Monthly Musings – March 24, 2017

Analysis of “The Girl From Ipanema”

This tune is a great standard from the songbook of Antonio Carlos Jobim. I can remember that, when it was first popular, we often played it several times a night due to requests. I fear many musicians became burnt out on the tune because of that. If you ask a jazz player to play the tune, he may say something like, “Aw man, are you kidding? I’m sick of that!” My comment to some musicians would be, “Don’t bitch about it unless you can play the bridge!”

As a composer, Jobim is a master at doing the most with the least. Many of his pieces only utilize one or two melodic ideas that he masterfully develops into a complete melody. Also his use of harmonic and melodic sequences is wonderful. As improvisers, we can all learn something about melodic development from Jobim.

This tune is a common AABA form except that the bridge is sixteen measures long instead of eight.

First A section

The progression is: //Fma7 /Fma7 /G7 /G7 /Gmi7 /Gb7 /Fma7 /Gb7 //

To establish the sound of the key, an F major scale is called for at the beginning. Later in the solo, for variety, an F Lydian scale could be used.

The G7 is not altered and probably shouldn’t be. This is a dominant II chord that is only one note different from the key (B natural). The unaltered 9th and 13th of the chord are in the key of F and want to be in their natural state. You could use a Lydian, b7 scale which would add a C# to the sound if you want more color. The C# is the #11 of a G7 chord and is not an alteration but is the normal extension of the harmony. I find that, in general, dominant II chords sound better if left unaltered. There are exceptions, of course.

Gmi7 is the normal II chord of the key and calls for a Dorian (F major) scale.

Gb7 is an interesting chord that we often encounter in jazz compositions. It is a tritone substitution for the V chord C7. Both chords resolve to the key center of F major. But the bII chord (Gb7) requires a Lydian, b7 scale because we want to hear a C natural in the scale. This is because the Gb7 is a substitute for C7. It only hit me in the last several years that Jobim had used a tritone substitution in the composition of the tune!

Second A section

 The progression is: //Fma7 /Fma7 /G7 /G7 /Gmi7 /Gb7 /Fma7 /Fma7 //

The only difference is that the progression stays on Fma7 to end the phrase.

Bridge – B section

 The bridge of this tune is where the real harmonic interest occurs.

The progression is: //Gbma7 /Gbma7 /B7 /B7 /F#mi7 /F#mi7 /D7 /D7 /

/Gmi7 /Gmi7 /Eb7 /Eb7 /Ami7 /D7 /Gmi7/C7 //

The bridge is easier to make sense of if you keep in mind the context of each chord, specifically what sound occurred just before. Generally, if a note just heard in one chord can continue into the next, it sounds good to let it do so.

The first chord of the bridge, Gbma7, was preceded by Fma7. So a C natural (the 5th of the Fma7) has been recently heard and can continue into the Gbma7 as a #4 or Lydian sound. If you are skeptical, play the Fma7 scale and then play both Gb major and Gb Lydian. I think you will find that the Lydian scale sounds better.

When we arrive at the B7, we have recently heard F natural which would be a #4 in the B7 scale so that implies Lydian, b7. In the B7 scale we heard D# so that implies Dorian on the F#mi7. We hear G# in the F# Dorian scale so that implies a #4 in the D7, again a Lydian, b7 sound. Gmi7 is a II chord in F major and calls for Dorian but that is reinforced by the fact that we just heard an E natural in the D Lydian, b7 scale. The Eb7 also requires a Lydian, b7 because we just heard the #4, A natural in the G Dorian scale.

Read the previous paragraph over again slowly (several times) and possibly play the scales as you do to hear the interesting effect of context on our choices of colors. Extensive use of Lydian, b7 scales is required to make the bridge sound “normal.” I personally love any mode of melodic minor for its unique quality of a mixture of darkness and brightness!

The last four measures of the bridge are a III-VI-II-V turnaround. This is an extremely common progression with many variations. In this case, the melody implies an altered sound on the D7 and C7. There is a #4 in the melody on both chords. I like the altered scale (melodic minor a ½ step above the root). This is also consistent with the Lydian, b7 scale used on the Gb7 chords since that is the same as an altered scale on C7. The minor chords can simply be Dorian scales since they are II chords.

Last A section

This is old business since it is identical to the first A section.

It is recommended to look for guide tone motion in the progression, especially motion of ½ steps across the bar line. For example, here is a guide tone line for the first 8: Start on C on the Fma7, move to B on the G7, move to Bb on the Gmi7 and Gb7, move to A on the Fma7. Here’s another one: Start on E on the Fma7, move to F on the G7, repeat F on the Gmi7, move to Gb on the Gb7, move to G on the Fma7. Here’s one more: Start on A on the Fma7, stay on A for the G7and Gmi7, move to Ab on the Gb7, move to G on the Fma7. Building your melodic line around guide tones can give them a stronger forward motion!


10 thoughts on “Monthly Musings – March 24, 2017

  1. Dan, what do you think about playing it in Db like the Getz Gilberto version? Do you think that the standard key became F because it is a ‘friendlier’ key? I personally have more fun playing it in Db!


    1. I don’t know. I play some of his tunes in his keys and others in the popular keys. Triste is usually played in Bb but i love it in A, for example. Since F is the popular key for Girl, it seemed like the place to analyze it. I’ll have to try Ipanema in Db!

      Thanks for your feedback!


  2. I heard Eliane Elias go to the relative Dmi9 on bar two instead of hanging onto the Fmaj7 for the first two bars. I like to play it like that now too. Nice little substitution. Of course the popular “hit” version with Getz and Astrid is still my favorite.


  3. Played “Girl” 3 times a night, 6 nights a week, for at least 25 years. My bassist and I changed up some of the progression.On the last A we changed the 2 bars of Fmaj7 to:
    // Fma7 Bb7 / Amin7 D7 /G7 /G7 /Gmi7 /Gb7 /Fma7 /Gb7 //

    The melody in the head works nicely here.

    And on the bridge we either “subbed” some sus7 chords:
    //Gb/Ab /Gb/Ab /B7 /B7 /A/B /A/B /D7 /D7 /
    /Bb/C /Bb/C /Eb7 /Eb7 /Ami7 /D7 /Gmi7/C7 //

    or as a change-up I would insert the “Funny Valentine” walk-down over the relative minor on the Gb and on the remaining min7s:
    //Ebmin8 – #7 /Ebmin7 – 6 /B7 /B7 /F#mi8 – #7 /F#mi7 – 6 /D7 /D7 /

    /Gmi8 – #7 /Gmi7 – 6 /Eb7 /Eb7 /Ami7 /D7 /Gmi7/C7 //
    that little half step walkdown always arrives on the root of the following dominant, so the bassist used to play that line and I could reharmonize it, too. So, for ex. the first two bars of the bridge could be:

    //Ebmin7 – D7alt /Ebmin7/Db – Cmin7b5 /B7 /B7

    or some variant. And then repeated on the F#min7 walkdown and Gmin7 walkdown.
    For fun We used to play Ipanema in F minor, too!

    I played duets with Tony Campisi on sax, and he always called it “The Girl With Emphysema” Hah! He had the funniest names for lots of standards, like “Inedible, That’s What You Are”, “Isn’t It Gigantic”, and “I’m Getting Sentimental On Top Of You”. All of us in Austin, TX miss him.

    One last thought: It’s not the music’s fault if you are bored with a tune. It’s your own fault, if you can’t find a way to explore a set of changes in your improv language, then you are the one that’s boring.
    Although, one time I did a master class with Phil Woods, and he said “Hey, we can play anything, just as long as it’s not Stella. I’ve played Stella enough.” I believed him!
    Thanks, Dan!


    1. Thanks for your feedback! Many great ideas! For the purposes of my analysis, I stuck pretty much with the normal changes and didn’t get into subs but I like all of yours especially the chromatic walk-down! I also have tended to like sus chords and had a version of Stella that used those a lot. Actually, I still dig Stella but have been either playing it in B or in a long form (64 bars) 3/4 bright tempo. I never cease to find new possibilities in the tune!


  4. I’ll buy it! Just wondering why you didn’t call the chords Major 9th chords rather than Major 7th chords, since the melody dictates that sound and those notes? The turn around – with the b5s are basic to the tune for me. I don’t have #4ths in my vocabulary. Just my preference i guess.
    I would use D7b5b9 at the turn around, and C7b5b9. Bridge is GbM7 to B9, F#m9 to D9, Gm9 to Eb9 (these dominant 9th chords can all be 13 chords if desired),turn around Am7 – D7b5b9, Gm7 – C7b5. Color triads over the D7b5b9 – notes ascending Ab,C,Eb, – Bb,D,F, – C,Eb,Ab, – D,F,Bb – Eb,Ab,C – etc.( or any inversions up or down )
    Same technique over C7b5b9.
    I like your post Dan, keep them coming!


    1. I often just label chords generically as Fma7, F7, Fmi7 implying any or all extensions. Of course the melody is always important. If the melody on a dominant 7th chord is the unaltered 9th, than I won’t alter it when I improvise either! I don’t worry a lot whether I call something a #4 or a b5, I’m just indicating a pitch. To me that’s only important as to whether the chord contains a natural 5th and a #11 or a b5th and no unaltered 5th. Kind of arrangers priorities!
      Thanks again for your input, Paul!


  5. I understand Dan,
    I finally gave up with having musicians do what’s generally considered a given, and if I want it to sound a certain way, I spell it out to to the nitty gritty. Saves me a lot of explaining! Thank goodness I don’t have to write all swing charts in 12/8 time! Whew!


  6. First of all, swing rhythms aren’t exactly 12/8 meter. At a slower tempo, they kind of are and at a fast tempo 1/8 notes are pretty even. It’s the middle tempos that are the hardest because 1/8 notes are somewhere between triplets and even notes. But I agree, I wouldn’t ever try to write a jazz tune in 12/8, unless of course it is actually written in 12/8!
    Good thinking to make everything as clear as possible, especially with a book that is played by a variety of players!


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