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 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/ https://linktr.ee/Jaelliott.

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/ https://linktr.ee/Jaelliott. 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/ https://linktr.ee/Jaelliott. Donations are optional but very welcome if you are able.

Further reading

Elliott, J, Insights In Jazz, www.dropback.co.uk, 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.

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/ https://linktr.ee/Jaelliott

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 substation 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, www.dropback.co.uk, 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.

Emily and the Neapolitan Sixth

This standard (Mandel/Mercer) was written for a film in 1964. It was recorded by Bill Evans in 1967 on his Further Conversations with Myself album and also seven years later on his But Beautiful album with Stan Getz in 1974. And there are a bunch of live albums recorded with various of his trios up until his death in 1980. See my playlist.

There is a lovely video of the trio playing Emily in a family home in Helsinki, probably 1969. He plays the opening solo in the key of A and then modulates for the trio to enter in the key of G. This is the key I have my chart in.

If you are new to harmonic analysis, read my overview article which explains the techniques and gives a further reading list.

In the chart above I show the analysis. I also include some of Evans’s approach chords in brackets which can muddy the waters if you don’t know they are only there to maintain his interest and perfectionist voice leading. They are a level of detail that works well in his own trio, but might become really annoying if he were comping for you or playing in your band! Some of them are only used in his solo introductions (usually in a different key). He does not use all of them every chorus, but I have collected them all onto one chart to show what is possible.

The underlying harmony is pretty straightforward having the usual landmarks:

  • A sections are made up of a turnaround a Cadence to IV.
  • B section is a turnaround plus a slow launcher as expected at the halfway point.
  • C section starts on relative minor but then heads to III to allows a seemingly endless sequence of pullbacks until the tonic is finally reached at the end of the D section.

More surprising aspects of the song are:

  • There is D section, making the form ABACD (8-8-8-8-8).
  • At the end of section A1, the tune modulates using the ‘backdoor’ F7 (bVII7) as a pivot chord also acting as sV7/VI but we arrive in E major, rather than E minor.
  • Whereas, at the end of A2, the modulation is to the regular relative minor, E-7, using a regular V7/VI, B7.
  • At the end of the Slow Launcher at the end of the B Section, Evans sometimes inserts sV7/V on the main beat in the last bar, displacing V itself until later in the bar. We saw him do this in My Foolish Heart.
  • The second chord of the D section is a common sub for V, it is IVm, giving the effect of a minor plagal cadence, similar to a backdoor cadence. We saw this in the B Section of Evans’s version of How About You. We expect A-7 D7 G, we get A-7 C-7 B-7. Of course, B-7 sounds like Gmaj7; III is I.
  • In his solos, Evans adds in secondary dominant passing chords in the first two bars of the A Sections: G B7alt | E-7 E7alt | A-7. Which the bass players tend to either ignore or not notice. I’ve not shown these on my chart because they are not used in the head.

Finally, I wanted to look at the opening of that D Section a bit closer:

  • Many realbook charts have the first chord as #IVø, which Evans does not play. He sticks with the obvious A-7 and I think it is more musical that way. Note that Evans did use #IVø in How About You, but that was as a substitution for chord I, not II.
  • Sometimes he treats the C-7 in bar 2 as though it were C-7/F or F7sus (again, backdoor cadence). But other times he treats it as Abmaj7/C. I am wondering whether he was thinking of it as a Neapolitan sixth chord in this case.

The Neapolitan Sixth

Evans would have been aware of this classical music harmony theory. Composers from the Baroque and Classical periods would sometimes re-harmonise C D G (IV V I) as Ab/C D G. The idea was to add a sense of drama to an otherwise conventional cadence. As the diagram below shows, this is achieved by raising one note a semitone and lowering another. The ‘sixth’ in the name refers to the interval C to Ab. It looks a bit like tritone substitution but the Ab maj7 is not a dominant 7.

It is interesting to note that this chord, as well as the original C-7, contains the flat 6 (Eb) of the key of G. The chords that contain the flat 6 are often used by composer to add colour to their harmony. These are usually borrowed from the relative minors of G major and include:

  • IIø (Aø)
  • IV-7 (C-7)
  • bVI maj7 (Eb maj7)
  • bVII7 (F7)

But in order to find Ab maj7 (bII), we need to borrow from one of the modes, Phrygian or Locrian which also have the bII degree of the scale not found in the traditional minor scales.

Here is what Evans plays at this point, taken from a transcription on YouTube. My contention is that he was thinking of the G#s as Abs at this point.

If you have enjoyed this blog, check out my other blogs 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⬅️.

For more check out my link tree/ https://linktr.ee/Jaelliott

Comping like Mulgrew Miller

I’m sometimes asked by students how to comp. It’s a fair question and I usually recommend transcribing a master comper and see what he or she did. Even if it is just to see what rhythms they play and where they place the chords relative to where the chords are written on a lead sheet. I’d probably start with Wynton Kelly, but choose someone you like and would like to sound like.

➡️There is a short video of Mulgrew Miller⬅️ where he is talking about the art of comping. He talks for about three minutes about the requirements of comping and then plays for about a minute and a half.

He says you have to provide rhythmic and harmonic support and stay out of the way of the soloist. Quite a tall order.

In his demonstration, there is no soloist to keep out of the way of, or even to interact with or respond to. So, it is a bit artificial, but is interesting nevertheless in showing the multitude of roles the jazz pianist is expected to play.

Transcription

I’ve done this transcription by ear, Not using any transcription software. We are trying to understand what Miller was thinking and learn lessons from what he played. So long as the rhythm is pretty accurate and the chord qualities (whether major, minor, dominant, etc) are correct then we can learn valuable lessons.

Here is my ‘take down’ of the first chorus he plays.

Rhythmic support

He says it has to feel good; it has to dance. Primarily, this is about rhythm. Chord voicings enhance, but rhythm is fundamental. It is not possible to exactly capture his rhythmic feel in notation, so I suggest you listen to the video while reading the transcription. Or better still, learn it from the recording directly.

One way that he makes it “dance” is by bouncing between his hands. He does this in bars 7-11 where he inserts lefthand bass notes to bounce the chords off, some of which are two-hand chords.

It’s worth remembering that swing jazz is predominantly about the eight quaver placements in the bar of four crotchets. So, the rhythmic possibilities are not unlimited. All of the rhythms played in this chorus are collections of swing quavers, sometimes grouped into longer notes, but never starting in any other place in the bar. When I write a staccato crotchet, it is shorthand for a quaver followed by a quaver rest and is intended to be easier to read due to there being fewer rests.

Harmonic support

He has big hands. I’ve written what I think he was playing but also chords I know I can play.

It’s a blues; he plays almost every chord as a dominant 7 chord. The obvious exception is chord II in bar 9. He plays G-7 but in the following bar he plays Db7, the tritone sub for G7.

In this first chorus, there is no bass playing. This might have led to him playing more roots, but he still plays a lot of rootless voicings.

He is playing a standard jazz blues that anyone could play along with, and yet he is not limiting himself to the chords you might see in a real book. He is adding a lot of approach or passing chords. Pretty much all of them are dominant chords a semitone above the target. I’ve shown them in brackets on the transcription.

He exhibits an impressive array of voicings just in this first chorus:

  • Bars 2-4: Fourths (quartal).
  • Bars 8 and 11: Upper structure triad over tritone dominants.
  • Bars 5-7: Octaves with internal 4ths or 5ths in RH supported by LH rootless voicings like Red Garland.
  • Bars 9 and 10: close position tetrad over alternative roots. Bb maj 7 representing either G-9 or C7sus.
  • Bars 3, 10 and 12: drop-2 (with added roots).

Starting out comping

If you are new to comping, Miller’s advanced demonstration might seem pretty terrifying. Chord substitutions, a wide variety of two-hand voicings, non-repeating rhythmic patterns.

It’s probably best to isolate one element at a time. For example, fix the rhythm like Red Garland did (always comp on 2& and 4& in every bar) so that you can focus on voicings. Or fix the voicings to, say, drop-2 or rootless LH voicings, so you can focus on varying the rhythm. And fixing the chords progression to something like a blues or Rhythm Changes should pay dividends since these are the most commonly played.

He plays a couple more choruses after the one I transcribed. If this has inspired you, maybe you can take them down yourself and see what more lessons there are to be learned.

For more check out my link tree/ https://linktr.ee/Jaelliott

Harmonising folk tunes like a jazz musician

I’ve always been fascinated with Bill Evans’s version of the traditional Irish song, Danny Boy. The underlying harmony is so simple, it is a great song to take through the keys. You can add as much or as little of his extra complexity as you like. A video not my reharmonisation of another folk melody is shown below.

His 1962 recording was released by Verve on the Empathy album. That version has Evans playing it once through in two keys (Bb and G) and is therefore a short track (3:40). No solos.

There is a second recording by Evans of this song, but it is not so readily available. According to Wikipedia, it is available as an additional track on the CD version of the album Time Remembered. But it is not playable on the Spotify version of that album. Here it is on YouTube. This second recording is longer (almost 11 minutes), explores more keys and contains some soloing.

Harmonic devices found

Taking a 10,000 foot view, Bill Evans only uses just two harmonic concepts to harmonise Danny Boy.

  1. The first is the family of chord progressions that get us from chord I to chord IV and back to I; the To IV ’n’ Back family
  2. The second is the family of turnarounds that get us from chord I (or III) back to chord I.

He uses the occasional inversion and passing chord to add his usual finesse and elegance, but not too much and it is not hard to understand.

I made a sketch transcription of the melody of the first chorus of the first recording, just to see what harmonisations he chose so that I could write my own similar arrangement of another folk tune for Burns Night here in Scotland.

I decided to write the transcription in a time signature of 2/4. I originally chose 4/4 but this leaves the song a mere 16 bars long and result in many chords per bar at times. I want it to be either 2/4 or 4/4 because jazz solos are predominantly quavers so we can hear the crotchet beat that Evans was thinking. By using 2/4 there are never more than four chords per bar and the form of the song looks like a jazz standard form: AABC (8-8-8-8). Non-essential approach chords are shown in brackets.

A sections:

  • Bars 1-4: Starts at home (chord I, Bb) and does a “To IV ’n’ Mack” which is a cadence to IV (Eb) that returns bACK to Bb via Minor IV (Eb-6).
  • Bars 5-8: just a turnaround but with dominant chord on II.
  • The second A section is almost the same but the turnaround starts on III (D-7) and the chords move twice as fast as the first time allowing us to arrive back at chord I in bar 15.
  • Bar 16 is an F7 to launch us back to I at the beginning of the B section.

B section:

  • Bar 1-2: a classic move from chord I to chord IV via chord III7 (D7+). We see this harmonic move in lots of jazz standards such as the opening of Some Day My Prince Will Come and bars 3-4 of Ain’t Misbehavin’. The D7+ can be thought of as a kind of Bb7/D but chords sheets often write III7. This sequence is another member of the To IV ’n’ Back family.
  • Bar 3-4: just a III VI II V turnaround to get back to I. In bar 3 we see the first inserted passing chord shown in brackets. The F#dim7 represents a D7b9 secondary dominant leading to G-7.
  • Bar 5-6: same as Bar 1-2 except …
  • Bar 6-8: the turnaround is squashed to ensure we get a ‘slow launcher’ (II7 V7) in the last two bars of the bridge. This is very common at the end of bridges and gives the feeling of the harmony slowing down before the final section.

The C section:

  • Bars 1-2 are a “To IV ’n’ Back” similar to what we saw in the A section but the chord to get back from IV to I is #IVdim7 (Eo7).
  • Evans has been quite restrained until this point. Suddenly he deploys a jazz-fest of passing chords all shown in brackets.
  • Despite this, the underlying harmony is very simple. Bars 3-4 and 5-6 can both be viewed as turnarounds. The first is I IV II … we expect V (F7) but instead a passing chord, C#dim7, is used to lead the III VI II V.
  • Of course, the final chord in bar 7 is I at the end of the first chorus and then Evans modulates to G for the second chorus by simply using a D7 chord.

Red, Red Rose

For completeness, here is the harmonisation I did of My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose. Like Danny Boy, this melody is a traditional folk tune and the composer is unknown. I used some of the harmony from Danny Boy but also other ideas from my recent blogs about Bill Evans reharms on How About You and My Foolish Heart. See if you can spot them.

I made an alternative version of the last eight, the second being more like Evans’s Danny Boy with lots of passing chords.

Here is a video of me playing a version of my re-harmonisation. It is not the final version a settled on above, but close.

Click here to watch

If you have enjoyed this blog, let me know. If you have found the insights (about where the moves Evans uses occur in other standards) useful, ➡️check out my book which analyses 230 jazz standards and distils the common harmonic features⬅️.

For more check out my link tree/ https://linktr.ee/Jaelliott

I like a ‘re-harmed’ tune, How About You?

Re-harmonising tunes is about understanding what works where and sometimes even why. The more I have transcribed orignal and reharmonised recordings, the more I understand. I’m hoping sharing some of these insights will help others.

One problem with Real or Fake books is that they rarely show the original chords and so start with the cool substitutions. This leads to problems:

  • We don’t learn to recognise the underlying harmony by ear.
  • We don’t learn how to simplify to help us carve out better solos using our ears.
  • We don’t learn to create substitutions ourselves.

The standard ‘How About You?’ was written in 1941 by Burton Lane for the film ‘Babes on Broadway’. You might know some of his other songs such as Old Devil Moon and Too Late Now.

I decided to determine the original chords for ‘How About You’ from the Judy Garland recording for the film and compare them with Bill Evan’s reharmonisation 20 years later.

Bill Evans (with Chuck Israels and Larry Bunker) recorded it in 1963, though the album was not released until 1983. Have a listen. I suggest you leave it playing as you read the blog. Notice Evans’s energy and excitement created largely from his rhythmic approach. The original song sits almost exclusively squarely on the beat whereas his version is almost exclusively off the beat. Because he is playing swing, he often places beats a quaver before the original position, there is nothing new there. But he also often deliberately starts phrases on beat two of the bar, leaving beat one empty.

There are other recording by Evans and others. Check out my playlist.

The form of the song and many of the orignal chords were similar to Pennies From Heaven (1938). The form is ABAC (8-8-8-8). The A sections of both songs have the same harmonic move (I bIIIo II V) and the second A sections differ from the first by having a cadence to IV in their second halves. Here are the Vanilla Book changes for Pennies from Heaven:

The double staves below show the Judy Garland and the Bill Evans melody and chords above each other for ease of comparison. Both are shown in the key of F, the key that Evans recorded it in.

In the tables below I show the chords transcribed from the recordings together with Roman numeral analyses in the rows below. The recordings are in different keys, so the Romans make them easier to compare.

If you are new to harmonic analysis, read my overview article which explains the techniques and gives a further reading list.

The first A section

The original has bars 1&2 the same as 5&6. Evans takes the opportunity to re-harmonise them in two different ways.

  1. Bars 1&2: Chord I is substituted with a modal interchange chord, #IVø. This chord can be viewed as borrowed from F Lydian. The next chord is an approach chord a semitone above the F/A in the next bar. Evans chose Bb-6, which can be also viewed as borrowed from F minor.
  2. Bars 5&6: The second starts as a diatonic approach: F G-7 F/A. The expected next chord, Abo7, is substituted with Bb7 which works well as an alternative approach chord to Aø in bar 7.

On reaching bar 8, Evans manages to slip in another approach chord, but this time on the beat. D7 is replaced with Eb7 to D7. We saw this kind of approach chord in his reharm of My Foolish Heart. In exactly the same bar!

The B section

Features of the B section include:

  • The first chord is G7 (V7/V) but Evans replaces it with G-7.
  • The original modulates from the key of F to the key of A (III) in bar 5 without any preparation. Whereas Evans prepares it with E7 (V7/III). The E7 is broken down into a ‘II-V’ pair by preceding it by Bø and, in turn, this chord is approached from a semitone above using C-7. Elegant and sophisticated.
  • For the turnaround in the new key of A, Evans starts it with A/C#, thereby creating a very long cycle of 5ths from bars 5-8 (8 bass notes!). And making the modulation back to F seamless. More elegance.
  • Evans makes the last four chords all dominant 7 chords, and this idea spills over to the first two chords of the second A section which he unexpectedly also makes dominant. This is one of his devices. He does something similar on his recordings of ‘I Should Care’. Same place, start of second half.
  • The rhythm-fest continues. Crochet triplets added into the mix. Evans liked a bit of 2 against 3, which is what swing is all about.

The second A section

In bar 1 this time Evans uses the same roots as the first time but makes both chords dominant 7s to continue the exciting dominant-fest from the previous section.

Bars 5-6 are a cadence to Bb (IV) in the original. Evans enhances this is two ways:

  1. In place of F7 (V/IV) he plays a brief Eb-6, borrowed from Bb minor. This has the sound of a minor plagal cadence but also the ‘backdoor cadence’ which would use Ab7.
  2. After the Bb temporary tonic, he overruns round the cycle to Eb7 which provides a ‘backdoor cadence’ (bVII7 I) when returning to F. See the C section for another example of an overrun in this tune. In think this is almost the only time Evans honours the rhythm of original tune by landing squarely on beat 4.

The C section

Bar 3 is perhaps the most rhythmically interesting part of the original song. The melody is absent on beat one, giving emphasis to beat two. Like Evans has been doing in lots of place throughout his version! So, he just swings and carries on doing it bar 5 where the original does not.

The final section has a modal interchange chord at bar 2. The Db7 is bVI7. It can be viewed as being borrowed from F Locrian. Again, we saw this in the original changes to My Foolish Heart. In that song, Evans replaced it with a different modal interchange chord. Here, however, he keeps it and breaks it down into a ‘II-V’ pair by preceding it with Ab-7. He then replaces Bb with my G-7 (diatonic substitutes) and the result sounds like side-slipping. We’re expecting C7 to complete the sideslip, but instead we have surprise approach chord to the E-7: F-7. Semitone above, but not a dominant 7 chord. We saw Evans do this in the B section above, approaching a minor 7 chord with a minor 7 a semitone above.

The A7 is V7/VI, VI being the relative minor, which we get in bar 5. This move is in the original song. But Evans overruns the D-7 round the cycle to introduce G7, V7/V. The final bars then become the expected II V I, rather than the rather classical IV V I in the original.

If you have enjoyed this blog, let me know. If you have found the insights (about where the moves Evans uses occur in other standards) useful, ➡️check out my book which analyses 230 jazz standards and distils the common harmonic features⬅️.

For more check out my link tree/ https://linktr.ee/Jaelliott

I Will Say Goodbye to Autumn Leaves

How many songs do you know that do not end on a tonic chord? This blog looks at a song with the music written by Michel Legrand in 1969. The opening uses the chords of Autumn Leaves’s opening but then it goes to some interesting places.

I’ll be focussing on the ➡️recording by the Bill Evans trio⬅️ (Eddie Gómez – bass, Eliot Zigmund – drums) in 1977 on their fair well album for the Fantasy label, ‘I Will Say Goodbye’. The album was not released until 1980 when Evans won a Grammy for his solo on this track.

While I’ll be analysing the Bill Evans version, I’ve also made a playlist of a various recordings to compare. The French title is ‘Je Vivrai Sans Toi’. Once you’ve heard the Evans treatment, the other recordings seem disappointing. At least to me.

If you are new to harmonic analysis, read my overview article which explains the techniques and gives a further reading list.

The song contains sections in Eb major and G major. This key relationship had been used for years in standards such as Moten Swing (1932) and Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea (1931) but this song deploys it in a much more sophisticated manner.

The unusual song form is ABC (8-6-8). The A section is in the key of Eb. As shown in the diagram below, the most common keys we would expect to visit are IV and V. But we also might expect to visit each of the relative minors of I, IV and V. The relative minor of Bb (V) is Gm. See below what Legrand actually did in this song.

A section

The A section is simply made up of cadences in Eb major and its relative minor, Cm (VI). Who would have thought that the chords of the A section are just the same as the opening of Autumn Leaves (though two chords per bar here)? Evans dresses them up nicely with passing chords as discussed in an earlier blog:

  • B7 approaches Bb7sus from above as usual
  • Emaj7 also approaches Ebmaj7 from above, but the quality is not the usual dominant 7th chord. The Bb melody note becomes a #11 on the Emaj7 chord. This is a slightly more modern sound than always using dominant 7ths.
  • Likewise, Amaj7 approaches Abmaj7. Again, not a dominant 7th approach chord. The G in the melody is abandoned by the point the Amaj7 sounds. He is not thinking where he has been, he is thinking about where he is going to.

B section

The B section continues in the key of Eb. But in the third bar, a modulation begins to a new key of G, but in a sophisticated way. The C-7 chord is VI of the original key of Eb. It is also chord IV of G minor. The next chord, Aø, is chord II in G minor. For the final two bars of the (short) B section we have unaltered D7 chords, preparing us for G major, rather than G minor.

When the bass joins the piano on the last chord of the B section, it is D7/C which is a passing chord moving chromatically down to the following Bø.

C section

The 8-bar C section is effectively in G major. It might not look like it on the face of it, but the secondary dominant chords are all targeting chords in G:

  • E7 is V7 of II, A-7.
  • B7 is V7 of VI, E-7.
  • F#7 is V7 of III, B-7.

All three of these are rooted within the scale of the current key, G major. When they are broken down into their ‘II-V’ pairs, we see a chord, C#ø, which is not rooted within the scale of G, but as far as jazz harmony analysis goes, this does not mean we have left the tonal area of the key of G.

The unusual one is the Eb7 in bar 7 of the C section. However, even this is a tritone substitute for A7, V7 of V. The final chord we are expecting in bar 8 is D7 (V), or if broken down into a ‘II-V’ pair, Aø, which is what we get. But what is unusual is that that is where the song ends. No D7 and certainly no G tonic.

In order to get back to the A section for the solo, we have the same two chords which we saw at the beginning. C7 is the secondary dominant of F-7 (V7 of II), G7 is (V7 of V).

If you have enjoyed this recording by the Bill Evans trio, you’ll probably want to listen to the second take which is also available.

Details about the author:

https://linktr.ee/Jaelliott

My Foolish Heart: improved by Bill Evans

My Foolish Heart was written by Victor Young in 1949. He also wrote Stella by Starlight. The strength of the song is its melody. Bill Evans replaced the boring harmony to make it a jazz standard to die for.

The original changes

I don’t have the original sheet music and Real Books are notoriously prone to ‘group think’, so I went to the most successful early recording by the Gordon Jenkins Orchestra in 1950 and transcribed the chords.

It’s a song of two halves, the form is ABAC (8-8-8-8). I’m going to put all changes in the key of Bb for ease of comparison, though the recording is in E and Ab.

If you are new to harmonic analysis, read my overview article which explains the techniques and gives a further reading list.

The harmony is conventional, even boring, in the main, but we need to know it so that we can understand the magic that Evans performed in his arrangement. In my opinion, the only two interesting things about the original harmony are also both quite weak:

  • In bars 13-15 there is a genuine modulation to key V. We see an actual tonic F6, not an F7. The difference is so subtle that many might not notice it. This modulation is not common; one of the few other standards I can think of that do this is Stella by Starlight, also by Victor Young.
  • At bar 26 (second bar of the C section) there is a bVI (Gb) chord. This can be viewed as modal interchange (M.I.), being borrowed from another mode rooted on Bb. In the original 1950 Jenkins recording, one chorus uses Gb7 (from Cb major, Bb Locrian) and another uses Gbmaj7 (from either Bb harmonic minor or Bb natural minor, Aeolian). Another song that uses bVI7 is Out of Nowhere.

As shown by the Roman numerals and arrows, secondary dominants are used to propel us to II, IV, V and VI.

These moves above seem to be the only harmonic interest in the original song and both might go unnoticed without the finesse of Evans described below.

Versions by Bill Evans

Bill Evans recorded it in 1961 with his trio and later with Tony Bennett in 1975. It stayed in his repertoire a long time.

Bill Evans chose to play this tune with his trio in the unusual key of A major. One theory is that he chose this key to allow the bass to use open strings thereby creating a more resonant sound, but I don’t know whether this was the reason. When he recorded the same tune without bass in duet with Tony Bennett, the key was Bb, which seems to support the story since ➡️the singer would not likely mind which of the two adjacent keys were chosen. ⬅️

You are welcome to listen to my ➡️playlist⬅️ of recordings of this song by Evans.

Bill Evans substitutions

I’ve listened to the recordings on the playlist above and captured the harmonic moves I hear in the various choruses. Not every chord will be played every chorus, for example, chord IV might not be played in bar 1 every time.

The first A section

You may be wondering about the first four bars of chords that Evans played. It starts in a conventional manner: I IV III VI II. After the II chord (C-7) we are expecting a V chord (F7), but instead Evans gives us V7/III (A7). While we can justify this as leading to the D-7 in the next bar, it seems odd and potentially difficult to memorise and play in any key. But if we step back, we can see what is going on as I’ll explain below.

The ItCHY opening

The original changes for the A section open with a four-bar turnaround, one chord per bar. The following diagram shows how this is transformed into what Evans played.

There is a common chord sequence that is used in standards such as It Could Happen To You (ItCHY). ➡️I call this the “ItCHY Opening” in my book⬅️. In Bb, it would be:

Bb Bo7 C-7 C#o.

Or I #Io7 II #IIo7.

This is sometimes used as a substitution for a I VI II V turnaround, specially on I Got Rhythm changes.

The beboppers would often covert the dim7 chords to dominant 7 chords and precede them with their associated II chords. This gives:

Bb | D-7 G7 | C-7 | E-7 A7

Once you know this, the chords that Evans used seem somewhat less unnatural. And it goes some way to explain why he tends not to play the E-7 chord but plays A7sus to A7b9. And on the A7 chord he often played diminished scale movements. He was possibly thinking C#dim7?

The second four bars are a III VI II V turnaround. The replaces the regular turnaround in the original by simply replacing I with its diatonic sub, III, which the preceding A7 leads us to expect. To reach the total progression for the A section used by Evans, just insert passing chords as described before. Either secondary dominants or chromatic from above dominants (tritone subs).

The B section

In the B section, Evans changes very little of the harmony because it already contains secondary dominants to IV and VI. He breaks them down into II-V pairs to allow himself to milk the voice-leading to the max.

In bar 7 of the B section he does tonicise the modulation to V and lands on an F6, unlike most jazz charts for this song that I have seen that typically follow C7 with C-7 F7.

Having reached F6, rather than just making the next bar F7 to get back to Bb for the next A section, he confirms the key of F first by inserting an A7 so that we hear the subsequent move to its relative minor (D-7) and then uses that as a pivot chord to become III in Bb and cycles home: III VI II V.

People sometimes wonder why Bill Evans did not play the conventional ending to the B section. I think it is because he was honouring Young’s modulation to V, which most charts do not include.

The second A section

The second A section is almost identical to the first. But at the end it need to point to the C section just like the original chords do with a D7. As you would expect, he uses D7alt to point towards G-7, but he preceded it by A-7 rather than the expected Aø, again allowing for more voice leading. He does a similar thing in bar 4 of both the A and B sections; we expect a minor cadence II V but he gives us a major cadence II followed by a minor cadence V (i.e. altered with a b9 and b13).

The C section

Evans replaced the modal interchange chord, Gb, we saw in bar 2 of the C section, with the alternative, Ab7 (bVII7), and breaks it down by adding its II, Eb-7, which is also a modal interchange chord (IVm). This results in what some call the Backdoor cadence to Bb and it is a common sequence in jazz standards (e.g. Yardbird Suite)

The remainder of the C section is enhanced by the usual insertion of passing chords drawn from secondary dominants and their tritone subs, sometimes both depending which sounds best against the melody.

Gratifyingly, after I had published this blog, I checked Ralph Patt’s Vanilla Book and found that he has the original changes pretty much exactly as I transcribed from the 1950 Jenkins recording with the cadence to V and the bVI modal interchange.

If you have enjoyed this blog, let me know. If you have found the insights (about where the moves Evans uses occur in other standards) useful, ➡️check out my book which analyses 230 jazz standards and distils the common harmonic features⬅️.

https://linktr.ee/Jaelliott

Passing chords: like Bill Evans

Have you ever wondered why ballads are harder to play than up tempo numbers? At first glance, they should be easier because we have more time to think and need less dazzling technique.

When making arrangements for big band some years ago, I realised that is not how it works. The slower the song, the more movements we need to add such as ➡️passing chords⬅️. When up tempo, a bar of one chord is tolerable, but for ballads, what ya gonna do, just sit there? Not an option.

Dave Berkman calls them passing chords, others call them approach chords. They are the same thing and can be used to provide interest and motion at any time including when comping.

A friend was talking about the chords to Like Someone In Love and how to simplify them. The song was written by Jimmy van Heusen in 1944.

That got me listening to Bill Evans again. He recorded the song eight or more times; ➡️I made a playlist⬅️. In this blog I’m looking at the recording on the album Time Remembered which was made in 1963 but not released until 1983.

This is solo piano and so there is a lot of rubato playing. There are transcriptions out there that change the time signature frequently, but I think they are missing the point.

Evans starts out playing choruses in F and finishes by modulating to Ab. I took down his changes and analysed them, collapsing all the options into the form of one chorus:

If you are new to harmonic analysis, read my overview article which explains the techniques and gives a further reading list.

As the image shows, it is a song of two halves; the form is ABAC (8-8-8-8). In later recordings, Evans changes key every half chorus, but he does not do that here. Each section has four rows in the table above:

  1. Chords in Ab
  2. Analysis of the chords above
  3. Chords in F
  4. Analysis of those chords.

As you would expect, the analysis shows that the chords are mostly functionally the same between the two keys. But what is interesting is how Evans adds interest by inserting passing chords to the chords you would expect to see on the lead sheet.

The most common passing chords we see are dominant 7 a semitone above the next chord, and diminished 7 a semitone below the next chord. Interestingly these both represent the same functional harmony. Imagine the target is any chord with a C root. The two common approach chords would be Db7 and Bdim7. Db7 is the tritone sub of G7 and Bdim7 represents G7b9. So, basically, they are the same thing. These two represent the vast majority of approach chords. Other are sometimes used, especially if they allow for better voice leading.

Let’s see what Evans did. The transcriptions below are only sketches of the melody and chords. I’m sticking in the key of F for all the discussions below. I have deliberately simplified the rhythm of the way the melody is played because it is different each chorus and it is the passing chords we are focussing on. Here is the recording again if you want to listen. Below we analyse what Evans played in each 8-bar section.

The A section

The first two bars of the A section are not the traditional descending bass line. instead he plays I II III VI or I IV III VI. Chords II and IV being diatonic subs for the each other, ie G-7 and Bb6 sound the same, though their roots are different.

Bar 3 starts with some sort of II7 (G7) chord, a secondary dominant, V7/V. But the problem is that the melody is G, so G7 does not sound interesting. Evans finds two alternative solutions throughout the choruses in this recording:

  1. Bø, or G7/B.
  2. Db7, making the melody the more interesting #11th.

How are these chords approached? Well, Db7 is a semitone away from the preceding D-7, so there is no passing chord needed. By contrast, a passing chord of C-6 is inserted before the Bø. This is interesting because it is a semitone above, as expected, but it is not the more usual dominant 7 used for passing chords from above.

As an aside, there is one chorus where Evans plays C-7 F7 Bø at this point. Like a II V I cadence in Bb with a surprise ending. This same sequence can be seen in Cole Porter’s Just One of Those Things. And Peterson also used it on one of his recordings of Georgia in My Mind. Of course, C-6 and F9 contain the same notes, so inserting the C-7 in addition makes a chain of passing chords and allows for more voice leading. See below where B7 is inserted before Bb7 leading to A-7.

Going into and leaving bar 4 Evans uses passing chords at every opportunity:

  1. Bb7 leads to A-7
  2. Eb7 leads to D-7
  3. F#o7 leads to G-7.

These are all the common types mentioned at the start. Dominant 7 chords from above or dim7 from below.

And so it continues:

  1. Bar 5 Db7 leads to C7 in bar 6.
  2. Bar 6 Bb7 leads to A-7 in bar 7. Sometimes an extra B7 passes to the Bb7, making a chain of descending dominant 7 passing chords. The melody note, D, is a #9 on the B7, whereas it is a plain old 3rd on the Bb7.
  3. Bar 7, Dbo7 leads to C-7 in bar 8. This is a classic reharm which we see a lot before a cadence to IV (eg the opening of Jobim’s Wave). At the same time, it is a less usual passing chord because it is a diminished chord a semitone above the target chord, rather than below.

Here is the recording again if you want to listen.

The B section

There are few passing chords in the B section. At bar 2, there is a cadence to VI but it is D major, rather than the expected D minor (relative minor to F, the overall key we are in). Evans starts the cadence with Eø preparing us for D minor but has to play an unaltered A7 to accommodate the F# in the melody.

In bars 3 and 4, the harmony is static on D6 for two bars. Evans adds some diatonic motion in the temporary key of D major (IV III II) and arrives at D-7 in bar 5 by step of a whole tone.

Here is the recording again if you want to listen.

The C section

There is even less to say about the C section. The Abo7 in bar 4 is part of the standard progression and this is the regular use of diminished representing an E7b9 passing to A-7.

The final II V I cadence in F has a Db7 passing chord inserted between G-7 and C7 as we saw in bar 5 of the A section.

If you have enjoyed this blog, let me know. If you have found the insights about where the moves Evans uses occur in other standards, ➡️check out my book which analyses 230 jazz standards and distils the common harmonic features⬅️.

After I wrote this blog, I found a video of a detailed transcription of the same recording.

https://linktr.ee/Jaelliott