Evolutionary Voicings, Part 2

Applying the Barry Harris Method to Tunes, by Howard Rees
Keyboard Magazine Article – November 1998

Last month we introduced you to jazz pianist Barry Harris’s approach to developing a chord voicing style based on two unique hybrid scales: the major 6 diminished scale and the minor 6 diminished scale. To recap briefly, the scales consist of two chords each: a major 6 and a diminished 7th, and a minor 6 and a diminished 7th, respectively. I hope you’ve enjoyed the exercises I’ve presented – and that you’ve practised them in all keys! The skills you develop by doing so will help you to “read into” the chord symbols you encounter on a typical fakebook chart.

The goal and beauty of this system is finding ways to move voicings along the appropriate hybrid scale in such a way that the motion leads into the next chord. Taking a II-V progression in D as an example, an Am7 flat 5 can be realized as a Cm6, which together with the Bdim7 chord forms the C minor 6 diminished scale (for a refresher, refer to Examples 6 and 10 in “Evolutionary Voicings, Part I” in the October ’98 issue). Moving a Cm6 voicing along that scale makes for a very interesting sound, and it leads nicely to the D7. Once on the D7, you could use a voicing from the Eflat minor 6 diminished scale, which is the altered scale for D7 (see Examples 10 and 11 in October).

In the following examples, I have voiced the minor 7th, minor 7flat5, and major 7th chords with their corresponding 6th chords (refer to Example 10 in October). Some of the 6th voicings contain notes borrowed from their associated diminished 7th chords (Example 19 in October). You’ll also find places where I’ve incorporated related dominant 7th voicings over a root dominant 7th (Examples 11 and 12 in October). Have fun applying these techniques to other tunes in your repertoire.

This is the first “A” section of “Star Eyes”. In measure 4, the melody lends itself well to harmonization with the A flat major 6 diminished scale. In measure 6, I use the C minor 6 diminished scale to harmonize the melody, but this time with a note borrowed from the Bdim7 chord – the B. In measure 8 the melody is voiced with B flat m6 and Adim7, while the bass line walks down the B flat minor 6 diminished scale and resolves to a C7 voiced with a D flat m6. (“Star Eyes,” by Don Raye and Gene DePaul. © 1942. (Renewed) Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer Inc. © 1943. (Renewed EMI Feist Catalog Inc. All Rights Reserved. Used by permission)

As we discussed in the October issue, the minor 6 diminished scale works great as an altered scale a half-step up from the root of a dominant 7th chord. Here is the D flat version of that scale voiced for use over a C7.

Here’s a ii-V-I in F that uses movement along the altered scale of the dominant.

Last month, we also introduced the idea of “borrowing” roots from dominant chords related to particular diminished 7th chords. Here the diminished voicing on beat 4 incorporates a borrowed root (B) on the fourth beat.

Let’s try a new take on “How High the Moon.” In measure 3 you can see how I move voicing up along the B flat major 6 diminished scale. In measure 5 I harmonize the G in the melody with a full diminished chord as if it were a diminished note from the F major 6 diminished scale – then I move the voicing up the scale. In measures 9 and 10, the changes move from a major 7th chord to the minor ii-V a tritone away. This situation comes up frequently, and in Barry’s universe, we can see this as a major chord (E flat) moving to it’s relative minor (Cm), with the 6th in the bass (A). The 6 diminished scales are great for contrary motion effects, as you can see in measure 11. In measure 13, I’ve voiced the E7 with notes from E7 but added two notes from B flat 7 – a related dominant 7th chord. (“How High The Moon,” words by Nancy Hamilton, music by Morgan Lewis. © 1940 by Chappell & Co. Copyright Renewed. International Copyright Secured. All Rights Reserved.)

The “A” section of Dizzy Gilespie’s “Woody ‘n You” lends itself to interesting borrowed tone effects. In measure 1 I’ve used an F sharp from the diminished chord (Adim7) that links with B flat m6 to form the B flat minor 6 diminished scale, with interesting results. The sequence is repeated in bar 3. (“Woody ‘n You,” by Dizzy Gillespie. © 1943 (Renewed) Edwin H. Morris & Co., a Division of MPL Communications, Inc. All Rights Reserved.)

Body and Soul” is fertile ground for Barry’s approach as well. In measure 1, I use contrary motion on the D major 6 diminished scale while harmonizing the melody; you’ll notice a similar movement in bar 5 on the D minor 6 diminished scale. In measure 3, I voice the F sharp m7 with an A6 (which contains the same notes), the B7 with Cm6 (the B and D are diminished-chord notes from the C minor 6 diminished scale), the Em7 with G6, and the A7 two ways: first with notes from its related diminished 7th chord (C sharp dim7) and then with G flat 7, a related dominant. While the chord symbol in bar 6 indicates E flat dim, the B in the bass is a reasonable choice because it’s the root of a dominant 7th chord that is derived from E flat dim7. (“Body and Soul,” music by John Green, lyrics by Edward Heyman, Robert Sour, and Frank Eyton. © 1930 (Renewed) Warner Bros. Inc. Rights for Extended Renewal Term in U.S. controlled by Warner Bros. Inc., Herald Square Music, and Druropetal Music. Canadian Rights controlled by Warner Bros. Inc. All Rights Reserved. Used By Permission.)