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I'm wondering how to go about analyzing some of the chords from this piece. I have a lot of tonal harmony knowledge, but am a little limited in my knowledge of jazz theory. However, I'd love to hear any analysis you may have.

Specifically, I'm wondering about the second chord (the Eb9#11) and the first chord of measure 9 (the Bm7b5). I'm trying to figure out how these chords are functioning in the piece and how they could be analyzed. It sounds so smooth to listen to, yet I can't seem to come up with a simple explanation for them.

Any ideas are greatly appreciated. Thanks in advance!

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There are many plausible ways to see the chords, and all of the interpretations are equally true at the same time.

  • Eb9#11 : can be used like you would use (1) Bbm (or Bbmmaj7) in the key of F major, or (2) tritone substitute dominant A7 going to Dm, or (3) F7 or Cm going to Bb major, ... or maybe (4) like an Eb7 or Eb9 if this was a mixolydian blues/funk/soul thing in F.
  • Bm7b5, a.k.a. Dm6/B (it has a Dm in it!) : this kind of "resolves" the Eb9#11 to a Dm which was one of the possible expectations or interpretations above, but it's not just a regular Dm, there's an additional twist, the B in the bass. A nice and easy thing after that would be Bbm6, feeling like a quick release to tonic F. If not even blatant F/C - C7 - F. But that's not what you get, things move slightly to the minor side with a chromatically descending bass line, Bbm7 - Am7 - Abm7 - Gm7 ... so a quick release ii-V-I cannot be far away anymore?

As a dominant there's a Bbm6/C, which sounds like a variation of the Eb9#11, it's just a notch closer to a plain vanilla C7.

IMO it's best to analyze jazzy chords in terms of a set of things you can do with the chord, and not try to come up with "it is a ... blah blah chord" sentences. The "is" sentences just don't cut it. Each chord is what it is, many different things but none.

Try to use the chords in the various roles. For example the Eb9#11 could work in place of a dominant C7 in "Happy Birthday" in F. "Plagal cadence" ... sort of, I guess? Try the alternative expected resolutions for the chords. Dm and Bb work after the Eb9#11, don't you think. How about after the Bm7-5... C/Bb - F/A - Gbdim7 - Gm7 - C7 - F. Or how about Bm7-5 - E7 - A7?

Or to try interpretation (3) of Eb9#11: whenever you have a regular F7 - Bb chord progression, try replacing the F7 with Eb9#11.

To "understand" chords like that means, in my opinion, that you can see the possible different interpretations at the same time, and you can use the chords in the different roles in different contexts. It's like with borrowed chords - you have to see the other parallel interpretation from which you borrow. And you have to see the Dm in the Bm7b5, otherwise you don't understand the chord. Chord symbols are just a shorthand notation for groups of notes. The written root note of the chord symbol doesn't necessarily have to be the be-all-end-all definition of functionality like it's in simple traditional functional analysis, because there are multiple plausible functional stories in parallel. In "Bm7b5", sometimes the "b5" can be the most important note.

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    I tried to answer then I saw you say exactly what I meant to answer: * Bbm (or Bbmmaj7) in the key of F major, (2) tritone substitute dominant A7 going to Dm* ...*Bm7b5, a.k.a. Dm6/B (it has a Dm* – Albrecht Hügli Dec 3 '19 at 9:44
  • Thank you very much for this excellent and thorough insight! I'm so used to dealing with tonal harmony that I haven't gotten my mind used to understanding more complex chords in various ways. I'm looking to grow in that area, and an analysis like yours really gives me an idea on how to go about looking at what chords can do. Thanks again! – Lennon_Ashton Dec 4 '19 at 1:11
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The song is in F major, so that E♭9♯11 chord is really just an altered ♭VII chord. In music of this style ♭VII is often used as a type of dominant, so measures 5–8 just alternate between tonic and this dominant substitute.

As for the Bm7♭5 in m. 9, ultimately it's the start of a larger sequence: notice how m. 9 just moves down a step into m. 10, which then moves down a step for the beginning of m. 11. This sequence ends on the downbeat of m. 11 with a G7, which is just a V7/V in the key of F. So I would view that Bm7♭5 as just the beginning of a sequence that ultimately leads to that V7/V.

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    This is probably a common way of presenting an analysis and can't said to be wrong, but I think the analysis style is problematic: (1) using just one single roman numeral for a chord (with "it-is-a" sentences), suggesting to look at a chord as complex as Eb9#11 as a monolithic thing and not a combination of simpler things, and (2) looking at the final solution in hindsight, to explain things that haven't occurred yet. In jazz harmony you're supposed to see every moment as a set of possibilities to take advantage of - what else could you make it seem to be, if given the space and freedom. :) – piiperi Reinstate Monica Dec 3 '19 at 7:04
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    Richard tells the other alternative: bVII = substitution of the dominant - and I agree: the rest is fifth-fall sequence (tritonus substitutions) – Albrecht Hügli Dec 3 '19 at 9:48
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    @piiperi I understand what you mean—this diachronic/synchronic difference is incredibly important—but your logic isn't limited to jazz. You could say the same thing about classical music, where a G-major triad might simultaneously be V in C but also III in a modulation towards E minor. But more importantly, the OP didn't ask "I'm in m. 9; what possibilities come next?" Rather, they asked "Here is the score, how does m. 9 function within the context of this entire score?" – Richard Dec 3 '19 at 10:35
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    I actually kinda think that the Eb9#11 is actually an inverted F9b13, complete with the F remaining the root despite not being in the bass. The beginning being a series of common-tone chord shifts makes sense to me. – Dekkadeci Dec 3 '19 at 11:08
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    OP wants to know "how these chords are functioning in the piece" ... and the functioning has to be understood as "what happens in my mind when I hear these chords". The function of notes and chords is to make listeners feel sensations. :) For example a dominant seventh chord, it makes you feel a certain way, it creates tensions and opens up possibilities, regardless of whether the tensions are resolved not. An analogy I've used often is, a dance can be sexual even if it doesn't lead to actual sex. The mechanics are there, and everyone (?) understands what could happen and how things work. – piiperi Reinstate Monica Dec 3 '19 at 11:09

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