Improv Column: Terry Seabrook’s Jazz Tip of the Month No. 8

Pianist Terry Seabrook’s Jazz Tip of the Month No. 8

Expanding the II – V – I progression

 

    A nice idea for adding more chords is to move up in minor thirds on the minor seventh chord. For example: 

| Fm7   | Bb7    | Ebmaj7   | can become 

|Fm7  Abm7 | Bm7 Bb7 | Ebmaj7   |

This works particularly well when the II chord is a m7b5 chord as in the following example:

    This is the A section of I Hear a Rhapsody. In bars 5-7 (start of line 2) the harmony is II(b5) – V7 – I in Eb major. The II has a b5 because of the presence of the b5 (Cb or B) in the melody. It was Bill Evans who added the alternative changes (chords) and it works very well here because the Cb or B melody note fits the two minor chords following on. The Cb is the third of Abm7 and the root of Bm7. The Fm7 can be left without the b5 because the Cb note comes halfway through the bar.

    It’s nice to improvise on this substitution because you can play parallel shapes across the three minor chords moving a motif up a minor third twice. This can work even if the accompanying musicians play the original changes – a temporary tension is created as one player goes “outside”. 

Check out Bill Evans – Montreux II  (CTI 6004) (1970). 

    Another way of rationalising this is to think about tritone substitutions. This is the practice of replacing chords (usually dominant-type chords) with the chord a tritone away. A tritone can also be described as three whole tones, 6 semitones, a flatted fifth or an augmented fourth. (I will go into tritone subs more in a future tip). Using tritone subs:

| Fm7      | Bb7       | Ebmaj7   |      becomes: 

| Fm7      | E7          | Ebmaj7   |     or even:

| Bm7      |  E7         | Ebmaj7   |

Using tritone additions we can play

| Fm7        | Bm7 E7    | Ebmaj7   | or

| Bm7 E7  | Bb7           | Ebmaj7   | or

| Fm7        | Bm7  E7    | Ebmaj7  | or 

| Fm7        | B7  Bb7    | Ebmaj7   |  etc etc 

    

The possibilities are numerous. But the point here is the appearance of Bm7 as a link chord to Bb7 is similar to the presence of Bm7 in the sequence we opened with:

|Fm7  Abm7 | Bm7 Bb7| Ebmaj7  |  

    

    The Abm7 becomes a “passing chord” that creates the sequence of m7 chords moving up in minor thirds.