Monthly Musings – March 20, 2017

Guide Tone Paths

Guide tone paths are very important in building good melodies when improvising. Guide tones are often color tones like 3rds or 7ths, but they may be other chord tones, altered tones and extensions of the basic chords. They are generally the notes that identify the real nature of the harmony and provide a smooth flow through the harmonic progression. As jazz players, we often think of the vertical structures of the various chords in a progression. But, music does not move vertically, it moves horizontally! Guide tones are the hooks on which you hang your melody. The melodic curve may move up or down and all around the guide tones, but the guide tones are what create strong forward motion!

The 3rds and 7ths are the color tones that define the quality of most chords. In a progression down a 5th, the resolution of the 7th to the 3rd is really what causes the chord to progress to the next chord. However, in a guide tone path, we could choose to remain on a common tone as the chord changes to make the harmony less obvious.

Guide tone paths through harmony are like trails through a forest. They may run somewhat parallel to each other, but they will often intersect and allow the melodic motion to either ascend or descend from a common point.

Guide tone paths can become even more interesting when the choice of notes involves extensions or alterations in chords. For example, in the progression Bb-7 to Eb7, the guide tones could be either Ab to G (7th to 3rd) or they could move from Ab to A natural (7th to #11th). Here’s how to work with guide tones: Pick any tone in a chord and, as you move through the chord progression, either stay on a common tone in the following chord or move only a half step up or down. If you move more than a half step, you will not hear the smoothest connection of the two chords. Half-step resolutions of any type, when moving from chord to chord, are just as strong as a traditional V-I cadence. Here is an example:

guide tones 1

In the preceding example, there are a lot of common tones repeated. This might be an interesting effect creating a certain amount of suspense, but the notes are mostly basic color tones. The #11th is an extension of the chord. Here is an example of a guide tone path through the same progression with more extensions and alterations:

guide tones 2

In the preceding progression, the guide tone path could have started on F, G, Ab, Bb, C, D or Eb. So, there could be several different guide tone paths through the progression.

Practice creating different guide tone paths on a simple chord progression to discover the possibilities. On dominant chords, especially, consider all the altered tones and extensions as possible notes to choose. Then, begin to improvise, staying very close to the guide tones, at first. Practice singing the guide tones (in your head) while you improvise around them. Eventually, you may find yourself hearing the guide tone paths without working them out first.

Monthly Musings – March 17, 2017

Things I’ve Learned (source unknown)

 I’ve learned that I like my teacher because she cries when we sing “Silent Night”……. Age 6

I’ve learned that our dog doesn’t want to eat my broccoli either. Age 7

I’ve learned that when I wave to people in the country, they stop what they are doing and wave back. Age 9

I’ve learned that just when I get my room the way I like it, Mom makes me clean it up again. Age 12

I’ve learned that if you want to cheer yourself up, you should try cheering someone else up. Age 14

I’ve learned that although it’s hard to admit it, I’m secretly glad my parents are strict with me. Age 15

I’ve learned that silent company is often more healing than words of advice. Age 24

I’ve learned that brushing my child’s hair is one of life’s great pleasures. Age 26

I’ve learned that wherever I go, the world’s worst drivers have followed me there. Age 29

I’ve learned that if someone says something unkind about me, I must live so that no one will believe it. Age 39

I’ve learned that there are people who love you dearly but just don’t know how to show it. Age 42

I’ve learned that you can make some one’s day by simply sending them a little note. Age 44

I’ve learned that the greater a person’s sense of guilt, the greater his or her need to cast blame on others. Age 46

I’ve learned that children and grandparents are natural allies. Age 47

I’ve learned that no matter what happens, or how bad it seems today, life does go on, and it will be better tomorrow. Age 48

I’ve learned that singing “Amazing Grace” can lift my spirits for hours. Age 49

I’ve learned that motel mattresses are better on the side away from the phone. Age 50

I’ve learned that you can tell a lot about a man by the way he handles these three things: a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights. Age 52

I’ve learned that keeping a vegetable garden is worth a medicine cabinet full of pills. Age 52

I’ve learned that regardless of your relationship with your parents, You miss them terribly after they die. Age 53

I’ve learned that making a living is not the same thing as making a life. Age 58

I’ve learned that if you want to do something positive for your children, work to improve your marriage. Age 61

I’ve learned that life sometimes gives you a second chance. Age 62

I’ve learned that you shouldn’t go through life with a catchers mitt on both hands. You need to be able to throw something back. Age 64

I’ve learned that if you pursue happiness, it will elude you. But if you focus on your family, the needs of others, your work, meeting new people, and doing the very best you can, happiness will find you. Age 65

I’ve learned that whenever I decide something with kindness, I usually make the right decision. Age 66

I’ve learned that everyone can use a prayer. Age 72

I’ve learned that it pays to believe in miracles. And to tell the truth, I’ve seen several. Age 75

I’ve learned that even when I have pains, I don’t have to be one. Age 82

I’ve learned that every day you should reach out and touch someone. People love that human touch – holding hands, a warm hug, or just a friendly pat on the back. Age 85

I’ve learned that I still have a lot to learn. Age 92

I’ve learned that you should pass this on to someone you care about. Sometimes we all just need a little something to make us smile. It’s Ageless.

Monthly Musings – March 15, 2017

Analysis of “Summertime”


Summertime is a modal sort of tune in that it has chords that last two or more measures. It is composed of four-bar phrases that could be labeled ABAC.

 The first A section

The progression in the 1st four measures is: /Dmi7 /Dmi7 /Dmi7 /Dmi7 //. In the key of D Minor, Dmi7 is the I chord and normally would call for an Aeolian (natural minor) scale which fits the key signature. However, since the chord lasts for four measures, the Dorian scale (C Major) is a good choice to get more of a “jazz” minor sound. The D Dorian scale includes all of the notes of a Dmi13 chord so using that scale will supply upper extensions of the harmony! But, since all notes are chord tones, there are no “wrong” notes to worry about as long as you play the correct scale!

The B section

The 2nd four measures move to the IV chord, a G mi7, and then to a II – V7 progression to return to the original minor key. The chord progression is: /Gmi7 /Gmi7 /EØ /A7b9 //. The Gmi7 should definitely be treated with a Dorian scale (F Major) to sound like it is in the right key. A G Natural Minor scale has an Eb which is not in the key signature for D Minor and would sound strange! The EØ – A7b9 progression may be bracketed with a D Harmonic Minor scale which prepares the return to the key of D Minor.

 The second A section

The progression in these four measures is: /Dmi7 /Dmi7 /Dmi7 /Gmi7 C7 //. So the first three measures would again use the D Dorian scale. The last measure of this section is a II – V7 progression to move up to the relative major key, F Major. That II – V7 progression may be bracketed with an F Major scale which may continue into the first bar of the C section.

 The C section

The last section begins in the relative major key but quickly returns to the original minor key. The chord progression is: /Fma7 /EØ A7b9 /Dmi7 /A7b9 //. As before, use the D Harmonic minor scale in the second measure to resolve back to the relative minor, D Minor. Use Dorian on the D mi7 and, on the last measure (A7b9), use either D Harmonic Minor or A Super Locrian (Bb Melodic Minor).

 A More complex treatment!

Up to this point, I have been recommending “bracketing” chords with a single scale as much as possible to simplify the process because there are less different scale colors to navigate. But, as you become confident improvising on the tune, you will probably want more variety in the sound! So then you may want to change the scale choice with each chord. Many of these choices are already made for you by the function of the chord, the key, and the context (preceding and following chords). Some of these choices are a matter of fact as is indicated below:

Dmi7 – Tonic chord, normally Natural Minor (Aeolian) but could be Dorian (C Major).

Gmi7 – IV in minor should be Dorian (F Major) to sound normal.

EØ  – the normal half-diminished scale is Locrian (F Major)

A7b9 – Should include alterations which predict the key signature of the Imi7 to follow. The two best choices are the 5th mode of Harmonic Minor (D Harmonic Minor) and A Super Locrian (Bb Melodic Minor).

Dmi7 – Dorian (C Major).

Gmi7 – Dorian (F Major).

C7 –  the largest variety of choices, any dominant 7th scale (except Minor Blues).

Fma7 – tonic function calls for F Major scale, F Lydian (C Major) could also be used.

EØ – the normal half-diminished scale is Locrian (F Major)


A7b9 – Should include alterations which predict the key signature of the Imi7 to follow. The two best choices are the 5th mode of Harmonic Minor (D Harmonic Minor) and A Super Locrian (Bb Melodic Minor).

Dmi7 – Dorian (C Major).

A7b9 – Should include alterations which predict the key signature of the Imi7 to follow. The two best choices are the 5th mode of Harmonic Minor (D Harmonic Minor) and A Super Locrian (Bb Melodic Minor).

When embarking on this more complex treatment, be sure to start at a slower tempo and try to emphasize the 3rds and 7ths of chords. These are the most important chord tones in any chord and bring out the quality of the chords (ma7, mi7, dom7,half-diminished, etc.). Listen to recordings by great artists, copy ideas that you like and incorporate them into your solo!

Monthly Musings – March 10, 2017

Thoughts On Comping

 Accompanying on jazz piano, jazz guitar or jazz vibes – Introduction

A piano player, guitar player or vibes player accompanies someone singing or playing the melody, accompanies one or more improvised solos and only gets to solo a very small percentage of the time. Since they are accompanists most of the time, it is important that they accept that role and the challenge of providing good accompaniment! If you don’t enjoy accompanying others, you should probably perform solo or switch to a different instrument! But once you experience the musical high of being part of a good rhythm section, you will realize a lot of satisfaction. It is a great example of the saying, “The whole is greater than the sum of the parts!”

Accompanying on jazz piano, jazz guitar or jazz vibes – Who plays?

As chord instrument players, we might think of ourselves as a business called “Chords Are Us.” Our main job is to supply the sound of the harmony when the melody is being played or sung and to accompany improvised solos. But if there are three chord instruments in the group, it can easily become cluttered up with chords and rhythms! A good horn player or singer doesn’t need anyone to play chords for him or her! Normally, the ideal is to have only one chord instrument, piano, guitar or vibes. But it is possible to have any two of the three and even all three in a group. The George Shearing Quintet used to have all three!

If there are two or three chord instruments, each person should play a lot less then he would if the others were not there or he can simply take turns. One might comp for one solo and then lay out and let another comp for the next. Any of the players can lay out sometimes creating a nice change of texture. Also, two or more instruments could play at the same time with each doing something different. For example, the pianist might play a rhythmic figure, the guitarist could play a sustained chord (sometimes called a “pad”) and the vibes might double a melodic line with a horn player.

Accompanying on jazz piano, jazz guitar or jazz vibes – How?

Mainly, just stay out of the way of the soloist but try to reinforce, punctuate in between the soloist’s ideas and make him or her feel comfortable! A good reality check is to ask yourself at various times, “Can I sing back what the soloist just played?” If you can’t, it may mean that you are not listening close enough. I’ll always remember that Clark Terry used to stand at the end of the keyboard and I would hear him singing licks I played right after I played them. He wasn’t an accompanist but I was impressed that he was “in the flow” of the music at all times and aware of everything that was going on. Another thing that C. T. used to do (and most great leaders will) was to play certain ideas now and then that really demanded that the rhythm section catch obvious accents with him. It was his way of seeing if we were listening and paying attention!

Accompanying on jazz piano, jazz guitar or jazz vibes – Attitude!

Remember, you will be expected to be a strong soloist but that’s not why people will ask you to play. I believe the term “comp” comes from the word complement. If you complement the soloist and make him or her feel good on the bandstand, you will always be asked to play! The right attitude is about 95% of being successful as an accompanist. If you don’t like to accompany, you will probably not be a successful sideman who is sought after.

Accompanying on jazz piano, jazz guitar or jazz vibes – Listening!

The important word in accompanying is “Listening”. You have to listen for a number of things like what kind of sound you hear, or where to punctuate (or complete) the soloist’s idea. The standard chord in a progression may be an unaltered dominant 7th chord but the soloist may be altering the sound and you need to reinforce that. Do what comes naturally but listen to pianists whose comping you think is good and see how they react to a soloist. I suggest listening to Red Garland, Tommy Flanagan, Wynton Kelly, Hank Jones, Cedar Walton, and other pianists who have recorded as a sideman with leading figures in jazz.

A good soloist will generally leave some space between ideas for the rhythm section to react or fill in. Remember though, sometimes you don’t react; you just try to create a feel. Imitation is not the most sincere form of flattery. If you imitate every rhythm the soloist plays, he will be afraid to play anything! Just as a drummer plays a repetitive figure on the ride cymbal and the bass player walks 1/4 notes, a chord instrument player may use a repetitive figure and let the soloist float over the top of that. There are too many approaches to begin to list them all but one idea might be to try to be part of the solo. Don’t just play along with it! If you are listening carefully to the soloist you can often anticipate an accent in the melodic line and reinforce that with the soloist!

The Jamey Aebersold playalong series offers many opportunitys to study good comping by professional musicians!

Monthly Musings – March 8, 2017

(This was a talk I gave at North Texas State University in the early 80s.)

You Always Have Choices

I guess the first choice confronting us as human beings is whether to live or die. It would seem to be an obvious choice and yet each year, in moments of extreme depression or frustration, many people take their own lives. It is tragic to think that those people have failed to see the opportunities that life has to offer. Still, many have considered that dark option when confronted with seemingly insurmountable obstacles in our lives. In times of disillusionment or confusion, sometimes it’s hard to know which way to turn or what step to take next. But there are always choices available which can lead toward a solution and there is no problem that can’t be conquered with time and patience!

In fact, if problems are viewed as opportunities for growth, they can be much easier to deal with. Sometimes problems exist in our lives because things are not just like we want them to be. But you have to remember that things could always be worse. Recall the saying, “I was unhappy because I had no shoes until I saw a man who had no feet!” Often, if we admit it to ourselves, many problems arise because we have something to learn about relating to other people. Usually, the best solution is to face the problem rather than to avoid it. We can choose to accept problems as our fate and give in, or we can choose to take action and grow from the experience. Some people are fatalists and others believe strongly in the ability to exercise their free wills. My grandfather, with his dry Midwestern sense of humor, used to say, “If you’re born to be hung, then you won’t be drowned!” But he constantly contradicted that fatalistic philosophy by making choices that were important to him in finding happiness.

Actually, we are all constantly confronted with both fate and the opportunity to shape our future courses of action. Certain events in our lives are going to occur more or less out of our control. The current fashionable that sums up this fatalistic attitude is, “Shit happens!” My concern is that the implication of the popular bumper sticker is that “Shit happens, it’s not my fault and there’s nothing I can do about it!” As far as I’m concerned, that’s a cop-out; there’s almost always something you can do about it. Oh sure, you can choose to use fate as an excuse to avoid conflict or to keep from confronting adversity in your life. But, you can choose not to accept a setback from certain events since you only have to regain the lost ground spiritually. Instead, you may choose to take action which moves you forward. Adversity in our lives is not really such a bad thing. Sure, no one wants to be constantly struggling to move ahead in life. But when you think about it, if everything was handed to you on a silver platter and there was never any challenge to test your patience, perseverance or determination, life would quickly become pretty boring.

Daily we are faced with literally dozens of choices, many of which are very important to our lives. Often choices are made out of feelings of guilt or obligation. The prelude to such choices may be a statement such as “I have to go practice,” or “I really should go see Susie,” or “I need to finish my English paper.” Actually, feeling guilt about something is a waste of energy. It would be better to take some kind of action leading to the accomplishing of a task or the solving of a problem. In other words, you can choose to feel guilty or you can do something about it. You don’t have to practice; you can choose to not play an instrument and channel your energy somewhere else. Or you can strengthen your conviction that you want to play well and become excited about improving through practice. You don’t have to go see Susie; you can put an end to the facade you have been carrying on with her. Or you can try to see the real value in her friendship and realize you really want to see her. You don’t have to finish your English paper and you don’t have to go to school to get a degree if it doesn’t interest you. A “slave attitude” toward a course usually results in a pretty bad experience! It would be much easier if you chose to make the subject interesting. You can choose to make the best out of all the degree requirements and get something out of even those courses that you don’t care for.

We human beings are amazing creatures. We have a great deal of innate intelligence, exceptional motor skills and the ability to reason, hope, dream and contemplate our existence. And yet, we are often so consumed with anxiety over our destiny that we totally overlook the joy of being alive each day. True, we seem to thrive on having future goals to work toward but we must not overlook the actual fact of our existence. We are alive each day to learn and realize more and more of our potential.

Regardless of one’s religious or idealogical beliefs, it is generally agreed that humans are the sum of three parts – mind, body and spirit. Many people have worked hard for many years to realize as much of their potential as possible in one or more or these areas. A scientist, mathematician or architect develops his mental powers to a high level. A fine athlete, cabinet maker or musician realizes a great deal of the potential of his body through highly developed motor skills. A religious leader, philosopher or author may realize a great deal of spiritual growth.

Briefly, consider some of the choices that you have with regard to these three parts of your being. You can choose to ignore your mental potential and only concern yourself with diversions and meaningless entertainment. They say that ignorance is bliss but how much can a person smoke, drink or watch TV before he starts to go crazy? Instead, you can choose to develop your mental powers of concentration so that you can learn many things about the world around you. You can tap the power of your subconscious mind and use it to help you discover the fantastic mental potential that not only you, but most of us, have.

You can choose to ignore the marvelous gift of life and fail to give any proper care to your body. Or you can choose to develop the intricate skills that your body is capable of in sports, music or other creative arts and crafts. You don’t have to become a jogging freak or a concert pianist to realize a great deal of satisfaction in activities which bring out your physical potential. You do, however, have to give attention to diet and health care because the body is susceptible to disease and illness.

Finally, our spirits need a lot of attention and nourishment just like the other facets of our being. The spirit is that part of us that feels, hopes, dreams and rejoices in the bright moments of life. If you want your spirit to soar, you must choose a positive environment with other spirits who want to soar as well.

Most of our activities in life involve simultaneous development of all three aspects of our beings. I think that we should all be striving to realize as much of that potential as possible. In the process, I believe we find a more complete meaning to life. I am not at all sure why I am here or where I came from, and I’m certain I don’t know where I’m going. But in the meantime, it seems foolish to miss the daily opportunities of life! Again, these opportunities also continually present us with choices and, I believe, that gradually the choices become clearer and easier to make.

Basically, many choices relate to deciding what really matters and what doesn’t. We tend to spend a lot of time worrying about things that really don’t matter and, unfortunately, not enough time attending to the things that do. For instance, does it really matter what someone thinks of you if you refuse to smoke a joint with them because you honestly don’t care to? You can choose to smoke a joint to be popular or you can be true to your convictions and choose your friends because of their value systems, not because of their diversions. If smoking a joint with someone is required to gain his friendship, then that isn’t a very sound basis for it. Instead, you may choose to base your friendships on trust, mutual respect and admiration.

When we begin to discover the endless variety and the extent of our potential, there is hardly time to be unhappy in life – there’s too much to do! At various times in my life I have become interested in, studied and taught myself as much as I could about such diverse things as electronics, carpentry, fishing, computers, automobiles, sports, camping, plumbing, photography, electrical wiring and the English language. Music is an extremely important part of my life. However, it’s not all of my life, nor is it the only path I could have chosen to express myself creatively as a human being. If one chooses to, he or she can be creative at any pursuit in life: in the way he deals with fellow workers in business, the way he deals with students as a teacher, the way he coordinates the construction of a building or the way he arranges a display in a grocery store.

So, start exercising your choices. Don’t choose to be with people who are complainers, who think that “Shit has happened” to them and there’s nothing they can do about it. Choose action and move forward to discover all that life holds for you. But do it only if you are willing to invest the time and effort. We’ve all heard the expression, “Anything worth doing is worth doing well!” To do anything well requires an investment of effort. There’s no such thing as a free lunch, no such thing as ten easy lessons, nor is anything handed to us on a silver platter!

In conclusion, I would like to state a few of my choices. You might find it helpful to sit down and make your own list. Basically, it’s an outline of your philosophy and a good thing to do from time to time, just to take stock of your feelings.

I choose:

To explore and learn as many new things as I can.

To spend time creating books and music that, hopefully, will touch other peoples lives.

To spend as much time as possible with people who matter to me, rather than with people whose opinions of me don’t matter.

To awake each morning and energetically pursue the new opportunities of that day.

To not be concerned with my status in life or with what others think of me.

To try to be the best person that I can and to mean something to others.

To pass on what others have given me that no one really owns anyway.

To remove guilt from my life and, instead, take appropriate action.

To see any problem as an opportunity to grow in patience, tolerance or acceptance.

To gain wisdom from those more experienced in life and, at the same time, to hold on to youthful ideals.

To learn to use the English language out of respect for all the great minds who have demonstrated that it’s worthwhile to do so.

To be open so that people may know me, trust me and let me know them.

Monthly Musings – March 1, 2017

Competition is an illusion!

 If you have the necessary skills and experience for a particular musical opportunity, you are competitive. If you don’t, you aren’t! To me there are two sides to competition. First, to let competition be more important than playing well is a shame. So many experiences in music education involve competition, i.e. winning a contest to demonstrate the effectiveness of a music program. This often results in a high school jazz band playing the same three or four tunes for months to prepare for the contest. The director may feel pressure to win these types of competitions to show his effectiveness as a teacher. The sad part is that he could have spent much of that time introducing the students to a variety of music and actually teaching them something of value.

The other side of competition is that it gives a perspective on one’s growth as a musician. If a student observes others having problems that he or she no longer has, that can be encouraging because the student realizes that progress in taking place. On the other hand, if a student realizes that other musicians play better than him or her, it may be an inspiration for improvement!

In my 35 years as a faculty member in the jazz studies program at North Texas, I frequently saw students who couldn’t handle the competition. Often it was a student who was the “big frog in a little pond” at the school he or she came from. In other words, that student was basically the best player in the band and highly respected by the other students. Arriving at North Texas, he discovered many other students who played better than he did and couldn’t handle it. So he tucked his tail between his legs and left, looking for a more comfortable environment that flattered his ego. I was always saddened to see that because the student had failed to see the opportunities for growth. To me one of the great things about the jazz program at North Texas is that students come there and they get better! Many times I would observe a student playing in a lower band and, a couple of years later, I would see them playing in a top band.

Neil Slater, the director of the 1:00 Lab Band for 27 years, used to say “Everyday is an audition!” In fact there is still a sign quoting this posted in the jazz studies office. He also used to say “No one has glue on his ass!” meaning that a student couldn’t rest on his laurels and be certain he could hold down a chair without deserving it. These aspects of competition relate to the real world for musicians and represent good examples.

I have also added to this idea the non-musical aspects of competition. Here is a quote from my “Parting Thoughts” lecture when I retired from full-time teaching – “Just around the corner is someone who plays better than you, can be on time, be prepared, wear the right clothes for the job, and is a person who is easy to get along with.” In this context, it is assumed that you are musically prepared.

 When I was free-lancing in New York in the 70s, sometimes I would get some surprising phone calls for gigs. It didn’t make me think I was better than a lot of people and therefore in demand. It just made me think that 17 other people were not available for the gig that day and the opportunity trickled down to me. In those cases, I tried my best to deserve being in the musical situation so that maybe it would lead to other opportunities.

Sometimes, I got a call just because I had an electric piano without the caller knowing anything about how I played. So having the instrument made me competitive for the gig. Sometimes, you just have to have a tux or dark suit although I don’t play those types of gigs anymore!

It is always a disappointment to me to hear a student react to an outstanding performance by saying, “I think I’ll quit playing!” My reaction is, “If that performance doesn’t inspire you to want to play better, you probably should quit!” Ultimately, the only real competition is with yourself. Are you falling short of playing the way you really want to play? Are you a better player than the one you were a year ago or even a month ago? A wonderful thing about playing creative music is that you can never get bored with it. There is always more to learn. There is a standard of playing out there that we all need to recognize and to which we need to aspire. But, at any point, you are completely okay. You can only play as well as you do today and that is nothing to be ashamed of. I always remind myself that we are all at some point in our musical growth that all musicians have experienced. At some point your favorite jazz player couldn’t play a C major scale. But he or she kept looking forward and improving to become the artist that you admire. We can all think of ourselves as artists and strive to raise the level of our performance every time we play. As Clark Terry used to say, “Keep on keepin’ on!”

Monthly Musings – February 28, 2017

Analysis of Stella By Starlight – simple treatment

 Stella By Starlight is one of the most popular jazz standards played the world over. I think it may be because the song includes such a variety of chord progressions in one 32 measure form. First of all, it doesn’t follow a conventional AABA or ABAB song form. I would describe it as ABCD in that each 8 bar section is different from the others. What follows will be a simple analysis and a more complex treatment.

1st 8 measures –

The progression – /EØ /A7b9 /Cm7 / F7 / Fm7 /Bb7 /Eb∆ /Ab7 /

EØ to A7 is a II-V in D minor. Actually, the first chord in the tune in the key of Bb was originally a Bbº7. The bebop players decided to call it an A7b9 and precede it with its II chord, EØ. A7b9 and Bbº7 would both use the same diminished scale so these substitutions don’t really change the sound of the tune drastically.

Anyway, the II-V in D minor can be satisfied with a D Harmonic minor scale. This implies creating melodic shapes that emphasize the 3rds and 7ths of each chord. The Cm7-F7 is a II-V in Bb Major and can be played with a Bb major scale. Fm7-Bb7-Eb∆ is a II-V-I in Eb major and can be satisfied with an Eb major scale.

The Ab7 is a transition chord from the key of Eb back to the home key of Bb. Since there is a D natural in both chords on either side of it, the Ab7 will sound best if played with a Lydian, b7 scale which includes D natural.

2nd 8 measures –

The progression – /Bb∆ /EØ A7 /Dm7 /Bbm7 Eb7 /F∆ /EØ /AØ /D7b9 /

Bb∆ – Bb major scale
EØ-A7-Dm7 – D Harmonic minor (II-V-I in D minor)
Bbm7-Eb7 – Ab major scale (II-V in Ab major)
F∆, EØ – F major scale (I-VII in F major)
AØ-D7b9 – G Harmonic minor (II-V in G minor)

3rd 8 measures –

The progression – /G7+5 /G7+5 /Cm7 /Cm7 /Ab7 / Ab7 /Bb∆ /Bb∆ /

The +5 of the G7 is in the melody so, to sound right, whatever scale that is used should include Eb. Here are the choices: whole tone, mixolydian b6, 5th mode of Harmonic minor or Super Locrian (7th mode of Melodic Minor).

Cm7 – I chord, either C Aeolian or C Dorian
Ab7 – another transition chord surrounded by chords with D natural so it calls for a Lydian b7 scale.

4th 8 measures –

The progression – /EØ /A7b9 /DØ /G7b9 /CØ /F7b9 /Bb∆ /

EØ – A7b9 – D Harmonic minor (II-V in D minor)
DØ – G7b9 – C Harmonic minor (II-V in C minor)
CØ – F7b9 – Bb Harmonic minor (II-V in Bb minor)
Bb∆ – Bb major

Analysis of Stella By Starlight – complex treatment

 Instead of bracketing many progressions of two or more chords with a single sound, you may prefer more variety and using a unique color on each chord. Plus, there are some choices that create deceptions as to what the key is or surprise resolutions.

EØ to A7 can be handled nicely with Melodic minor scales. If a G Melodic minor is used with EØ, it supplies a major 9th (F#) to the chord. This is somewhat unusual because that note is not in the minor key of the progression. This might imply guide tone motion which moves that note into the minor key: EØ – F#, A7 – F natural, Dm – E. For the A7, the 7th mode of the melodic minor supplies all of the altered chord tones which prepare the resolution to the minor I chord. Here are the basic relationships:

IIØ – Melodic minor built on the 3rd of the chord
V7alt – Melodic minor built a ½ step above the root of the V chord

Another interesting feature of using melodic minor modes on both the II and the V chords is that the same melodic material can be used on both chords for sequences!

For example, the “Cry Me A River” lick – EØ – 4 3 7 5 4 3, A7alt – #9 b9 #5 3 #9 b9.

Cm7 F7 – II and V are basically the same thing (same key). You can play both or you can play just the II or just the V. You might play just the Cm7 with a minor pentatonic for example. Or you might play just the F7 with a Lydian b7 scale.

Fm7 Bb7 Eb∆ – Fm7 requires a Dorian scale to sound like a II chord but the Bb7 might be treated with a variety of different scales. In fact you could use just about any dominant 7th scale except the Blues scale which sounds like it is a I chord. The Eb∆ is key center but it could be played with either a Major or a Lydian scale.

Ab7 (wherever it occurs) – As said earlier, it should have a D natural in it so a Lydian b7 is the best choice. I also like what I call the Lydian Bebop scale which is a combination of the Bebop scale and Lydian b7. Another interesting possibility is to use a ½ W Diminished scale. The Diminished scale for Ab7 is the same as for F7 so would create even more of a strong cadence resolving to Bb major! Check out the scales here –

Bbm7 Eb7 – Remember, II and V are the same thing. You can play some kind of melodic II-V pattern over this progression or you could just play the Eb7. If you use a Diminished scale, it is the same as the scale for C7 and so would create a strong cadence resolving to the F∆.

Throughout the tune experiment with the use of Melodic minor scales on the following:

1 Ø chords (built on the 3rd)
2 altered dominant chords (built ½ step above the root)
3 minor I chords (built on the root)
4 #11 dominant chords (built on the 5th)

Don’t neglect the melody. There are many melodic fragments that can be recalled and developed in an improvised solo. Keep the sound of the melody in your head so that you are always making the tune sound like Stella By Starlight. The melody is usually the first thing that attracts me to a tune so I try to be faithful to it. Remember that there are many different melodies on blues or I Got Rhythm changes so, in those cases, the melody may not be such a big part of how you treat the tune. But, when you are playing a standard from the great American songbook, show the composer the respect he or she deserves for the creation of not just a chord progression but also a beautiful melody!