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I'm analyzing the accompaniment for 'Misty' in C major. In measure 16 (“how hopelessly I am lost”) there's an F#m7 chord accompanying the B in the melody. Although F#m7 seems unusual in C major, it surprisingly complements the B in the melody. I'm trying to understand why it sounds so pleasant. Could F#m7 be a substitute for another chord? Any insights would be appreciated!

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    The "melodic-harmonic divorce" may be related here; see music.stackexchange.com/a/72109/21766
    – Richard
    Dec 11, 2023 at 18:07
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    It would help answer your question if you'd post an image of the measure you're asking about plus a measure on either side. There are many different arrangements of "Misty".
    – Aaron
    Dec 11, 2023 at 18:18
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    Using F#m7 in C major on the line "how hopelessly I am lost" sounds like something Bach or Handel would do. I wonder if Errol Garner did that on purpose. Dec 11, 2023 at 23:10

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What F#m does in C doesn't matter, because it's not in C anyway. A few bars before that F#m chord, the center of balance has (temporarily) shifted to F. Ok, what does F#m do in F then? Nothing, it moves away from F. What matters is, what F#m does in E. The tune gives the impression that it's going to do a two-five-one, with F#m7 - B7 - E ... except that it interrupts that motion before reaching the E, instead playing an Am7, which makes it sound like maybe it decided to go for G instead of E. Does it or not, that doesn't matter either, because the whole thing is about the journey, not the destination.

It's doing these tricks all the time, you have to feel the center of balance at every turn separately. Now it's here, no it went there, no it didn't, it went there, or did it, no, it's going that way... like a dancer it moves here and there in a continuous chain of turns. It's teasing you! You are given hints about a coming reward, about getting to a satisfying tonic, but right when you think you'll get it, it's taken away from you. Eventually, it does get back to C for practical reasons. It would make for a very long lead sheet if a tune never returns back where it started, making it impossible to use repeats. (Nashville numbering excluded)

As an example, I wrote a small etude with melody lines and chords which resemble the line “how hopelessly I am lost” you asked about. "Misty" does not actually do this, because the ii-V-I motion is interrupted, but to demonstrate what you may have expected to hear.

modulation etude

Playing tunes like this for extended periods of time will probably cause some annoyance.

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  1. The score is correct. It is consistent with the common real book harmony, however see also https://music.stackexchange.com/a/110364/63781

  2. Note, it's a jazz piece, which modulates perpetually. This F#m, together, with the following B7 chord it forms a ii-V progression, a building block characteristic for jazz tunes. It then continues with the cycle of fifths: Eø A7 Dm7 G7 to resolve to C, the tonic. There is no need to worry about the function of the F#m in the key of C major.

  3. Note B is 11 of F#m. Jazz often explores the upper structures of the chords, and this is a beautiful example. In fact, the only two notes that wouldn't really work over this chord are b13 (D) and 7 (E#). Or maybe they would too, if you really wanted so.

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    F#m11 (in C) is actually from the Mathis version. Garner plays a different harmony on the second half of the bridge. The 5th bar of the bridge, where that chord is actually contains Am9-D13 (in C, Garner plays it in Ab) which is a ii-V/V. I wrote about it in this question: music.stackexchange.com/questions/110361/… Dec 12, 2023 at 6:13
  • @JohnBelzaguy wow, I should have checked! Dec 12, 2023 at 7:56

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