Going Fourth, Part 2

Before we continue with our analysis of the refrain of Jerome Kern’s  All The Things You Are,  you may wish to go back and review the recording – then review my last post. After you’ve done that, give this a listen:

These intervals – rising fourths and falling fifths, a pattern descending diatonically (within the key of the moment) by step – are the basic building blocks of the “A” sections of this composition. This pattern was of course introduced in the verse and the modulation into the refrain. Notice what changes in the measures circled in red, however.

The rising fourth interval in these measures is increased by a half-step, tuning them into augmented fourths – more commonly known as the tritone, or diabolo in musica (“the devil’s chord”). This is the most unstable of intervals, one that absolutely demands resolution. In Kern’s original, the Db chord in the fifth measure goes to a G7, which resolves handily to the new key of the moment, C major. Just before it lands on C major however, notice the movement of the bass:

The Db7(b5) passing chord is really a G7(b5) in second inversion. This kind of bass movement in under such a harmonic sequence was actually fairly common in the ragtime music and early “hot jazz” orchestrations that Kern was exposed to in his younger days, though its use in that particular function (going from a V7/V in second inversion to a root position V7 chord) had largely fallen out of favor by the late 1930s. And that is not really how Kern is using it here (and again in the tenth measure when another false key change to  G major occurs). It is rather a way of keeping the bass line intersting. Alternatively, we could analyze that Db7(b5) a variation of an N6 chord resolving to a new tonic – although given that we already had a dominant in place for the new key, that would have been redundant.

Let’s just say it was a decorative passing chord that Kern happened to like the sound of and leave it at that. (Modern jazz players using substitutions generally ignore it, anyway.)

The A2 section of the refrain is basically the same as A1 in a different key, which is C minor. It is worth commenting that the movement from a major key to its parallel minor (in this case, C major to C minor) is something one encounters in the music of Antonin Dvorak – used in those instances more to create tonal interest rather than to function as part of a modulation. In the case of All The Things You Are, Kern’s purpose was to maintain some consistency between the A1 and A2 sections.

Now, let’s look at where this A section winds up and how it gets there (I’m omitting the passing “7b5” chords in mm. 5 and 10 for the sake of simplicity):

A1: Fm – Bbm7- Eb7- Ab- Db- G7- C

A2: Cm – Fm7 –  Bb7- Eb- Ab- D7- G

Notice any relationship between the chords in the top row and those right below them?

Next time, we’ll look at the B section of the refrain (which, while beautiful in its own right, is actually less interesting from a musicological standpoint).

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About KJ at Guide Tone Lines

KJ McElrath earned his Masters degree in Music Theory and Composition from Central Washington University. Composer of several works for big band, wind ensemble and orchestra, which can be heard at BardicCircle.com. I perform a cabaret act with Athena McElrath as McElrath Cabaret, which you can find at http://mcelrathcabaret.com.
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