Quick iPad sketch done on location using my favorite app, Paper by FiftyThree.
Uri Caine has been on my radar a long time, but I’ve never had the opportunity to hear him live. So I was very glad that Creative Music Works brought him to Dazzle in Denver, and that I had the opportunity to shoot this show. Uri is my favorite kind of jazz pianist – melodic, rhythmic, energetic, percussive, endlessly inventive. I also appreciate the fact that he displays a deep understanding of classical music as well.
Today while teaching my Jazz Theory & Aural Skills class at DU, I had a revelation – a way of explaining the notion of “secondary dominant” chords by appealing to concepts and terminology from the TV show “Downton Abbey” (or substitute your favorite show, movie, or book about British aristocracy). Sound far-fetched? Read on.
As many musicians know, “most” chords in “most” songs are diatonic, meaning they consist exclusively of notes that are in the key. So in the key of C, we expect to see C, Dmi, Emi, F, G, Ami, and Bdim chords as triads, or Cma7, Dmi7, Emi7, Fma7, G7, Ami7, and Bmi7b5 as seventh chords, since these chords consist of notes from the key of C. We often label these chords with Roman numerals: I, ii, iii, IV, V, vi, and viiø. But most songs also include at least a few chords that are not diatonic – chords that include at least one note not in the key. The majortiy of these non-diatnoic chords fall into a few basic categories that explain the function of the chord, and by far the most important such category is the “secondary dominant”.
OK, I know, I promised you Downton Abbey, and so far, the hasn’t been an earl in sight. Well, here’s the deal. The most important relationship in music is V-I. That is, the most important chord in music is the I chord (called the “tonic”), and the V chord (called the “dominant”) serves to lead to the I chord. We could even say that the I chord is so important – wait for it – so important that it gets its own personal valet, the V chord. V for valet (pronounced, in Britain, to rhyme with “palette”), get it?
In the key of C, this is to say that G7 typically leads to Cma7. But sometimes, other chords like to feel important too. Sometimes, for instance, the ii chord – Dmi7 – wants to feel important. How do we make that happen? We give him his own personal valet too, of course! That is, we give him his own personal V chord. In the key of D minor, the V chord would be A7. We could say that A7 is the valet of Dmi7. Or, in Roman numeral terms, we could say it is the V of ii. In traditional classical notation, that is written V/ii, read as “V of ii”.
We’re still in the key of C, so Cma7 – the I chord – is still the earl of the estate. And G7 is still the primary valet – the personal valet of the I chord. But A7 chords do often occur as the personal valets of the ii chord, Dmi7. Chords like A7 – not the primary valet (the actual V chord in the key), but valets of some other diatonic chord – might be called secondary valets. The valets of ii, and of iii, and of IV, and of V, and of vi, are all common chords. So in the key of C, we may see A7 chords that lead to Dmi7 (V/ii leading to ii), B7 chords leading to Emi (V/iii leading to iii), C7 chords leading to Fma7 (V/IV leading to IV), D7 chords leading to G7 (V/V leading to V), or E7 chords leading to Ami7 (V/vi leading to vi).
These are the most common non-diatonic chords there are. And these chords that I am calling secondary valets in reference to Downton Abbey are, of course, actually called “secondary dominants”. Dominant = V, and V is for valet. So there you have it!
Some day, I’ll explain how a “suspension” can be explained using the Wile E. Coyote and The Road Runner cartoons.
Danny Meyer is one of my favorite musicians in Colorado. He’s the saxophonist in what I guess counts as the current incarnation of my quartet, although we have done only one gig and that was over a year ago. I am very sorry not to have the opportunity to work with him much more as he is moving to New York soon. These images are from a going away party / concert and benefit for CCJA held at Dazzle. I wish Danny all the success in the world!
The Gift of Jazz winter courses offered by professional pianist, composer, and educator Marc Sabatella begin on January 26, 2013.
The theme to this series of courses is Modal Jazz, a phrase that encompasses the music of Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue”, John Coltrane’s “A Love Surpeme”, Herbie Hancock’s “Maiden Voyage”, Wayne Shorter’s “Speak No Evil”, and much more. The primary aspect of modal jazz that we will be looking at is the idea of using scales as the harmonic foundation of composition and improvisation.
Please enroll soon to reserve your spot!
Jazz Composition – Beyond Functional Harmony (Saturdays: 10:00 – 11:15 am)
Some of the most beloved jazz recordings of all time are based on relatively sparse composed material – most notably, Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” and John Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme”. These deceptively simple foundations allows the performers to build their own structures, improvising with just a few scales rather than being locked into a predictable chord progression. At the same time, composers like Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter extended the vocabulary of jazz harmony to include unique but more complex sonorities that also encourage the use of scales as improvisational tools. In this class, we will learn to create compositions that go beyond conventional harmonies and provide different types of frameworks for jazz performance. The final projects will be performed by a professional combo at Dazzle.
Jazz Improvisation and Theory – Improvising Using Scales (Saturdays: 11:30 – 12:45 pm)
Improvisation in modal jazz involves learning a set of scales and developing the ability to create melodies with them. This is something most musicians have always done using the major scale, minor, and/or blues scales, but modal jazz introduces other possibilities. In this class, we will learn a number of other useful scales and when/how to use them, playing over tunes by people like Miles Davis, John Coltrane, and others. This course culminates in an (optional) performance at Dazzle.
The Gift of Jazz Small Jazz Ensemble – Modality (Saturdays: 1:00 – 2:15 pm)
Work on soloing and playing in a combo setting with a special emphasis on the modal jazz – music that encourages the use of a variety of scales as a basis for improvisation. This course culminates with a performance at Dazzle.
Space in all classes is extremely limited. Discounted tuition is available for students interested in taking more than one class. To enroll click here! (tuition is non-refundable unless the class is not held).
We hope to see you there!