Blue-Bird, Valerie Capers 2001

I’ve been working thru Portraits in Jazz by Valerie Capers at work, and decided that Blue-Bird, which I played recently, had a chord progression that would be fun to describe with Functional Analysis. Here’s a Recording

The notes from the composer describe this piece as a chromatic blues in bebop style, and Theme and Variations form. It is meant to evoke Charlie Parker’s style of playing.

Since the chords stay the same (ish) in each variation, I’ve done a chordal analysis of only the Theme. The printed music helpfully puts in chord names above the staff, so we have more information about what notes might be chord tones or not.

mm 1-12 of Blue-Bird by Valerie Capers, annotated

(I’m not sure why my PDF editor switched colors for the mark-up, I was really hoping for blue the whole way! Things I still need to learn, I guess. Photocopied pencil marks are my practice reminders.)

While this piece is very chromatic, it is still in C major, and each variation at least starts on a Cmaj chord of some kind, so the last chord of m. 12 is going to C at the start of the next variation. I have used my Functional Analysis shorthands for the basic triads, and not tracked the 7th of the chord or other embellishing tones – this is a somewhat zoomed out view of the chords; more detail could be added if desired.

Like many jazz pieces, this progression is based on a falling fifth sequence to start. The text numbers between the staves indicate the Linear Intervallic Pattern of the sequence. The red lines show where the intervals are off-set due to the rhythmic accents. The LIP ends in measure 5 in the predominant area, so we could describe the whole first line as a sequence/LIP moving from T to P. However, because it is a falling fifth sequence, each chord is in a dominant-tonic relationship with the next chord. I’ve indicated these below the staff in mm. 1-4: Bmin is a Dominant variant of Gmaj, but also dominant of E, which is a Tonic variant in C, but also Dominant to Am, which is Tonic relative AND dominant to D, which is Dominant to G, which is dominant to C, which is dominant to F.

After the Predominant, there are a bunch of tonicizations, still in the falling fifth chord progression, but less sequence-y, and with different metric rhythm. This is the more chromatic part. Measures 6-7 are easy to see in an Eb context, and mm. 8-9 follow a similar chord pattern in Db.

Measure 9 is a Db chord, which in Cmaj is the tritone substitution for dominant. I’ve labeled this Pre-Tonic chord as a Variant of the subdominant for a shorthand. The Db doesn’t go straight to C, so it can be argued that this is a Predominant type chord, and mm. 9-10 are a predominant leading to dominant space in the progression. Measure 10 includes a stereotypical Gdom7, but it’s resolution is weakened by the following tonic having the third in the bass. This is the only chord in inversion in the Theme.

The last two measures of this section circle back to the tritone sub, sV, that this time does lead to Cmaj in m. 13. You might hear mm. 11-12 as a plagal extension of the weak cadence in mm. 10-11, or as a subdominant cadence that the previous is just a fake-out for. Here in the theme, there’s a large rest in the melody at this point, but in the next two variations, the melody drives more toward the subdominant cadence at the end of the pattern. I think that it’s cool that the variations emphasize different meanings of the chords with different melodic settings. Listen to the piece and see if you can hear the repeating chord structure with different emphasis.

Today I’m only doing a chordal analysis of this first bit, but it would be cool to compare the different chromatic emphasis in the different variations. Do the LIPs stay the same? What effect does the rhythm have on the function of the chords and the impact of the piece? I will close with the last couple bars, tho.

mm. 37-39 Blue-Bird by Valerie Capers, annotated

After two variations, the Theme repeats, going to the coda following m. 9. In this case, the dominant is emphasized with repetition, and the closing plagal expansion of mm. 11-12 is changed to an Authentic Cadence, ending on Tonic. This might influence our hearing of the cadence in mm. 10-11, knowing that the ending Pre-Tonic chord is a dominant, and not a subdominant, but that could change from person to person.

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