A little backstory about this lesson - it was a sponsored lesson, meaning a student specially requested it and paid for its creation. I remember when I got the email request - it said something like “please do a jazzy arrangement of the tune.” That meant something very specific to me. When a student asks for a “jazzy arrangement of a pop tune,” to me it means “take a pop tune, keep the pop elements present and re-imagine it using jazz elements.” But what specific “jazz elements” are being used in order to do this? This lesson is all about THEORY. Yup, that’s right. Playing the tune is cool (of course) and important, but this lesson represents that special intersection between theory knowledge and playing ability, that place where theory can have a direct, practical impact on your ability to play, improvise, arrange and think like a musician. And if I were to be even more specific, I would say this lesson is aimed at helping you understand the incredible importance of HARMONY. What I discuss in this lesson is how I built this arrangement, but more importantly, I explain the harmonic concepts so that you can use this information in your own playing and arranging. I talk about the specific devices, concepts, chords, progressions, tritone substitutions, resolutions, etc., that I use regularly in my playing and writing. When I set out to create this arrangement, I didn’t know how to play the original tune “Every Breath You Take” by Sting & The Police - but I was definitely familiar with it. So that is the first step. Listen to your material and make yourself very familiar with it - all the nuances. Secondly, learn to play the original. I put my headphones on, listened to, transcribed, and memorized the original recording. That means that I learned the melody and the chords, as well as the form. Then I started to map out certain sections. “Ok, the intro is definitely very mellow. The verse should stay fairly true to the original, and the pre-chorus can start to introduce some re-harmonizations, and the bridge is a place where I’m really going to create some completely new harmonies.” How am I going to do this? I played with different chords, different harmonies, all of which led me to different places (resolutions) and changed the sound of the melody, giving it a different character. That’s a really important thing to notice, that the same melody can sound different simply by changing the underlying harmony. Try playing the first 2 measures of “Mary Had a Little Lamb” in C major with a C chord in your left hand. Now play that same melody with an A minor chord in your left hand. Suddenly that same melody sounds more haunting than playful. In this lesson, we’re talking about those same kinds of decisions but in a more advanced jazz conversation.
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If you are interested in checking out more pop tunes performed and re-imagined by some great jazz artists, check out these excellent examples:
Sonny Rollins, “Isn’t She Lovely”
Brad Mehldau, “Blackbird”
Gretchen Parlato, “Holding Back the Years”
PostModern Jukebox, “All About That Bass”