Lush Life – Full Harmonic Analysis

Here’s a song by Billy Strayhorn that I’ve always loved and never fully analyzed until writing The Jazz Standards Progressions Book.

I’ve been fascinated by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn compositions since the first time I heard an Ellington album, about thirty years ago. Since then I greatly enjoyed their rich harmonies, rhythmic vocabulary and melodies that seem to be a perfect balance of sophisticated ideas with a practical, to-the point nature.

The analysis of many Ellington and Strayhorn tunes challenged some of my beliefs as they stretch the boundaries of tonal harmony. However I found most of these exuberant harmonic progressions seem to have something in common. Many times these chords, that at first sight seemed not to have a place in the collection of traditional harmonic functions, are border line tonal. They might not be in the realm of commonly used harmonic functions such as secondary dominants, sub V’s or borrowing from minor, but they are very close to them in the circle of fifths. Other times a chord is not exactly a diatonic chord in the key of the moment but they just have one or two chord tones displaced. Obviously voce leading played an important role in the choices made by the composers. For instance, on the second page bar 4, this bVIImaj7 function is paired with an Ionian chord-scale.


As I said earlier the analysis of these masters’ works challenged some of my convictions and forced the mDecks team to re-examine multiple harmonic functions in Mapping Tonal Harmony Pro. In most cases we ended up making some of the boundaries between tonal and non tonal harmony more flexible. We added options to the harmonic landscape in the app and made a wider range of options in the chord/chord-scale pairings. This enriched our knowledge, the app’s functionality and it’s ability to represent tonal harmony in a coherent, visual landscape that allowed all of us to gain better understanding of the sounds we so love.

Mapping Tonal Harmony Pro has the capability to register all the chords in a song and link them with arrows on the map. Check out this crazy picture of Lush Life on the map:

Lush life pic

Here’s Lush Life with full harmonic analysis, chord-scales and arrows & brackets analysis.



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