Clifford Carter On Reharmonizing “Body and Soul”
Thu, 1 Jul 2010

The timeless standard “Body and Soul” was written in 1930 by Edward Heyman, Robert Sour, Frank Eyton, and Johnny Green. Paul Whiteman and his orchestra made it popular, and it was covered by countless artists, including Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, and Frank Sinatra. Among the most famous jazz recordings are saxophonist Coleman Hawkins’ version from October 1939, and John Coltrane’s performance from his 1965 album Live in Seattle. Initially, “Body and Soul” was banned from radio for nearly a year because its lyrics were considered too suggestive—a serious commentary on the times.

I hear “Body and Soul” as soul music. Not in the James Brown sense, but in the way the music and lyrics transport you in the same way that great soul singers often do. It’s fun to take a well-known song and approach its harmonic landscape in a new way. Instrumentalists and arrangers have their favorite tricks and tonalities that they apply to standards. Here are some of mine for the first eight bars of “Body and Soul.”

[Click thumbnails for larger sheet music images. Scroll down for audio examples.] Tritone Substitution This is a great way to reharmonize a song without radically changing its style. The name refers to substituting a chord with another one whose root is a tritone (six half-steps) away from the original chord. In Ex. 1, the first occurrence of this is in beat 3 of bar 2. The D7b13#9 chord is the tritone substitute for the original Ab7 chord. Other instances of tritone substitution are marked in red. Pedal Tones This involves using the same bass note as the root of a series of chords. It gives a song that traditionally has a lot of chord changes a moody, modal sound. In the first two bars of Ex. 2, instead of simply having a different chord (with a different root) every two beats, each chord now has the same root of Eb. Bars 3 through 6 also make use of pedal tones, which are marked in red. Suspended Chords, Lydian Chords, and Parallel Harmony In Ex. 3, we extend our harmony even further by using dominant chords built with fourths instead of thirds, Lydian chords (maj7 chords with a #11), and parallel movement of two or more lines or chords. These techniques help us move away from the traditional ii-V-I progressions. Arriving at these new choices often comes from harmonizing the melody. Here, the use of these three harmonic tools is color-coded: Suspended (sus) chords are red, Lydian chords are blue, and parallel harmony is green. New Overview I call this style of reharmonization “New Overview” because it’s an adventurous move away from the song’s original harmony. The idea is to give the song a new mood via passionate new chords. In Ex. 4, I’m setting up a two-chord pattern in bars 1, 2, and 3—it’s in a major tonality as opposed to the original minor sound. If I played this on a gig, I might use bars 1 and 2 as an intro vamp, then state the melody. From bar 4 on, I’m using a combination of tritone substitutions, sus chords, Lydian chords, parallel harmony, and a few other colors.


  • Audio examples - refer to sheet music also on pp. 24-26 of the July 2010 issue.

Session and touring ace Clifford Carter has been one of New York City’s most in-demand keyboardists for three decades, anchoring the bands of James Taylor, Patti Scialfa, Betty Buckley, and Art Garfunkel. His recent projects include touring with jazz/pop icon Harry Connick Jr. and co-producing Dallas songwriter Emily Elbert. Learn more at -Jon Regen

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