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The magic of Jobim

I’m not a huge fan of latin jazz. It’s a style that a lot of people try to replicate and fail to get the feel. Having said that, I do dip my toe in the genre from time to time and I have learnt to take some of the great compositional methods from some of the latin jazz pioneers.

Probably the greatest of all is Antônio Carlos Jobim. He is famed for The Girl From Ipanema, Desafinado and Wave (plus a boat load more).

The music of Latin America pairs very nicely with jazz as the rhythms are syncopated and the harmonies contain  enough complexity and sophistication jazz musicians have something to really get their teeth into. There is no better fix for a jazzer than being presented with a Db9#11 chord!

Anyway, one of the methods I have adopted is that melodies do not have to be complicated. In fact, a good melody is often very simple and can be easily sung or whistled. I’ve talked before about using tension and release but the use of repetition is also important. In this post I will explain how a repetition can move away from simple and boring by changing the underlying harmony. I will then show you how I did this in one of my own songs and you can download the whole chart if you wish.

Have a look at this example from a Jobim tune called Dindi:

Notice that the melody is exactly the same three times in a row but the chords change to create some interesting harmonies.

The first bar is the chord of Ab Major 7 with a G and an Eb in the melody (the 7th and the 5th). Both these notes are firmly placed within the chord so it starts with a resolved sound.

The second bar uses the same melody notes but the chord changes to Db7. The reason its not notated as Db7 is because the melodies notes G and Eb are the #11th and 9th. See how it suddenly becomes much more colourful and has more tension?

The third bar resolves again to the Eb Major 7 chord and the same melody notes become the 3rd  and the Root/Tonic.

He obviously couldn’t be bothered with the 4th bar and left it blank…kidding! The expression “too much of a good thing” springs to mind.

Lets take another example:

This is from the beautiful tune Corcovado or Quiet Night of Quiet Stars.

The first 4 bars of the tune use a wonderfully simple 2 note melody. Okay, so the rhythm may be a bit hard to read if you’re not use to looking at syncopation, but think how simple it would be to learn the tune. Even I can can sing those 2 notes!

The point is, the melody can be simple and the harmony underneath can be much more complicated. You can use this effect when improvising too.

Finally, here is an example from one of my new original tunes:

Matching Models – Jay Riley (Download the full lead sheet here)

It’s certainly not as elegant as Jobim but it uses a similar technique. I’m repeating the melody note C and giving Terry Riley a run for his money with the minimalist approach and repetition! Underneath though, the harmony changes to allow that note to remain interesting and create colourful tensions, as illustrated below:

C over Bbm = A Ninth (Bbm9)
C over Cm7 = The Root (Cm7)
C over Dm7 = The Seventh (Dm7)
C over EbMaj7 = The Thirteenth (EbMaj7add13)
C over Am7 = The Third (Am7)
C over Gm7 = The Eleventh (Gm11)

There we have it. Simple on top but with complexity from the bottom. Try it out and have fun.

Any questions? – leave them below


8 Comments Add a Comment
  1. Mark Bettis
    March 10, 2017

    Hi Jay. This information is great! Reading a concise and understandable breakdown of the theory helps me to understand things I’m already doing but would have a hard time explaining. Another great example of repetition in the melody and complex accomplishment is ‘One Note Samba’. You can work some nice substitutions in along the way too. Keep up the great work and all the best with the album.

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