Jazz Passing Chords

Passing Chords and Turnarounds

We have already seen how a IV chord can be altered to IV minor to accommodate a descending passing note (ex 7d) Passing notes are non chord notes that lead from one chord note to another. They can be diatonic (ex 10a-1) or chromatic (Ex 10a-2); they can be in a melody or in a harmony part.
passing chords example 1
ex 10a: Passing notes. Note the bebop scale on the G7.

When one or more passing notes is used in a chord, a passing chord is created, which is very often a diminished chord. Ex 10b is typical of the chord progression that would appear in bars 6-7 of a jazz tune based on I Got Rhythm (see below). By altering the root note of the Eb7 to create a chromatic passing note, we get a passing E diminished chord (#IVo7). (N.B. The IV chord in the 6th bar of a 12 bar blues is often altered in this way – e.g. Now’s the Time).
passing chords example 2
ex 10b: Passing chord: #IVo7

This chord has a tendency to resolve to a second inversion of the tonic (continuing the chromatic movement in the bass), but in practice the tonic is often in root position. Passing diminished chords are also common between chords III and II, (ex 10c)
passing chord example 3
ex 10c: Passing chord: bIIIo7

In example 10c a bIIIo7 is created as a passing chord between IIIm7 and IIm7. The E in the Db o7 passes between F and Eb, the Db passes between D and C.

N.B. As the IIIm7 can be viewed as a substitute for I maj7, the passing bIII o7 would also be viable between I maj7 (or I 6) and IIm7, i.e. Bbmaj7 – Db o7 – Cm7 – F7

Another very common passing diminished is a #I used between chords I and II. The #I diminished could be seen either as a passing chord (ex 10d-1), or a derivation of the altered (b9) secondary dominant (ex 10d-2)

jazz theory passing chords 4
ex 10d: Passing chord: #Io7

Note the chromatic contrary motion: Bb – B – C in the bass and A – Ab – G in the 2nd part.

If a G is added to the B o7 chord in the bass a G7 b9 chord is created (ex 10d-2).

Either ascending or descending, diatonic or chromatic progressions are often used to add movement to an otherwise static tonic area (Ex 10e)

passing chords - Tea For Two
ex 10e: Tea For Two (Caesar/Yeomans)


Most 32 bar AABA tunes have a static melodic area at the last two bars (between the end of the melody and the start of a repeat of the melody).

These areas are referred to as turnarounds. A chord progression is used which covers these two bars, starting on a tonic and ending on a dominant (in effect adding another cadence). In its simplest form this would be I – V7 (common in blues) but is usually more sophisticated in jazz and is usually a progression based on I-VI-II-V.

There is frequently a turnaround at the end of the first A section, where the melody sometimes cadences to the 3rd or 5th note of the scale. In this case a III chord is often substituted for the tonic, see ex 10f Flintstones.

passing chord example - Flintstones
ex 10f: Flintstones.

Note the Dm7 substituted for Bb in the first turnaround. At the final turnaround the melody usually ends on a tonic so the IIIm7 does not work very well (the resulting melody note would be a b6 on a minor 7 which does not sound good). A major 7th in a tonic chord would also clash with the melody, so a 6th is often added to chord I to create a four note chord (see chapter 1).

Turnarounds are a very good place to use substitute chords as there is less likely to be a melody to restrict alternative harmony. In the first turnaround of the above example either of the sequences in 10c or 10d could be used. Minor 7 chords can be changed to secondary dominants to create a cycle of dominant fifths. (See the turnaround at bar 7 of Misty)

jazz theory: Misty
ex 10g: Misty

Tunes that do not start on the tonic require a turnaround that introduces the first chord, eg All The Things You Are in Ab starts on a Fm7, so the final chord of the turnaround would usually be C7.


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