat when the sun comes out again.

In those last two bars of the first time through the B section, Gustavsen allows himself a small improvised break (not shown in the transcription) which he had not done up to this point.

Listen again ➡️to the recording⬅️.

So far the B section has been about contrasting C major and its parallel minor. The genius of this composition is revealed in the second time through the B section where the relative minor (A) is also explored. The transcription below start with bar 5 because bars 1-4 are the same as the first time above:

  • Bars 6-7: a V I cadence to A minor is introduced.
  • Bar 9: F#ø same as the first time, unless we want to consider Am as a newly-established key (see below).
  • Bar 10: this time the symmetrical Fo7 acts like a pivot chord and this time represents E7b9 to get us back to A minor rather than the G7b9 going to C major the first time.
  • Bar 13: A minor has been established so I analyse the F#ø as being borrowed from A melodic minor. We see Fmaj7 which is borrowed from A natural minor (Aeolian).
  • Bars 14-15: V I cadence to A minor as a very different second-time ending to the B section.
  • Bar 16: The original A section theme pick-up begins again in C minor to allow the form to repeat. The jump from A minor back to C minor is unprepared and quite a shock if you don’t realise to where you have been led.

Perhaps listen again ➡️to the recording⬅️.

If you have enjoyed this article, check out my others and let me know. If you have found the insights useful, donations are always welcome. Or consider purchasing my book which analyses 230 jazz standards and distils the common harmonic features. All the links are in my link tree: ➡️⬅️.

Further reading

Mehegan, J, Jazz Improvisation, vol 1, Watson-Guptil, 1959.

Mulholland, J and Hojnacki, T, The Berklee Book of Jazz Harmony, Berklee Press, 2013.

Levine, M, The Jazz Theory Book, Sher Music, 1995.

Nettles, B and Graf, R, The Chord Scale Theory and Jazz Harmony, Advance Music, 1997.

Reilly, J, The Harmony of Bill Evans, vol 2, Hal Leonard, 2010.

Barry Harris Bill Evans block chords Comping Jazz Books Kenny Barron Practice Routine

Voicings like Kenny Barron

As a jazz pianist, how to voice chords is a tricky question. It applies to both playing melodies and when comping for others. This article makes a survey of common practice in modern jazz piano and illustrates using a Kenny Barron arrangement of a Benny Carter tune, The Courtship. All of these voicings can also be used for arranging horn sections in bigger bands.

A list of suggested further reading is provided at the end of this article.

The Courtship

Benny Carter recorded this tune in the 1970s, it is not very widely played. ➡️I made a playlist of the few versions I could find. ⬅️

The Kenny Barron trio version was recorded in the 1990s and grabbed my ear enough to make me want to transcribe it for playing in my trio, along with his song Calypso and his arrangement of Love for Sale. I use my transcription of this arrangement to illustrate how the voicings discussed in this article are used in the real world.

The form is AABC (8-8-8-12). The key is Eb.

How to sound good

The challenge with voicings on the piano is that there are many possible choices when distributing the notes of the chord across the keyboard. Only some of the possible combinations will be playable by a human with average size hands and numbers of fingers. Of this subset, only some will sound good. And of this second subset, only some will work with whatever else is being played at the same time.

Obviously, what is considered to sound “good” is in the ear of the beholder, but some tactics are needed for the aspiring jazz pianist to be able to provide voicings in demand. Therefore, part of the solution is to learn standard ways of voicing chords that can be practised until they can be played on demand.

An additional demand of sounding good is moving smoothly from one chord voicing to the next. A resulting rule of minimal movement between chords makes both the performer’s life easier and the listener’s experience more enjoyable.

The basic voicings

The first thing to learn is to play all the basic 4-note chords in “close position” (i.e. as close as possible, no gaps) all over the keyboard. This ensures that you know their notes and gives you an essential voicing as was used in early jazz piano before considering extension beyond the 6th or 7th.

John Mehegan talks about the 60-chord system, because he considers five basic seventh chord qualities:

  • Major
  • Minor
  • Dominant
  • Half diminished
  • Diminished

Why 60? Because 60 = 5 qualities x 12 keys.

By contrast, Santisi considers there to be seven basic chords (he adds major and minor 6), leading to an 84-chord system to practice (84 = 7 x 12).

When voicing a melody, voice the chord in an inversion immediately below the melody note. If the melody is not a chord tone, skip a chord tone below before adding the close position voicing so as to avoid too much dissonance with the melody.

Next you should learn to do the same, but in “drop 2”. This is just close position with the second voice from the top played an octave lower. A potentially more pianistic voicing and a bigger sound but requiring two hands to play.

Both of these two basic voicings can lead you off in the direction of “block chord” voicings as discussed in many other articles on this blog. The world of Barry Harris lies in that direction, based on the “6th-diminished” or bebop scales voiced as 6th chords alternating with the diminished chord representing the dominant 7b9.

If you play close-position voicings in the right hand and double the top voice in the left hand, this is sometimes referred to as “locked hands”. We saw Bill Evans do this in Laura. Some think it old fashioned, but it is a very useful technique.

Other “drop” voicings are possible including drop-3, drop-4 and drop-2&4. But these are less easy to use and therefor less common for jazz piano than drop-2. For example, drop-3 can lead to intervals of a second at the top of the chord, making it less stable and in the way of the melody.

Slash chords

A whole world of extra chord voicings can be accessed by putting one of the 60 seventh chords over an alternative bass note. These are sometimes notated as “slash chords” so called because of the slash between the bass note and the upper chord.

For example, take Cmaj7 (C E G B) and add new roots to create 5-note voicings for:

  • Cmaj7/A = A-9
  • Cmaj7/F = Fmaj9(#11)
  • Cmaj7/D = D13sus
  • Cmaj7/B = Bsus(b9, b13)
  • Cmaj7/F# = F#7sus(b9, #11)

This is described well by Bill Dobbins. He makes most of his book out of this idea.

Left hand voicings

Ever since Mehegan’s books in 1959 people have talked about (rootless) left hand voicing used by pianists to comp for themselves. They are modelled on some of the voicings that Bill Evans and others such as Wynton Kelly used. Many beginners are told that memorise these voicings as the minimum requirement to sound like a modern jazz pianist. But few teach where they come from.

Santisi explains that, depending on the chord quality, you can substitute some voices in the basic seventh chords such as:

  • 9 for root
  • Maj 7 for 6
  • 13 or #11 for 5
  • Etc

Each chord type (quality) has standard common voice substitutions which enhance the sound without changing the chord’s identity.

This is an alternative and broader view to Barry Harris’s notion of “borrowing from the diminished side” which is limited to the particular extensions that happen to be on the diminished side.

Upper structures

This is for dominant 7 chords only. The idea of this approach is to find a triad that contains the tensions needed and to use it as the upper part of your voicing. The right hand plays the triad, the left hand plays the supporting tritone of the dominant 7 chord (the bass player plays the root, if needed). Some examples:

Levine only uses major and minor triads as his upper structure triads and he focusses on just nine useful ones. Whereas Santisi includes aug and dim triads resulting in 26 available upper structure triads for each dominant chord.

Levine is more constrained and describes this voicing method as only applying to altered dominant chords. He does not include C/C7, for example, which seems to add no value. But nor does he include the useful aug and dim triads.

Mantooth is even more constrained with his upper structures. He called them “polychord fractions” and states that that upper structure is always a major triad limiting himself to just five: II, bIII, bV, VI and bVI.

The upper structure formula can be applied in various inversions so long as the tritone is on the bottom and the triad is on the top.

How do we know which to use? Well, use your ear. But there are some rules that might be useful:

  • If the chord is V in the key then all possible alterations are allowed. US VI is probably the most common.
  • If the chord is V of a target minor chord round the cycle of fifths, then use an upper structure that includes b9 or b13.
  • If the chord is not cadential (eg bII7, II7, IV7, bVI7, bVII7) use an upper structure with natural 9, natural 13 or #11. US II is probably the most common.

Fourths voicings

Sometimes called “quartal” these voicings are generally built in fourths. They still contain some thirds in order to avoid some notes that don’t sound so good.

  • On major chords we avoid the 4th degree and substitute it with the 5th. The root and 7th are used interchangeably.
  • On minor 7 chords we generally avoid the 6th degree because it clashes with the flat 7, being a semitone (or major 7) away.

One of the fourths voicings that we end up with is the one used in the original arrangement of So What (SW in the figure above). Levine calls this the SW voicing whereas Mantooth calls it the “Miracle Voicing”. This is because it can be used for a variety of functions. The chord built from the bottom upwards as E A D G B can function as:

  • Cmaj9
  • Fmaj7#4 (Lydian)
  • G69
  • E-7
  • A7sus

Of course, this special voicing has its own inversions. Five notes means five possible inversions if we include the original. The five notes form a pentatonic scale: G, A, B, D, E. The voicings are constructed by taking every other note from that scale. If you know what note you want in the top, you can build down from the scale taking alternate notes. Say, from the top down: E, B, G, D, A.

All contain a third (shown above with the brace) except one which is all fourths. So, you can see, it is just a fourths voicing really. This helps to explain why fourth voicings sometimes contain a third without detracting from the quartal sound.

Putting it into practice

Now we have reviewed some of the voicing options, let’s see how Kenny Barron puts them into action on The Courtship. My transcription only shows what the piano is playing. Often times the double bass is providing the chord roots.

Generally, only important melody notes are harmonised with voicings— this is not block chording where the whole melody is voiced.

The first four bars of the A section are shown above and can be analysed for voicings as follows:

  • Bar 1: F-7 as a drop 2 voicing. This is comping—it is not part of the melody. The melody fills the rest of the bar as a single line.
  • Bar 2: F-9 as a rootless drop 2 voicing of Abmaj7. Bb7b9 as an upper structure.
  • Bar 3: Eb69 as a fourths voicing. Notice how good the II V I cadence sounds using these three different voicings.
  • Bar 3: Ab7#11 as an upper structure.
  • Bar 4: G-7 as drop 2. C7b9 as Edim7 in drop 2. The Bb is raised a tone for the melody as can always be done with diminished chords while remaining within the same diminished scale.

He uses slash chords at the beginning of the bridge (see below).

  • Bar 1: G-7 becomes C7sus as the bass note moves from G to C and the voicing remains the same.
  • Bar 2: G-6 is used to represent C9 as the bass moves down through Bb towards A.
  • Bar 3: Cmaj7 is used over A played by the bass to represent A-9.

The end of bar 3 there is a chromatic approach chord added, A7, before the Ab-6 in bar 4. Both are voiced as close position with the melody doubled in the bass (locked hands).

The C section is like an A section extended by a tag, played every time.

  • Bar 4 has a dominant approach chord of Gb7. Similarly bar 6 has an Ab7 approach chord.
  • Bar 8 has the two upper structures played in succession which represent C7alt. These are US bV and bVI.
  • Bars 9 and 10 have slash chords. F-7 and Bb7sus are both simply voiced as Cm triads as the bass changes. Then Bb7sus(b9) is voiced as Abm/Bb.
  • The D7alt at bar 11 feels like Ebdim7 substitute for the expected Eb6 chord. The bass is D but the voicing could be interpreted as Ebdim7/D.

For more check out my link tree:

Further reading

These are the books cited in this article.

Mehegan, J, Jazz Improvisation, vols 1-4, Watson-Guptil, 1959.

Aebersold, J, Transcribed Piano Voicings (comping to vol 1), 1980. This book is a transcription of the comping voicings which Jamie played on his first play-along record.

Mantooth, F, Voicings for Jazz Keyboard, Hal Leonard, 1986.

Levine, M, The Jazz Piano Book, Sher Music, 1989.

Ray Santisi, Beeklee Jazz Piano, Berklee Press, 1993.

Dobbins, B, A Creative Approach to Jazz Piano Harmony, Advance Music, 1994.

Levine, M, How to Voice Standards at the Piano: The Menu, Sher Music, 2014.

Fats Waller Harmony Jazz Theory reharmonisation Standards

The Misbehavin’ Bridge

Ain’t Misbehavin was written in 1929. The words are by Andy Razaf and the music is attributed to both Fats Waller and Harry Brooks, though Brooks was the arranger for the show (Hot Feet/Connie’s Hot Chocolates), so it is not clear how involved he was in the invention of the song. Here’s my playlist.

The song has an interesting bridge and that will be the focus of this article.

History is mostly fake news; there are several contradictory accounts about how the song was written, a couple saying that the song was created by Waller and Razaf in less than an hour. One saying that Waller wrote it in jail over a few days in order to pay his alimony.

There is another story by Harry Brooks that when Ain’t Misbehavin’ was written, the composers were trying to emulate the Gershwin hit, The Man I Love (1924). Here’s a playlist if you don’t know that Gershwin tune.

There are various reasons that Misbehavin’ might be considered to be derived from Man I Love:

  • The melody starts with the same rhythm (quaver rest and then a string of quavers).
  • The bridge starts in the relative minor (sort of, see below).
  • Both have a segment of harmonic progression which is achieved by the movement of inner parts sometimes referred to by the critics of the day as “shifting harmonies”.

‘Shifting harmonies

In the Man I Love, the shifting harmonies are in the A section. There is a very long chromatically descending guidetone line starting on G (the third of Eb6) in bar 1 and descending all the way to D, the third of Bb7 in bar 6. By the time we reach the Gø chord, we are in the seventh (F) and the descending line becomes the conventional one of 7-3-7-3 that we expect from II V chords round the cycle of fifths. Gershwin uses the line to bind the harmonies together while using standard jazz harmonies where possible leading to a pretty conventional harmonic result.

In Ain’t Misbehavin’, it happens at the bridge. A guidetone line ascends chromatically from G (the fifth of C-) to Bb (the seventh of C7).

There is also a potential descending line here: G, Gb, F, E. Which Gershwin did not have. However, the chord progression is not a well-known cliche and therefore potentially more tricky for soloists to navigate.

It is as though the composer(s) took the melody plus two contrary motion guidetone lines and asked “what chords fit that?” In the figure above, the melody notes are in black and the two guidetone lines are shown as whole notes.

Bridge in the relative minor?

These songs are both in Eb major. The relative minor is Cm.

The bridge of The Man I Love is very clearly in Cm as the chords are Cm turnarounds until bridge modulates back to Eb at the end. Clear, simple and easy to remember in a key-independent manner.

Here is the bridge of Ain’t Misbehavin’:

Notice that these are the actual roots played on the original Fats Waller recording. There is no pedal C through the first four bars. It starts on a C- chord, but there are no cadences to confirm the key, which is usually the definition of a genuine modulation, rather than a transitory one.

The most common keys for bridges of jazz standards are IV (Ab) and V (Bb), because these are the closest keys to the key of the piece (Eb). There are no cadences in Ab but the second half is in Bb, temporarily, before the cycle of dominants back to Eb for the final A Section. So that makes sense.

Other songs I can think of that turnaround in key V include Embraceable You (bars 5 and 6 of the B section).

But what to make of the first half of the bridge?

Harmonic cliché

As discussed in another article, it is important that jazz chord progressions use harmonic clichés if they are to be easily memorised and played in any key. And this is what most jazz standards do.

Here is the roadmap from my book, Insights In Jazz, for Ain’t Misbehavin’ showing the changes that jazz musicians might generally use:

It shows the song chord progression in Eb and then it divides it into ‘Bricks’ which are often seen and labels them:

  • POT: Plain Old Turnaround
  • Long Cadence: III VIx II V I
  • Orange colouring is used to show dominant chords where they might not be commonly expected.
  • Etc.

You can see that most of the song is trivial. If you know the common bricks of harmony, you can memorise the chords in minutes.

But back to the first half of the bridge? The problem is that this part of the song harmony is non-functional, making it hard to analyse.

Back in 2009 when I wanted to map out this tune in a key-independent way for memorising it. It is important to relate to things you have seen before. Here are some ideas:

  • I use a template of On-off-off-on to help me through these four bars. It starts at home in Cm (‘On’)
  • It goes ‘Off’ to Ab7 which is bVI7. This is the ‘Nowhere chord’ which we see in the major keg in the song ‘Out of Nowhere’. Or borrowed from C Locrian in terms of modal interchange (MI). We’ve seen this move before in a minor key in the Pink Panther theme.
  • Next it goes ‘Off’ again to F7 which is IV7. A common place to go, and is a chord from C melodic minor if we want to think in terms of MI.
  • Finally, it returns home to C, but instead of Cm we have C7 as a surprise. Or borrowed from C Mixolydian in terms of MI.

When memorising songs like this, it is important to pick whatever works for you. Find whatever works for you and stick with it.

Also, remember the advice ‘let the melody be your guide’. In the case of this bridge, we have the actual melody (‘like Jack Horner …’) and we also have two guidetone lines to belp us find the chords. Let’s try in the key of C:

  • The bridge starts on the relative minor = A-
  • The guidetone starts in its 5th = E. the Jack Horner melody is a constant C and A.
  • Guidetones become F and Eb (+ C & A) => F7
  • Next guidetones become F# and D (+ C & A) => D7
  • Finally back to A7 as the melody moves to C#. Simples.

Perhaps it is no wonder these four bars are sometimes simplified for modern jazz performances. Mark Levine has the following in his Jazz Theory book. He suggested C Aeolian on the second bar which, of course, would not fit the original Ab7.

For more, such as which other jazz standards use On-off-on templates, check out my book, Insights in Jazz, in my link tree/

Harmony memorising Oscar Peterson Standards

Oscar and the blues form

One of my favourite Oscar Peterson videos is C Jam Blues in Denmark in 1964 with Ray Brown on bass and Ed Thigpen on drums. This article links to specific parts of this video to illustrate each point.

It’s tremendous swinging playing, as you might expect. But when you start to dig, there is so much more. The tune is an old Ellington blues jam tune of no particular merit except that it gets the blues changes ticking over to allow the band to take solos.

He got history

Peterson had recorded C Jam Blues before. Probably the one most have heard is on the classic Night Train album from 1963, the year before the Denmark video. This is where he introduced the 4-bar breaks into the arrangement described below. But the track only lasts 3.5 minutes whereas in Denmark, they stretch out for nine!

There is a live jam session recording from 1967 with the Peterson trio but, nothing unusual about this, apart from the front line sound like they just got out of bed (Coleman Hawkins, Benny Carter, Johnny Hodges). The young (27) Peterson quartet also recorded it in 1952, but as a kind of novelty boogie-woogie number. The song form is straightforward on both of those recordings: 12-bar blues all the way.

The jazz blues form

The blues is traditionally a 12-bar form and the jazz blues chords have become standardised as something like this:

This notation for analysis is explained in another article. Peterson often plays the II chord at bar 9 as a dominant 7 (D7). Some would analyse this as V/V but it is really still functioning as Pre-Dominant. In the same way, bar 1 may be C7 but it is both tonic and V/IV. This is the blues. Not all classical harmony analysis applies.

What cannot be denied is that there are chains of dominant 7 chords round the cycle of fifths which propel strongly from one to the next. This is what the arrows are showing.

Add into the mix the fact that F#o7 sounds like D7b9 and C7/G sounds like G-6, we have two more potential arrows propelling is forward from bars 2-3 and 6-7. Peterson makes the most of this in his solo choruses (see below under That Gospel Thing.

Odd form

The original Ellington arrangement added an extra 4-bar break for each new soloist at the beginning of their solo. Peterson did something similar but different with the song form on his Night Train album recording of C Jam Blues. After the head he added an extra four bars at the beginning of each chorus where the band stops and he takes solo breaks showing off his incredible blues-lickery skills.

What is unusual about these breaks is the that they are additional four to the 12-bar form, rather than just taking a solo break in the first four bars and the band rejoining for the last eight bars. This makes the choruses temporarily 16 bars long.

He does this after the head and for a few choruses before reverting to the usual 12-bar choruses and finally finishing with twice through the head.

Money up front

In the Denmark video, this distortion of form is even more extreme than in the Night Train recording. He plays a solo introduction which is all in 8-bar sections. The eight bars of chord progression that he chooses to use are the last eight of the blues progression. What Conrad Cork in his Harmony with LEGO Bricks called the Pennies Ending after the fact that these chords are the last eight bars of Pennies From Heaven. An incredibly useful family of bricks to know since they occur in many jazz standards from Bill Bailey to I Fall In Love Too Easily.

Watch and listen to the video from 0:25.

After setting the tempo with repeated C notes, he starts his intro repeating the 8-bar Pennies Ending form with single line lefthand bass line and mostly single line right hand. Bass and drums are mostly tacet, tapping along with their fingers on their instruments digging Peterson’s deep groove.

He plays the Pennies Ending four times before reverting to the full 12-bar blues form and taking 7 solo piano choruses before signalling the band to join for the head.

That Gospel thing

Watch and listen to the video from 1:45.

During his solo piano blues choruses he does an interesting reharm in bars 3 and 4. The rising bass line from the start of the chorus (C E F F# G …) continues to rise (G# A) before tumbling chromatically down (Ab G Gb) to the expected F landmark at bar 5.

The implied chords for each bar are:

  1. C7 Eo7
  2. F7 F#o7
  3. G-6 G#o7
  4. A-7 Ab7 G-7 Gb7
  5. F7.

As usual, the diminished 7 chords can all be thought of as dominant 7 b9 chords with missing roots.

The G-6 is really C7/G. The additional move using G#o to get to A-7, the relative minor, has a real Gospel music sound and was one of Peterson’s favourites.

Give us a break!

So, in the Denmark video the form of the performance so far is:

  • 8 bars of solo piano repeated C notes to set the tempo and groove
  • 8-bar Pennies Ending x4
  • (1:02) 12-bar blues solo piano x7
  • (2:37) 12-bar head (tune with full band) x2
  • 16-bar solo choruses (made up of 4-bar break and 12-bar blues)
  • 12-bar blues solo choruses

Surely that is enough? Head twice more and out, right? Wrong.

Swedish blues

It may seem a bit odd for Denmark, but Peterson signals the band again and they switch to the “Swedish Blues” changes used by Charlie Parker on his recordings in Sweden in 1951, such as Blues for Alice. Some also call these the Parker Blues changes.

See this marvellous moment for yourself on the video at 4:57. I’d love to know what Peterson said to the Ray Brown to signal the change. “Parker”? “Swedish”? “Here we go”? “Mine’s a schnapps”? Who knows.

Block chords are us

Peterson reverts to the regular blues changes and plays a few choruses of rhythmic block chord figures like a big band arranger might write, giving Thigpen something predictable to phrase with as he does perfectly.

Twice through the 12-bar head to end as expected. I don’t know why the audience start clapping before the end. Perhaps they were lost? (8:44).

Comedy video

Somebody has made an edited version of the Denmark video which lasts one hour. After the head is played for the first time, a clever edit is made to repeat a few bars for the rest of the hour and then tag the original ending on. One to play to those who claim all jazz sounds the same.

For more, such as which other jazz standards use the Pennies Ending, check out my book, Insights in Jazz, in my link tree:

Jazz Books memorising Practice Routine

Thanks for the memories

We are all just a bundle of habits shaped by our memories. And, to the extent that we control our lives, we do so by gradually changing those habits, which is to say the network of our memory. No lasting work of art was ever created by an external memory.

Joshua Foer

In 2007 I read a book about memorising jazz chord progressions by breaking them down into manageable ‘chunks’ and noticing how they join together to make a song. It is no exaggeration to say it changed my life.

In 2011 I read a book by Joshua Foer about techniques used by memory experts called ‘Moonwalking with Einstein’. None of it was about musicians, but it helped me understand why the impact of memorising jazz standards was so great.

For more check out my link tree/ Donations are optional but very welcome if you are able.

Reading, writing and some arithmetic

The life-changing book I read in 2007 was ‘Harmony with LEGO Bricks’ by Conrad Cork. In 2008 I worked with the author produce the final version of his book before he retired. The book contains very interesting discussions about how badly jazz has been taught by music schools with classical music traditions and how this can be improved.

But what interested me most of all were the chapters about memorising chord progressions. Cork’s book was a real path finder originally published in 1985, more than 10 year’s before books by David Baker and Jerry Coker about how to memorise tunes.

In 2008 I landed a jazz piano trio gig with a bass player who seemed to be able to play any song in any key. I felt ashamed and very limited by the real books that I carried along to the gigs. So I set to work applying what I had learned in the ‘LEGO book’ to a bunch of jazz standards and making myself play them on the gig without music and in various keys.

I found that in applying the LEGO method that various extensions were needed to accommodate the chord progression I found in the songs I chose. Cork’s book only had space to analyse a couple of dozen songs.

My day job was as a technical consultant, my degrees being in Computer Science and Electronics. I naturally found it easiest to build visual roadmaps for each song in a workbook of spreadsheets. After I had over 200 songs analysed, I realised that this work might be of interest to others. Though it had not been my original intention, I decided, with Cork’s enthusiastic encouragement, to write a book about the extended method and include the memorisation roadmaps. My book, Insights In Jazz, was published in 2009. I make it available as a PDF which has the advantage of being electronically searchable. Once you know what progression you want to learn, you can find in which standards it occurs.

Since his retirement, Cork’s book is increasingly difficult to get hold of. I made sure that my book stands alone without the reader needing Cork’s book to understand the approach. There are free podcasts about the method and there is also a Google Group where members can discuss and share their efforts in applying the method.

The fact that I had used spreadsheets meant that I was able to perform some simple statistical analysis on the jazz standard chord progressions I had analysed to reveal some interesting observations such as:

  • What are the most common song forms? (AABA 50%; ABAC 25%)
  • What are the most useful chunks of LEGO bricks to learn first for most rapid payback?
  • What are the most common joins between bricks, what do they achieve and where do they occur in song forms?

The process really helped me develop in confidence and ability as a jazz pianist. The jazz piano trio gig residency I was lucky enough to land in 2008 ran for 12 years until the global pandemic stopped live music in 2020.

The remainder of this article is about the how the techniques of memory experts described in Foer’s book can be applied to playing jazz.

Chunky monkey

Memory experts refer to what they call ‘chunking’: reducing the number of things to remember by increasing the size of them.

  • Contrafacts. Does this song use the chords of a song you already know? Or perhaps at least the bridge is borrowed from I Got Rhythm?
  • Song Form. Is it AABA or ABAC or something else? The As are the same so only need to be learned once.
  • Families of progressions: You will have heard of cadences (such as ‘II V I’) and turnarounds. These are families of chord progression which are functionally similar and can therefore be used to substitute each other.

Memorising at a glance

Chess experts are able to memorise positions of all the pieces in a game at a glance. This is because they know what combinations of pieces arise and what to expect. They have seen most if it many times before. It is the same for a jazz master. They can memorise at a glance a new jazz standard chord progression because they have seen most if it before and they just need to spot the unique hooks that make the song special.

For this same reason, chess masters can reconstruct long-ago games from memory. Jazz masters can do the same with songs they have not played in a long time. They just recall the hooks.

Studies have shown that a chess player’s ability to memorise games is a good indicator of their level of playing. The same is true for jazz. There are no jazz masters who cannot memorise songs. There are no jazz masters who would choose to read common standards from sheet music on a gig, rather than learn it beforehand, because they know the benefits. If you are reading, half of your brain is not available for improvising.

We are not computers

The human memory works nothing like computer memory. It works by association. We are bad at recalling sequences, which looks like bad news if you want to internalise chord progressions. Many give up and rely on reading from real books and apps.

A chess master does not compute many moves ahead like a chess computer does (this is why they no longer generally beat the computers!). They recognise the position and respond intuitively. A jazz player in the middle of a song will recognise the context and intuitively know what to play.

It is not about memorising streams of chords with no understanding like a computer might be programmed to do. Masters are not especially gifted at memorising in general; it is because they are experts in the patterns that appear in their fields that they can do it. Give a jazz master a random sequence of chords and they will struggle to memorise it as much as anyone else.

Clichés are essential

Jazz is an aural tradition. When you think about, it would not be possible to memorise hundreds of songs and play them in any key if their melodies and chord progressions were not full of things we have heard before.

Expert jazz players are always relating the song they are playing to the other songs they know. They can’t help but do that. This is why they often find themselves quoting other songs in their solos. It is not something they sit at home planning to do on gigs, it is a consequence of how all the circumstances conspire.

Just the gist

In a master jazz performance, the chords actually played will be different every chorus but this is not a problem. This is because the master knows how to substitute chords without changing the underlying function of the harmony. Therefore, in terms of memorising, we need to get to the essence, just the gist.

We are good at remembering the gist. We are very bad at retaining things verbatim. It was a tonic major chord. But was it maj 7 or maj 6? I don’t remember and I don’t care. We trust our ear to help us out if needed as we go.

Understanding families of chord progressions which can substitute each other becomes very important. By contrast, players who read chord progressions on gigs are highly vulnerable to getting lost and will not be robust to other players making substitutions on the fly.

Memory Palace

Ancient orators used the idea of a memory palace to help them retain long and complex speeches without using notes. You may have seen a speaker do this; it is very impressive to watch.

The idea is that we are all know a house with rooms. We can easily imagine a tour through this house visiting each room in a particular order that makes sense to us. We place graphic mental images of the things we need to remember as we move though the rooms. The crazier the better. When we need to recall the sequence we recall the tour and our memory automatically recalls the images through association. Not only do we recall all the topics we planned to talk about, but they come in the correct order.

But is it really any more impressive than watching a master jazz musician play a set without music? The memory palace can be thought of as the melody. Let the melody be your guide. When we learn songs, we learn the melody first and then the bass line. By association, the melody takes us on a tour where we hear the roots of the chunks of chord progression.

Memory for words

Travelling bards used music to help them recall the tales they had to tell without having access the written word. Some jazz masters recommend always learning the words to the standards you play. One advantage of this is that if you are recalling the words as you play, you are much less likely to forget which A section you are on in an AABA-form song!

But other jazz masters (e.g. Bill Evans) said they never paid attention to the words.

Externalising or internalising?

The Moonwalking book says, “The proliferation of digital information at the beginning of the 21 century hastens the pace at which we externalise memories.” This is certainly true in the jazz world. I remember the time when the only real book was the illegal one and people were more likely to learn songs from the recordings of masters. If you didn’t know a song, you’d go and learn it for next week. Now it is commonplace for players to turn up to jam sessions with iRealPro on their smartphone or tablet and play songs all night which they have not internalised.

Three stages to learning a new skill

Foer asserts that there are three stages to learning a new skill:

  1. Cognitive Stage: intellectualising, discovering new strategies;
  2. Associative Stage: concentrating less, making fewer errors, being more efficient;
  3. Autonomous Stage: Running on auto-pilot, the ‘OK Plateau’.

This is certainly true for learning to play jazz standards. Stage one is realising that the only way to play jazz better is to learn many jazz standards and starting to analyse.

Stage two is spotting the commonalities and using them to more rapidly learn new songs. For example, the chord progression in the bridge in Parker’s Scrapple from the Apple is the same as that in the bridge of Gershwin’s I Got Rhythm.

Stage three is just playing. The information has been processed and is available to your subconscious but there is no time to make calculations when playing.

Will we just keep getting better and better?

The benefit of this approach to memorising songs is that the hard slog at the beginning leads to an avalanche effect and our rate of progress increases. You might find yourself learning a song a month, then one per week, then maybe a song a day. However, most people don’t keep improving rapidly. Why is this?

Foer again: “What separates experts from the rest of us is that they tend to engage in a very directed, highly focussed routine: ‘deliberate practice’ … To improve, we must watch ourselves fail and learn from our mistakes.”

There is no avoiding it. You have to be organised and do the work. Perhaps the biggest thing you can do to help yourself to keep improving is learn how to spend your practice time.

“The single best predictor of an individual’s chess skill is not the amount of chess he has played against opponents, but rather the amount of time he has spent alone working through old games.”

One way to keep yourself improving is to play faster than you are able. This will identify the areas you have not mastered and allow you to return to the conscious Stage 2 to fix them.

This is the opposite of the classical approach which increases the metronome in small increments.
Both approaches have merit since slow practice is designed to ensure good control. But sometimes you find that you just cannot increase the metronome without making mistakes (the plateau).

For more check out my link tree/ Donations are optional but very welcome if you are able.

Further reading

Elliott, J, Insights In Jazz,, 2009.

Cork, C, The New Guide to Harmony with LEGO bricks, 2008.

Foer, J, Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, Penguin, 2011.

Harmony Jazz Books Jazz Theory Keys reharmonisation

Why analyse harmony?

My introduction to functional harmony was about forty years ago when my piano teacher, Chris Norton, told me to buy Jerry Coker’s Improvising Jazz and got me transcribing the Fats Waller I was listening to rather than the Oscar Peterson which was a bit beyond me at that point.

Understanding functional harmony helps you recognise chords which helps you with transcribing, re-harmonising, composing and playing by ear. What’s not to like?

An understanding of functional harmony is gained by analysing music based on tonal harmony. This blog is a whistle-stop tour to give you an overview and hopefully peak your interest enough to go and find out more. A list of suggested further reading is supplied at the end.

For more check out my link tree/

Functional harmony

The basis for functional harmony is categorising the sound of chords within a chord progression into groups. This applies to all music based on tonal harmony which is most music from 17th century Western European music to most contemporary jazz. Western traditional harmony which, in turn, is largely based on the sounds of the chords in a major key (diatonic) and other sounds (non-diatonic) used considered as being relative to this major key.

This is important to understand. John Mehagan’s series of books from 1959 state that almost no jazz standards are actually minor songs. For example, he analyses Monk’s Round Midnight with Roman numerals from Gb and Eb major rather than Eb minor.

I’ve written about this dualism before in relation to the Pink Panther Theme.

Harmony within a key, ‘diatonic harmony,’ has three basic sound groups that the listener can learn to hear as a chord progression is played:

  • Tonic (stable, home)
  • Subdominant (less stable, away from home)
  • Dominant (very unstable, tension)

Roman numerals

Within the major key, chords are built using the major scale as roots and stacking chords in thirds. Chords are labelled according to the degree of the scale that is their root using Roman numerals: I, II, III, IV, V, VI, VII.

Knowing the correct chord qualities for each Roman numeral within the key is essential for choosing traditional chord progressions within that key. Whatever the major key, I and IV are major 7 chords, II, III and VI are minor 7 chords.

V is the only dominant 7 chord in the key. This is important as is explained under Secondary Dominants below.

VII is a minor 7 flat 5. This chord is mostly avoided, though it happens to be exactly where needed to start a II V I cadence to the relative minor (see later).

Traditionally, these are the only chords you can use if you stay within the key. The jazz harmony view of this is somewhat different, adding common re-harmonisations and substitutions.

Grouping these chords as above we get:

  • Tonic: I, III and VI
  • Dominant: V and sometimes VII
  • Subdominant: II, IV and sometimes VI.

Other analytical techniques such as Modal Interchange (see below) allow us to add non-diatonic chords to these groups. You may notice that not everyone agrees what category chords fall into. For example, Jerry Coker says that #IVdim7 is dominant. But the majority agree on how the common chords function and that gets us a long way.

Movement between the ‘sound groups’ above is the basis of harmonic progression. Chords are conventionally chosen to build up tension and then release it. This is why the II V I progression is so common in jazz; it takes us from less stable, to very unstable and finally to stable. This sequence creates tension and release or resolution as we return home to the tonic chord.

Other progressions are available, such as IV V I, which supply similar tensions and release. This is often seen in classical music. However, bass lines moving down in 5ths or up in 4ths are the strongest and jazz favours the II V I.

One problem with Roman numerals is that there are so many competing conventions used:

  • John Mehegan (see the Round Midnight analysis above) used the Juilliard system which is all uppercase and does not mention the quality of the chord unless it is different from that expected on that scale degree in a major key. Like this: II V I. We know II is minor 7, V is dominant 7 and I is major 7, unless specified. This trains you to think for yourself deeply within the key. This is the system I first learned and tend to use. He writes a cadence to IV like this: Vm Ix IV. The ‘x’ indicates a dominant where not expected. We are encouraged to think as if the key is not really changing for these common transient modulations.
  • Jerry Coker books use all uppercase but slightly different notation for the chord qualities. Like this: IIm7 V7 IM7. Cadence to IV: Vm7 I7 IV. A bit like Mehegan.
  • Berklee School (Nettles and Graf) use all upper case, but with the chord quality always attached. Like this: II-7 V7 Imaj7. Completely clear, but very busy and lots of redundancy. Cadence to IV: V7/IV IV. The new II chord may be there and bracketed (see below) but not labelled with Roman numerals. We are encouraged to think relative to a new key temporarily.
  • Others still (eg David Berkman) use uppercase for major triads and lowercase for minors. Like this: ii-7 V7 IΔ7. Do we need reminding which chords are major and minor every time? His cadence to IV is more like Berklee: ii-7/IV V7/IV IV. Though he also labels the II chord.

You pays your money, you takes your choice. As with chord symbols, you need to be proficient at reading and understanding all the common variants and you should try to be consistent in what you choose to use.

The Bracket-Arrows system

Why not just use Roman numerals so that we can easily spot the all-important V I progressions? The answer lies in the way that jazz harmony has evolved to use many transitory modulations and tends to pass through several other keys, sometimes even within a few bars. The challenge for jazz players, arrangers and composers is to spot the cadences both in their original form (II V I) and with common substitutions as the music passes through key areas other than the original key.

A system using brackets and arrows emerged from the Berklee School of Music based on the above requirements of analysing jazz harmony. It can be useful for tonal jazz standards such as those from the Great American Songbook.

To be clear, not everyone uses this system. For example, we don’t see it in the jazz harmony books of Mark Levine, or David Berkman. But it is mentioned by Rawlins and Bahha (Jazzology) as well as Andy Jaffe (Jazz Harmony).

Secondary dominants

Jazz musicians add dominants of the chords within the key to chords that they expect to see used. They are so common that they come to feel like they are part of the key. It is important to understand that while they require some accidentals to be used, but they are not just any random five dominant 7 chords from any of the other 11 keys. We use “V/x” to mean the dominant 7 (chord V) of chord x. They are:

  • V/II (A7 in the key of C)
  • V/III (B7)
  • V/IV (C7)
  • V/V (D7)
  • V/VI (E7)

You may have heard that in order to make the minor key work, we sharpen the seventh degree of the scale to provide a leading note that pulls back to the tonic. In the diagram above Am is the relative minor (VI) of C major. A G# is added which creates the E7 needed to act as V/VI. But this is not just a special case. All the secondary dominants require accidentals outside of the key because they are not the dominant of the original key.

These secondary dominants ‘tonicize’ the following chord. It is for this reason that we do not include V/VII because chord VII has a b5 and therefore does not make a stable temporary tonic.

These chords are very common and they provide the opportunity to add lots more arrows to the analysis of jazz standard. If the secondary dominant is broken down into a ‘II V pair’ then a bracket is added.

Tritone substitution

We know that II V I is the most common progression in jazz harmony. There is also a common substitution called tritone sub. In C, the G7 becomes Db7. We notate this as ‘subV’ or simply ‘sV’.

Whereas V I resolves down a fifth, is the strongest progression and takes an arrow, sV I resolves down a half step (semitone), is also strong, and takes a dashed arrow.

If the substitute dominant 7 chord has its associated II chord then a regular bracket is used indicating progression down a perfect 5th. If the II before substitution is retained then a dashed bracket is used indicating progression moving down a half-step.

By including these dashed brackets and arrows, the system allows us to call out the common substitutions which might otherwise remain hidden. Once we understand what is going on, the easier it is to internalise it and play it in other keys.

Modal interchange

As explained, most jazz standards are based on major diatonic harmony. However, the process of Modal Interchange is often used to ‘borrow’ chords from the diatonic harmony of parallel keys or modes. Here, the word parallel means having the same tonic. For example, a song in D major might borrow chords from D minor. Or from one of the modes such as D Dorian. This what happens in Jobim’s Wave. The song is in D major, but the introductory vamp is D-7 G7. While these chords might initially look like II V in C, a better analysis is that they are I IV borrowed from the parallel mode, D Dorian.

Example analyses

Remember that analysis can be subjective; people will not always agree on how chords are functioning. Different folks use different tools. I suggest using a mixture and whatever works for you at the time.

For example analyses applying some of the techniques mentioned in this blog, see these other articles:

If you have enjoyed this article, check out my others and let me know. If you have found the insights about where common harmonic moves occur in jazz standards, take a look at ➡️my book which analyses 230 jazz standards and distils the common harmonic features⬅️.

Further reading

Coker, J, Improvising Jazz, Simon and Schuster, 1964.

Mehegan, J, Jazz Improvisation, vols 1-4, Watson-Guptil, 1959.

Elliott, J, Insights In Jazz,, 2009.

Nettles, B and Graf, R, The Chord Scale Theory and Jazz Harmony, Advance Music, 1997.

Jaffe, A, Jazz Harmony, Advance Music, 2015.

Levine, M, The Jazz Theory Book, Sher Music, 1995.

Berkman, D, the Jazz Harmony Book, Sher Music, 2013.

Rawlins, R and Bahha, N E, Jazzology, Hal Leonard, 2005.