[Harp-L] Michael Polesky on Jazz Harmony

This one expounds on Michael's ideas and insights into jazz harmony. The title below ["My view of jazz harmony the 'Fizzbin Theory' ] was the title of the original email...every word after this sentence was written by Michael Polesky.
My view of jazz harmony the "Fizzbin Theory"

Hey Bob,
I am sorry it took me so long to respond.  I have been sneaking in bits and pieces of this particularly complicated e-mail over the last week and a half - or more.  I tend to obsess on making my e-mails more like an essay than a quick note.  
Be aware that this only works for jazz!!  What this is, is . . . well . . . a sort of reference book to look at when I give you a chord progression to absorb.  When I say that this is a  II-V-I or a IV-V-I or a VI-V-I or a I-VI-II-V or a II-VI-II-V, you might be able to figure out how I pick my improvisation notes and get a feeling how to internalize these sounds.
One thing I will talk about in my view of harmony is things that are "tonic" or "dominant" or "both".  Put simply, the tonic is the I chord and the dominant is the V chord.  The V chord always wants to resolve (what I also call making a cadence) to the I chord.  Sometimes it doesn't resolve to I and, hence, is "deceptive".  The I chord can be major or minor.  The V chord is ALWAYS a "dominant 7th" chord or, occasionally, a diminished chord (that is a dominant 7th or V7 with the b9 added and bass left out).  In C, the notes B, D, F and Ab - which usually go over a G bass.
The rest of the chords (I-VII) are either more dominant or more tonic.  That is, they want to "resolve" or they are the chord that you "resolve to".  Interestingly enough, the "tonic" chords are chords that tend to "hang there" for a while both harmonically and rhythmically.  "Dominant chords" tend to want to move to something else.  Case in point:  (using Nashville)  ii-V-I in C is Dmin to G to C.  Now, you could sit on the D minor as a tonic, but once you add the G chord it needs to resolve as our ear hears it.  So, the Dmin can be both tonic and dominant, but the G only dominant and the C only tonic.  Also, chances are that the C chord will land on beat 1 of measure 1,3,5 or 7 of the verse or the bridge.  Real "tonic" sounding chords tend to be located in places where the rhythm resolves as well.  Thus, it almost always happens on an odd numbered bar.
To get beyond the II-V-I progression, I can actually rate the chords in the major and minor scales as likely to be tonic or dominant sounding according to what scale degree they are.  Starting from most tonic to most dominant they are rated I-III-VI-IV-II-V-VII with I being most tonic, VII being most dominant and IV being both.  For C that means that, in the major, the C major chord sounds a lot like the E minor.  Take Em7 and compare it with Cmaj9 without the C in the bass.  In the minor compare Ebmaj7 with Cmin9 without the bass.  For the VI chord, compare Am7 to C6 and Abmaj9 to Cm7.  The III and the VI are good substitutions for I and, when they follow the I chord, they tend to keep the same tonality.
III and VI chords are not always tonic sounding.  However, when I don't consider them substitutes for the I chord, I will often refer to the III chord as II of II and the VI chord as V of II.  In this case, the VI chord will generally turn out to be dominant so, in C, you would get ii-V-iii-VI7-ii-V-I.  This is the infamous III-VI-II-V as a turn around (shown here in the major).  You will see this a lot and eventually become used to the way the III chord works as both a "tonic" (substitute for the I chord) and a "dominant" as II of II.
The IV chord is strange.  In the major it can really masquerade as both the tonic and dominant chords.  Case in point for dominant sounding:  2nd position on diatonic C chord to G on a C harp.  Sounds like church and it is called a "plagel cadence" and, in jazz, blues and gospel you play the blues scale over it.  Another dominant sound is the V-IV-I you get in blues.  These definitely resolve to the I chord.  IV-V-I is more common in the minor but the IV chord is even more dominant sounding in the minor.  For a IV chord sounding like a tonic:  Autumn leaves when it goes Am7-D7-Gmaj7-Cmaj7 (ii7-V7-Imaj7-IVmaj7).  Another one is All the things you are: Fm7-Bbm7-Eb7-Abmaj7-Dbmaj7.  This is vi7-ii7-V7-Imaj7-IVmaj7.  Also in blues the IV chord in measure 5 of regular, minor and "major" or "jazz" blues serves as both a tonic AND a dominant chord.
You may pause and ask me what the f**k I am talking about.  This will be come much clear later - maybe after a few drinks?
Now we are at the II chord.  When I say the II chord it will almost always be a minor or diminished (also think "half diminished" or min7b5) chord.  If it is a a major chord (most likely dominant 7) I will generally call it V of V.  The II chord just screams to lead to a V and resolve to a I chord.  Case in point: ANY tune but "Good Bye Pork Pie Hat"!!
The V chord is easy to explain.  The V cannot exist without crying out for a I chord.  The V is always a dominant chord - meaning a major 3rd and (usually) a minor 7th intervals in the chord.  That would be a G7 chord in the key of C.  B is the major 3rd and F is the minor 7th intervals (over the root note G).  the V chord exists in the mere shadow of the I chord it wishes to resolve to, totally dependent (both physically and emotionally) upon the fact that it needs to resolve and cannot do that on its own.  Classical writers call it harmonic "tension" in the chord.  Even as the first chord or final chord in a blues or any other jazz tune, the V chord's very identity hangs upon the fact that our ears want it to resolve to something else.  When it is used as the first chord or final chord of a tune there is always that feeling that something is amiss until it moves to the next chord.  The tension in the chord is one of those things that an obsessive compulsive person would have to correct if he heard it in a room.  
Any dominant chord (with a major 3rd and a minor 7th in the chord) can be interpreted as some sort of V chord if you are willing to accept that the key modulates to the tonic of the chord you are identifying as a V.  A VII chord does the same thing.  Real "VII" chords almost never show up.  The VII in the key of C is Bdim and it is almost inevitably thought of as II of VI.  This would be Bm7b5 or Bdim to E7 (V of VI) to Amin.  This happens when C modulates to A min and you will see this kind of progression.
Now, to recap, pretty much any chord of the I-VII variety in major or minor can end up having either a tonic or dominant sound.  Despite my various rankings on which are more tonic or more dominant, it can pretty much go either way.  This is what I like to call the "Fizzbin Theory".  You can learn WAY too much about Fizzbin at: http://startrek.wikia.com/wiki/Fizzbin but let it suffice to say that it originally started as a game where Captain Kirk made up the rules as he went along in order to distract his captors.  Some of the rules were rather ridiculous, but the kept everybody busy thinking about them.
I am going to try not to make up the rules as we go along ;-).  In some ways, what I am trying to say is the old quote "there are no bad notes - just bad choices".  Essentially, your choice as to whether you treat a chord as tonic or dominant will define the tonal character of your licks.  Conviction and good timing can often overshadow poor harmonic choices.  Think of a tune as a small creek and the tonic chords as being large flat boulders in the middle with a bunch of smaller round stones around them that will allow you to cross without getting wet.  You can only put one foot on the smaller stones, but you can put two feet on the bigger ones and stand up straight.  The bigger stones are the tonic sounding chords and the smaller ones are the dominant ones.
Fizzbin I Win!!
Now, another thing that I haven't described is what happens when you go outside of the I-VII count.  Now, in the minor, chords can be based on the notes that have the minor 6th, major 6th, minor 7th and major 7th steps of the tonic.  That is to say that, in the key of C minor, you can have some sort of Ab, A, Bb and B chord.  These root notes are all acceptable depending on whether you are using the harmonic, melodic or natural minor.  In reality, this speaks mostly for the individual notes in the scale since, as I noted above, VII chords are almost unheard of in jazz.  However, notice that the VII chords both exist.  So, adding the major and minor together, you have the root intervals of the tonic, major 2nd, minor 3rd, major 3rd, 4th, 5th, minor 6th, major 6th, minor seventh and major 7th all available as root notes for chords that can be explained in the I-VII count in some fashion according to which major or minor scale you are counting in.
This still leaves the minor 2nd and the diminished 5th as root notes that are not accounted for.  I could make up something to account for them, but why bother ;-).  "Fizzbin I Win"!  A lot of the crap I told you in the previous paragraph has nothing to do with what I am going to use to describe harmony.  Do remember that all the notes work in melody, but in terms of harmony I will usually tell you that "this is a II-V in the key of "X" or "Xmin".  I will usually limit my scales to major or harmonic minor.  I will actually make all this stuff seem easy when I am done!  The truth is that jazz modulates all the time and the "tonic chord" changes all the time - when it appears at all.
So, in a tune like "You Stepped Out of a Dream", I can say that the first 2 measures of Cmaj7 are "tonic" in C Major.  I can then tell you that the Dbmaj7 in the next two chords are also tonic in Db major and that there is simply a modulation.  I don't have to explain why C moves to Db so easily.  Fizzbin!  I can then say that the Bbmin7 following that is another modulation that creates a II-V-I in Ab major.  The song may start in C and end on a C, but I am not trying to follow every modulation and describe its relation to the original C major.  the Bbmin is not a "VII chord" in the key of C.  It is just a simple II - which has a dominant sound - in the key of Ab.
This means that, despite all the great verbiage I give you, you will often think of jazz tunes as changing keys all throughout the tune.  In the meantime, you will begin to recognize common paths that lead between the first and last chord of a tune.  In addition, you will have the tools to distinguish which part of the path is where you rest and which part is where you hop from one stone to the other.  I think I should probably leave it at that before I turn your brain into pumpkin mush.
One thing to note . . . None of the guidelines of jazz harmony pertain to, or can help, in any way shape or form, with playing the tune "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat".  While I can tell you that the tune is a 12 bar minor blues, the truth is that its chord changes defy the laws of harmony, physics and chemistry.  Since this is the case, I can definitively declare that the tune does not exist at all.  Those who claim that they have personally seen, heard or played the tune are mistaken and they probably just saw bigfoot or a UFO.  I challenge anybody to explain to me how "Goodbye Pork Pie Hat" works harmonically.  Until then, I maintain that it is just an urban legend.  Maybe we'll try that as a fun challenge on Harp-L.
Days of Wine and Roses is on its way soon,

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