The Playing Changes series presents and expands on concepts from my book, The Living Jazz Tradition: A Creative Guide to Improvisation and Harmony published by CMA Press.
The two progressions shown sound remarkably similar, even though IV is a major triad and
ii is a minor triad. Notice IV and ii have two notes in common. Bach’s “Prelude in C Major” I–ii–V–I progression (See Playing Changes: Part 3).
Juan Tizol’s “Perdido” opens with a ii–V–I progression:
A smooth diatonic progression that follows this circle of fifths root motion is iii–vi–ii–V–I:
Mellin and Wood’s “My One and Only Love” is another example of diatonic harmony in a jazz standard:
(The A7 chord in measure four is a secondary dominant, which will be covered in a future article.)
It’s important to remember that the tonic (scale degree one), names the scale, not the root of each chord. In these diatonic examples, the chord tones change, but they all come from the key of C major.
Chapter Four of The Living Jazz Tradition presents a walk-through of Kurt Weill’s “Mack the Knife,” a song based on diatonic chords. Each walk-through presents four approaches for improvisation:
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