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Finding Jazz…with “Carry On Wayward Son”

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In part two of the JGT series, guitarist Zack Devine looks at ‘jazz’ as compared to other styles of music and examines the contrasts and similarities. Classic Rock.

Zack Devine: My goal is to show you how playing other styles has helped me transition to jazz, and also how jazz can help to influence the way you approach other styles as well.

In the first installment of Finding Jazz…, we looked at progressive rock, and found a song selection that had good examples of harmony that could be considered more developed than one would typically find in rock music. In this, our second installment, we will look at a selection from the classic rock genre, a style that often utilizes simpler harmonic ideas that work to support more anthemic sing-along style melodies. Our song choice will be this characteristic epic style melody over a simpler chord progression, and we will attempt to add some more color by performing a reharmonization, where we will use techniques to discover an array of harmonic choices. 

Our selection will be the classic anthem Carry On Wayward Son by Kansas (written by Kerry Livgren). I have chosen this song because it has a beautiful melody, with a very simple harmony for us to work with. We will further develop the harmony that is supporting the melody to create a more diverse and dynamic sound. Our main goal will be to change the melody as little as possible, leaving the original backbone of the song intact. 

Below, we have the melody to one verse and one chorus with the original chord progression; 

Carry On Wayward Son

Words and Music by Kerry Livgren

Melody arrangement by Zack Devine for educational purposes only

We’re going to employ reharmonization techniques to see if we can yield some interesting results. The first thing we are going to do is slow down the harmonic rhythm of the progression, allowing us a little more freedom to make our chord choices without feeling like we cannot linger on any chord for long enough to make an impact. For the most part we slow the harmony down to one chord per measure. Our goal here is to give the melody a little more room to breathe over the new changes we are going to create. 

Next, we will start thinking about new harmonic ideas for our melody. We are going to utilize a concept called plurality. Plurality is an examination of either a single pitch or a chord, to determine how many places that single pitch or chord can exist in a harmonic structure, be it a single note in a chord, or a chord in the harmony of a song. For instance, the note A can be the root of an Amaj7, or it can be the major 3rd of an Fmaj7, or the 5th of a Dmaj7. Dmaj7 can be the I chord in the key of D, or the IV chord in the key of A, etc…Using plurality can easily offer a plethora of new ideas while maintaining the integrity of the melody. 

Our first significant change to the harmony is going to be the G-9 we see at the beginning of measure two. Our melody is primarily targeting the A, which is the 9th of the chord, so our chord choice fits well, save for the fact that we have to make one alteration to the melody, turning the last note of the measure, B, into a Bb. The following measure is the only other place in the verse section where we bend our own rule, and allow the melody to be altered slightly. I liked the sound of moving to the 

Eb7#11 here, but that meant that the D and B in that measure both had to be flatted. The only other melodic changes we will make will be the B naturals in the chorus melody being flatted as well. 

The melody in measures four and five gave us the opportunity to utilize a parallel minor change. All the notes in measure four exist in a D9, but in measure five, the F natural is introduced, making it perfect for a transition to a D-7. In measure six, the melody comes to rest on a D, which was the 3rd of the Bbmaj, but now we’ve turned it into the #11 of the Ab7#11. Measure eight is a fun example of how plurality works. The melody note is G, and instead of having one or two chords, we put a chord on every beat, each having a different relationship with the melody note. It is the major 3rd of the Ebmaj7, it is the sus4 of the D-7sus4, it is the #11 in the Dbmaj9#11, and lastly a G# is heard in the Do7, which is the leading tone that points us back to the root of our A-7 at the top of the form. This occurs often, especially in jazz. Think about the turn-around of the first A section in Darn That Dream. The melody note is a whole note D, and the changes are B-7 – Bb7 – A-11 – D7. The D acts as the minor 3rd, major 3rd, 11, and root of those changes, respectively. In the second ending of our reharmonization we let it breathe more, and just hang on the Ebmaj7. 

In the chorus, we once again had lots of room to explore different possibilities, as the existing progression is very diatonic. In measure twelve we see a II – V to Bb, and in measures fourteen and fifteen, we’ve created a back door II – V with the G-7 – C9 leading us to a D-7sus. The D-7sus is meant to provide a significant amount of unrest with the melody so as to promote the desire for movement. We then use an additional substitute II – V, with the C-7 – F7 now resolving down by half-step from the V to E7, which is the V that once again brings us back to the root Amin.

We now have a chord progression that has a much more colorful sound, slower harmonic rhythm overall, and minimal changes to the original melody. You can apply reharmonization techniques to your favorite songs from a genre to give them a different mood.

For more on Zack Devine.


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