Treatment of the Dominant Chord Throughout "Have You Met Miss Jones?"

Going on eight months now I have been practicing using a method that Jerry Coker in his book How To Practice Jazz (Jamey Aebersold) refers to as “fermata” or “cadenza” practicing. Dave Liebman also put out a play-a-long with Jamey Aebersold Volume 26 The Scale Syllabus (Jamey Aebersold) that addresses this kind of practice and some strategies one can utilize when using this approach. Liebman’s examples are truly inspiring. With this type of practicing the player improvises on one chord, exploring what he or she already knows as well as pushing the boundaries of their current vocabulary, for an extended period of time. I will spend 30 minutes to several hours playing over one chord (ex. C7 or Bb-7b5) during my practice sessions. I am forced in a matter of minutes to come to terms with what I already know and faced with trying to figure out new and or different ways to approach improvising over the same chord. I like to put a play-a-long on or use an app that provides me chorus after chorus of the same chord so that I can really begin to “own” my vocabulary. I found that if I solo over a ii V I chord progression or another common harmonic progression for an extended period of time I would begin to rely on the same material or vocabulary quickly. Repetition is good in music however I believe one must continually strive to grow and expand their content or ability to expresses themselves as a musician and artist. By augmenting or elongating a harmonic progression to the point of isolating one chord, I was now able to begin phrases on note choices I typically do not gravitate towards, break up my usual rhythmic patterns, and finally explore different sounds over the same chord.

On a plain C7 chord for example I may play any number of more common alterations (#11=F#, b9=Db, #9=Eb), utilize an scale full of alterations such as the altered scale, triad pairs, or an entirely different chord over C7. I may play Ab7#5 over C7 in order to give me a different and specific sound as well as break me out of what my fingers may want to do if I am thinking a scale such as altered scale or half-whole diminished scale. I also realized that I don't have to use this concept or what Dave Liebman calls “super imposition” solely on harmonic progressions containing several chords. I have yet to spend time with Leibman’s book A Chromatic Approach To Jazz Harmony And Melody (Advance Music) however many of these topics appear to be covered in the book as they relate to playing over harmonic progressions. This leads me to now.

Why not play several different sounds (using different scales, triad pairs, and super imposition) over a chord that lasts only one or two measures and is part of a more typical harmonic progression? Here I am taking about individual chords one might encounter in ii V I progression. In those one of two measures of each chord I may use three different strategies to change my harmonic palette and create tensions that are uncommon for me and my playing at this time. By borrowing sounds from different modes or using modal mixture, along with strong intervalic structures such as triad pairs and pentatonic scales separately but consecutively on the same chord, I can significantly expand my harmonic and melodic vocabulary when improvising. The following examples are taken from a performance and solo over the the American Songbook standard “Have You Met Miss Jones?” (Rodgers and Hart) live on July 21, 2018. Massimo Sammi on guitar and me on saxophone. All examples are in tenor key (Bb concert). For a list of the examples in concert key, scroll to the bottom of the entry.

Playing duo sax and guitar is an extremely rewarding experience for me. I don’t have to play really loud and often feel more free to development motifs and explore harmonic content. When my good buddy and I perform duo we do not talk about how to treat dominant chords before we play a song that we both feel comfortable playing. We like the tension to come from a more organic place rather than deciding before hand if we are going to make a dominant chord altered or lydian or suspended ect. On the other hand, because we do not discuss how to treat dominant chords, tension tones (#11, b9, b13 etc.) I play on saxophone and note choices I make may not match the tension tones played in the guitar voicing. This creates even more tension! All of which needs to be resolved convincingly. To illustrate what chords I am thinking about when improvising and what I am working on, these examples serve their purpose.

I spent several years studying with Walt Weiskopf at Eastman School of Music and triad pairs were a strong staple in my studies with him. Both of his books Around The Horn (Jamey Aebersold) and Intervallic Improvisation: The Modern Sound: A Step Beyond Linear Improvisation (Jamey Aebersold) were tremendously helpful and influential to my playing. Check back in for more on triad pairs.

This first example is early in the course of my solo. I begin the solo using only one technique or concept—triad pairs when altering the dominant chord during a turnaround back to my key or G major. While Massimo is playing Am7 to D9sus4 (ii V7) I am thinking about only the V7 chord or D7. I choose to alter the V7 chord using the b9 (Eb) and #9 (F). I construct two different triads based off the b9 and #9. Eb triad is an augmented triad (Eb+) built on the b9 giving me the notes Eb, G, and B or relative to D7 the b9, 4 (sus), and natural 13. F triad is a major triad built from the #9 giving me the notes F, A, and C or relative to D7 the #9, 5, and b7. When you combine the notes from the triad pair (Eb+ and F major) you get a dominant natural 13 suspended (sus) chord with a #9 and b9. These notes match notes from the half whole diminished scale starting on D. It is important to note that these triads are located a whole step from each other and again built on the b9 and #9 of the dominant chord. After playing the triad pairs I begin a resolution to G major on beat four of the third bar of the example using A minor pentatonic (same as C major pentatonic) resolving to the note B or third of G major on the downbeat of the fourth measure. Relative to D7, there is a natural 9 (E) or relative to A minor a perfect 5th in the harmony being played by guitar while I play a b9 (Eb on D7) or b5 (on A minor) with my Eb augmented triad. The rub is acceptable to my ear (my ear is extremely forgiving in these circumstances) because it is resolved convincingly. Not to mention it goes by really quickly!

Chords changes located on the top and furthest from the staff indicate what chords the guitar player is voicing. Chords closest to the staff are what I am thinking when improvising. When there is only one chord present both saxophone and guitar are playing/thinking the same chord.

Ex. 1 Triad Pairs Played Over V7

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Technically the Eb augmented triad and the F major triad come from the C melodic minor scale. If we use the root of the V7 chord from example 1 (D7) as the root of the scale containing the two triads we get the second mode of the C melodic minor scale—D dorian b2.

Ex. 1a C Melodic Minor Scale / D dorian b2

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I have been practicing how to get triad pair content to sound less like triad pairs and more melodic while still retaining a non-scale like sound. Breaking a pattern before it becomes too predictable by using new material from a different harmonic foundation or set class can really make lines sound fresh and unpredictable.

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