After twenty five years away, I recently went to visit my hometown of Kansas City, Missouri. It seemed familiar yet strange as I thought of buildings that once stood and people that once lived. After a few days of reminiscing, the experience found inspiration in my new composition, “Farewell Tour.”
Who is to say where inspiration comes from? Is it God, intellect, emotion, or life experience? I tend to believe all of the above. I do know that art will not live or grow in a bubble.
“Music comes from life. Many times you’ll find that you learn more about music from life than from music.” Mick Goodrick
We will now take a look into some of the harmonic devices I used in “Farewell Tour.” The first four measures serve as an introduction. Measures one and two suggest the sound of Cm7 to C7 to Dm7/A which then moves into Dm7b5/A. Measure three opens with a Cm/G chord that leads into a couple of rootless altered dominant chords. Leaving out the root helps the ear focus on the altered notes. It is important however to include the 3rd and b7th. The order of the intervals (3–b7–#9–b13) moves down a whole step from A7#5 to G7#5. I almost always leave the root out of altered dominant chords. This harmonic device opens the door to many possibilities.
As we move into the A section the progression moves from C7–Db7– Em11. The Em11 in measure six functions as a C6/9. It’s interesting that if the chord is functioning in the key of C it can be interpreted a few ways. This is where the possibilities with rootless chords multiply.
A bass line theme that uses an F# passing note occurs in measures 6, 10, 22, 46, and 50. Other half-step passing tones in the bass happen in measures 9, 12, 16, 24, 28, 40, and 48. Passing tones in the bass line are very common. Guitarists such as Joe Pass and Martin Taylor use this device in practically every tune they play. Generally, passing tones are found on the upbeats and lead to a chord or scale tone.
Speaking of Martin Taylor, I use a technique in the bass line in measure twelve that I picked up from listening to one of his albums. For the first two notes in the measure I use the top of the thumbnail and move in one continuous motion across the lowest two strings. Martin uses a similar technique when playing triplets on the bass strings. He begins with a downstroke on the first note of the triplet and then plays the remaining two notes with the top of his thumbnail. This technique really gives you that upright bass sound. Hey, if you are going steal, steal from the best!
The B section of the tune starts at measure thirteen. I am using the altered dominant scale for the melodic content in the first two measures. In this case, the scale is G super locrian (G–Ab–Bb–Cb–Db–Eb–F). Another way to imagine this scale is to play a melodic minor scale based on a note a half step above the root. In this case, since we want the G Super Locrian scale, we will use Ab melodic minor. If we look at the function of each note in the key of G we end up with: R–b9–#9–3–b5–#5–b7. Wow! That pretty much covers it.
A tonal shift to Eb major happens momentarily in measures 17, 18, and the first part of 19. One of my favorite moments happens when on beat three where Ebmaj7 moves into A13. After analyzing this I realized that the motion was like moving from Ebmaj7 to Eb7 except using an A bass. This becomes A7, which is the tritone substitution for Eb7. Very cool!
The A section repeats at measure 21 with a variation on the last four measures. A nice chord substitution happens when Db7#9 takes the place of C7 at the beginning of the phrase. In measure 25 notice the rootless D7b9 moving to Db7b9 to C6/9/E to Eb9 to D. This creates a smooth five-note chromatic bassline. The surprising harmony has more impact because it’s anticipated ahead of the beat. It also sets up chromatic motion as it moves into D7#5 which serves as a substitution for the original Db7.
The solo begins at measure 29. At times, it is difficult to define melodic line movement with a chord symbol. Many times a chord is suggested however it is not defined with great enough clarity that an argument could not be made for more than one set of chords. This is case for the first two measures of the solo. I will say that when I played it I was only thinking of line movement. Now that I look at it my first impression is C to a rootless Bbm/Db to a D7 alt. (no 3rd) to D# major using only the root and third. Well, that is a mind full! Again, everything I play is based on line movement. Although I think of chords I really just hear them as part of the musical line. The second B section is also based around the super locrian scale however with some melodic variation. The song wraps up with another A section and an ending lick.
In conclusion and in danger of repeating myself, I stress using your ear. There is a time to analyze and a time to trust what you hear. I assure you that what you hear will grow as you play and listen to music with unfamiliar harmony.
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