Question about Miles Davis's version of Stella by Starlight...

Discussion in 'Playing and Technique' started by JJK, Feb 6, 2008.


  1. JJK

    JJK Member

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    So I'm trying to learn the Miles Davis version of Stella by Starlight out of the Real Book, from the My Funny Valentine live album. Now I just have a few questions.

    I noticed that throughout the song he is basically using the Bb major scale or G natural minor. The first chord in the song is E-7b5. Over this chord, the Bb major seems to fit, because Bb is the flatted 5th of the E minor scale. Am I right in saying I could use the Bb major over this E-7b5? Am I also correct in saying that he seems to stay within the Bb major scale throughout the song?
     
  2. brad347

    brad347 Member

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    Bb lydian and Eø7 as derived from F major (locrian mode) share all the same notes.
     
  3. JJK

    JJK Member

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    Hmm...I see.
     
  4. JonR

    JonR Member

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    Your mistake is to make an assumption about the key scale from the first chord.
    Em7b5 is the ii chord in the D minor key - even if no Dm eventually arrives, and even if the tune as a whole is not in that key.
    Stella, in fact, is in Bb major - look at the final chord, that's your best guide.
    You could - but you would be missing the chord root! The Bb major scale has an Eb. As long as you avoided the Eb note, it would sound fine.
    Alternatively, you would be better using F major (E locrian), or G melodic minor (E locrian natural 2).
    I don't know his version well enough to say.

    Here is a conventional jazz analysis of the sequence:

    Em7b5-A7b9 = ii-V in D minor. F major scale (= E locrian = D natural minor) would fit Em7b5, and D harmonic minor would fit A7b9. More common jazz choices for A7b9 would be A HW diminished (A Bb C Db Eb E F# G) or A altered (Bb melodic minor, A Bb C Db Eb F G).

    Cm7-F7 = ii-V in Bb major. Bb major scale.

    Fm7-Bb7-Ebmaj7 = ii-V-I in Eb major. Eb major scale

    Ab7 = IV7 in Eb major. The 7th is flat, though (Gb), so the best scale is Ab lydian dominant = Eb melodic minor (Eb-F-Gb-Ab-Bb-C-D)
    It resolves to Bb major, so you can also interpret it as the bVII in that key. Same scale (Ab lydian dominant) applies.

    Bbmaj7 = I in Bb major (at last!). Bb major scale

    Em7b5-A7 = see above

    Dm7 = D minor/F major. (Bb major would fit, but would probably not be first choice).

    Bbm7-Eb7 = ii-V in Ab major. Ab major scale. (Because the Eb7 chord is resolving up a whole step, to F - like the earlier Ab7-Bb - some players might go for Eb lydian dominant - same as Ab major scale except it has an A natural.

    Fmaj7 = F major scale

    Em7b5-A7 = see above (again)

    Am7b5-D7b9 = ii-V in G minor. Similar rules to Em7b5-A7b9: A locrian (Bb major) on Am7b5, D HW dim (probably) on D7b9.

    G7+ = Intriguing chord. Two whole bars on an augmented chord is highly unusual. Choices here include the 6-note G wholetone scale (G A B C# D# F); C harmonic minor; or G altered (G Ab A# B C# D# F).

    Cm7 = indeterminate function (IMO). On the one hand it's the "home" tonic chord of the G7+. On the other hand it has a b7, which tonc minor chords aren't supposed to have.
    C natural minor or C dorian (Bb major) are both OK.

    Ab7 = Ab lydian dominant again (because it's going to Bbmaj7)

    Bbmaj7 = Bb major

    Em7b5-A7b9 = see above (again)

    Dm7b5-G7b9 = as above a whole step down

    Cm7b5-F7b9 = as above, another whole step down.

    Bbmaj7 = Bb major. Phew! :crazy


    Now, that's a TON of information! (One of the reasons this is such a popular jazz standard is that it's so challenging in its shifting key centres. Musicians don't get bored with it.)
    But don't despair! That so-called chord-scale method is hugely exaggerated in importance in jazz pedagogy.
    All experienced jazz players will be aware of all that stuff, but they probably won't think about it as they play. Good improvisers look for ways of constructing melodic lines linking chord tones.

    So you need to be fully confident of as many shapes for each chord as you can find; know all the arpeggios, as far up the neck as you can; and to know how each note in one chord leads to the nearest note in the next chord. Where are the half-step moves (up or down)? Which chord tones are shared from chord to chord?
    Which notes in each chord seem to have the most impact, the strongest flavour?

    It would really be worth your while to transcribe Miles's solo, note for note, and look at how it works with the chords. Guess why he chose each note he uses. IOW, don't try and identify the scale(s) - unless maybe there's a whole run of 8th notes - but see each note (esp the accented or held ones) in the light of the chord. And not necessarily the current chord - sometimes soloists anticipate the next chord.

    Miles is possibly the best soloist you could learn from, in that he was typically very economic in his note choices. He clearly believed less was more. He might well let whole chords go by without playing a note - or just play a single note on one chord.
    Phrasing is (almost) everything - how you group your notes, how you use space and rhythm, how you build the melodic shape of your phrases, all will have more impact and expression than being able to rip through a fancy scale on an altered chord.
     
  5. Clifford-D

    Clifford-D Member

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    Thanks Jon, this will make a great practice with my friend.
     
  6. JJK

    JJK Member

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    Thanks for the help!

    A few notes:

    I didn't think the song was in the key of Bbmajor from the E-7b5, I was just curious as to why this Bbmajor scale sounded decent over that chord.
     
  7. dewey decibel

    dewey decibel Member

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    If you listen to the original version of the song (from the soundtrack for "The Uninvited") the first chord is Bbmaj, IIRC. The first couple bars are:

    Bb | Bbdim7 | Cmin7 | F7...
     
  8. McGas

    McGas Member

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    Thanx JonR for a very informative post! I feel like I just had a break thru as I followed everything u explained, except one thing. Where u said u can interpret it as the bVII in that key, is this a common thing in Jazz? I havent come across this yet ...Macka
     
  9. brad347

    brad347 Member

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    It's not just a common thing in jazz; it's a common thing in almost every kind of western music from Bach to Jimi Hendrix.

    It's borrowed from the parallel minor key. bVII to I is essentially the same as a minor plagal cadence: iv-I
     
  10. Mike T

    Mike T Member

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    Great post JonR. Thanks! "Stella" was a standby when I was was studying with John Abercrombie. He loved to use that tune. He would recommend, as a way to hear the changes and play through them, to play 4 quarter notes per measure, then go to even 8ths, etc., chord tones or notes within the chord scale. So with all that information you supplied, it would be a good exercise to apply this idea using your analysis of the harmonic structure.
     
  11. JonR

    JonR Member

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    Exactly.
    There are actually two ways it's used, subtly different.

    In rock, it's extremely common to find a bVII triad in the major key - so common it should be considered a rule.
    IMO, this is reflection of the rock preference for mixolydian mode over the major key - or you can interpret it as borrowed from the parallel minor, as brad347 says. Either way, it really is a bVII chord and not a sub for the minor iv, IMO.
    You often find it used in a "double plagal cadence". Eg, Bb-F-C in key of C. I wouldn't say the Bb is anything like a minor F chord in that context. More like a pure mixolydian VII-IV-I cadence.

    In jazz, the chord is usually a dom7. This means it can't be seen as a mixolydian bVII - tho still arguably borrowed from the parallel minor.
    In key of C major, eg, that would be Bb7. Typically it's preceded by Fm7 - and while this makes it look like a ii-V in Eb major (relative major of parallel minor), this actually underlines how it works as a development of the Fm, the minor iv chord:
    The traditional minor iv chord is a m6 (with presumed maj7). The Bb7 supports this, as it would take the same scale: F melodic minor (making Bb lydian dominant). In both cases, you can see the scale as the closest you can get to the "home" C major scale, while accommodating the chromatic notes in the chords: Bb and Ab.
    However, the preceding Fm7 upsets things a little, with its Eb note. It seems to suggest you need a different scale on each chord, which I always find awkward. (The Eb makes the Fm7 stand out as a more chromatic chord, while the E on the Bb7 moves it more towards C major.)
    Of course, you can simply treat both chords as borrowings from C minor (Eb major), and use that scale on both.

    If you see a bVII chord as a maj7 (with no preceding Fm7), that suggests a mixolydian VII, IMO. You could also (I guess) see it as a sub for ii (Dm) or IV (F - the major IV, not the minor iv).
     
  12. Clifford-D

    Clifford-D Member

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    great Jon
     

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