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I've been studying the standard Have You Met Miss Jones and I came across a very interesting chord progression in the B section of the piece. The A section is pretty typical and the key it's in is F major, but once you hit the B section, there's 8 bars of pretty interesting chords.

B section chord progression:

 Cm7 - F7 - BbM7 - Abm7 - Db7 - GbM7 - Em7 - A7 - DM7 - Abm7 - Db7 - GbM7 - Gm7 -C7 - FM7

Now obviously you can chunk out these chords into ii7 - V7 - I7 in several keys including:

  • Bb major (Cm7 - F7 - BbM7)
  • Gb major (Abm7 - Db7 - GbM7)
  • D major (Em7 - A7 - DM7)
  • F major (Gm7 - C7 - FM7)

But there really doesn't seem to be too much to connect these nor does it seem to be very sequence like and it does not seem to be a full modulation away from F major due to you not staying in one tonal center for too long.

So my questions are:

  • What is harmonically going on in the B section of this song?
  • How would we reflect this in Roman Numeral analysis?
  • Played it for years, never understood it either. Great song, great question! First bit gets you to IV, pretty standard for a 'middle 8'. – Tim Nov 9 '15 at 6:59
  • Off topic - thus a comment - it plays well as a slow 3/4. Worth giving it a try. – Tim Nov 10 '15 at 8:16
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That's Coltrane changes (before Coltrane actually used them in Giant Steps etc.), where the roots of the tonal centers move in (enharmonic) major thirds (either up or down):

[Bb] -> (down M3) [Gb] -> (down M3) [D] -> (up M3) [Gb]

Returning to the key of F is not part of the cycle anymore, it's just going back to the original key.

This is what the wikipedia page says about the relation between "Have You Met Miss Jones" and Coltrane changes (actually, I would claim that the term modulation below is wrong, it's rather tonicization):

The bridge of the Rodgers and Hart song and jazz standard "Have You Met Miss Jones?" (1937) predated Tadd Dameron's "Lady Bird", after which Coltrane named his "Lazy Bird", by incorporating modulation by major third(s).[8] (shown by the * below) "Giant Steps" and "Countdown" may both have taken the inspiration for their augmented tonal cycles from "Have You Met Miss Jones".

Concerning Roman Numeral Analysis you would go about it as is common with tonicizations. However, in my opinion this analysis doesn't give much additional insight.

The following is some additional information on Coltrane changes and on how Coltrane used them for reharmonization. Even though it seems pretty clear that he got the idea for tonal centers moving in major thirds from Rodgers and Hart's song, he was the first to use it for reharmonizing existing chord progressions. A good example is Coltrane's tune Countdown, which is based on Miles Davis' tune Tune Up. The latter mainly consists of ii-V-I progressions in different keys. Coltrane reharmonized these ii-V-I progressions by cycles of major thirds. E.g., if there is a ii-V-I in C major, he would move down in (enharmonic) major thirds starting from Ab major via E major to C major, where each major seventh chord is preceded by its dominant chord. So,

|| Dm 7 | G7 | Cmaj7 | Cmaj7 ||

becomes

|| Dm7 Eb7 | Abmaj7 B7 | Emaj7 G7 | Cmaj7 ||

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    Seems like a sort of backwards tritone, Dm-Eb7, given that Dm is often preceded by its dominant A7, although that's obviously not present. Just a random jotting. – Tim Nov 10 '15 at 8:24
  • @Tim: In this case the Eb7 leads to the Abmaj7. But you're right that an Eb7 before a Dm7 would be a tritone sub for A7. Here it is just an ordinary dominant. – Matt L. Nov 10 '15 at 9:00
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    @Some_Guy: I agree that that way of temporarily shifting tonal centers may seem arbitrary. But does it sound arbitrary to your ears? Not to mine. It's always hard to rationalize about why some things sound better than others, but in this case I think that the symmetry of the cycle of major thirds is appealing to the ears. – Matt L. Nov 11 '15 at 8:24
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    @Some_Guy: Also note that the major 7th chords separated by a major third share two out of their four chord tones. So they are related but there still is sufficient new quality to the following chord to make it sound fresh and surprising in some sense. This and the fact that you cycle instead of arbitrarily moving around make the movement of major thirds a strong device. – Matt L. Nov 11 '15 at 8:24
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    Two tones in common is a very good point, allows the melody to have some continuity, and explains how you get that sort of "wandering" sound rather than feeling like there's been an "abrupt" change to another tonal centre if you know what I mean. Thanks for the clarification :) – Some_Guy Nov 13 '15 at 1:40

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