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Conceptual Jazz

Some of my favorite recordings are ones that demonstrate “radical reharms.” Songs that featured exceptional treatments from artists like Kenny Kirkland and Chick Coreas really stand out. In my last article, I illustrated what I like to call a “partial reharmonization” of the great Cole Porter standard, “All of You.” In that reharm, I created a “modal harmonic path” on the first eight bars. I also used some chromatic harmonies and a few “modal” harmonies on specific isolated changes. I am fortunate to be teaching diverse improv approaches to a brilliant baritone saxophone player by the name of Tom Zimny. Tom is a senior jazz studies student at Elmhurst College. If you have had the opportunity to hear the Elmhurst College Jazz Band, you are certainly familiar with Tom’s extraordinary talent. Definitely a bright star on the jazz horizon. Tom is also a brilliant music theoretician with a high level ability to grasp complex harmonies. At one of his recent lessons, we talked about doing a reharm of “Dearly Beloved.” We decided this would be a challenge since the song only creates two tonalities. Cmajor and a brief reference to Db major. Since Db major can be interpreted as the tri-tone sub of G7 we don’t really “leave the neighborhood.” This harmonic path creates a very “suspended” type of sound throughout the tune. Tom came up with a brilliant reharmonization of “Dearly Beloved.” I must say that I find teaching students like Tom very invigorating, as he keeps me on my toes. I have found the jazz students at Elmhurst generally do the same. It really removes the boredom factor that presents itself to teachers of jazz. Let’s take a look at this chart below. As you might have noticed, the original changes are above the staves and the “reharm” changes are below the staves. I hope you find this less confusing than listing both sets of changes above the staves. I also listed the “reharm” changes in parentheses (at top right). The first thing you should notice is that there are eight tonal centers (if you consider chords such as min7s as members of a common tonal center as are 7ths and maj7s). The next thing to strive for is to play Lydian, altered, diminished scales, etc., where appropriate. Then try to play scale patterns and chord tone patterns fluently. Many of you reading this article may already have these skills. Finally, the ability to immediately know the common tones of the various tonalities is what makes these various tonalities flow in an intuitive manner. A great book for exhaustive examples of various scales and scale patterns is Rich Corpolongo’s manual on “Patterns for Contemporary Musicians.” It is the best I have seen on the subject. I hope as always that this “reharm” helps to tweak your “creative voice” which is so important to our beloved art form. Also keep watching for Tom Zimny a great bari-sax player. Tom is planning to do a recording project with some of the Elmhurst Faculty members early next year. Frank Caruso currently serves on the Jazz Studies Faculty at Elmhurst College and also teaches at his private studio in Naperville. Caruso can also be reached at

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