Polkadots and Moonbeams

As our last example we’ll look at the first four bars of the ballad Polkadots and Moonbeams. Here’s a rendition from Chet Baker’s Quartet from 1958:

There’s been versions recorded in D and F major, but we’ll look at this in G. The melody starts on the offbeat, running up a G major scale starting on D, with a I vi ii V chord progression. Ripe for substituting.

What’s nice about this tune, is the tempo allows us to harmonize each note of the melody. In the below example we’re using just diatonic chords (with the exception of the E7 to prepare the A-7) to fill the gaps.

In this next example I’ve utilized anticipating V chords in three examples. Firstly the succession of F#7 to B7 to E-7, then the D7/F# to G∆ and lastly the Bb7 to A-7, where Bb7 is a tritone substitution of E7.

I’ve also subbed the last D7 chord for it’s tritone cousin, which is Ab7. Any dominant extension of the D7 chord would add tasty altered harmonies to the Ab7 too.

In this last example I’ve again demonstrated the diminished passing chords (a bit like Barry Harris’ Diminished Six musings). I’ve also swapped out our A-7 and D7 for Aø7 (half-diminished) and D+7 (augmented) to add some melancholy to our melody.

Closing Thoughts

Hopefully we’ve seen that chord substitutions are probably a lot more common and a lot less mystifying than perhaps you first might have thought. The method of re-harmonizing doesn’t have to be reserved for jazz improvisation and can actually be part of the composition process.

Here’s one of my favourite videos about substitutions from YouTuber JB Craipeau, beautifully demonstrating some of the harmonic devices we’ve talked about:

Substitutions can add different colours to your music, and if you hold off on using them, they can have even more impact. If you have a simple verse, chorus, verse chorus type track you can establish a chord progression, and as the piece is coming to it’s climax then you can start deviating.

Kenny Barron.

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