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Ron Simmonds



In my articles on open harmony I have tried to show how massive chords can be produced by the wind ensemble. The use of filler tones and all additions to chords are discussed and examples given. Having done that, it would be interesting to see which tones can be left out of chords to create special effects. The technique is enormously useful when scoring for a small group.

In Example I you will see a melody which has to be harmonised. Before reading on, try and do this yourself.

Example 2 shows a possible harmonisation, using the chords annotated.

In Example 3 I have used the same chords, but eliminated one tone from each, so that only triads remain. The result is much more pleasing to the ear than that of Example 2. The upper melody line in this example has been added here to save space. Ignore this upper line for the moment.

Looking at the omissions one can truthfully say that the first chord, on paper at least, seems to be sadly lacking in the ingredients for an Am11. Indeed, the tonic and 9th are missing, while the 11th itself is tucked away on its own down below.

The chord looks like a C major triad with a D in the bass. It could also be regarded as a D9/4. Writing it as C/D would certainly inform the keyboards and guitars that there are to be no extra tones in their interpretations, with a resulting weakening of the desired sound. (Some arrangers use this technique constantly. I cannot help thinking, however, that it misses the point somewhat: a chord written as Eb/F, F9/4 or Cm7/F will sound like a Cm11/F because it IS a minor 11th chord with the 11th in the bass.)

The next chord is written as a G major 9, but the third is missing. What we are seeing is, in fact, a D triad with G in the bass. The fourth chord is a B minor inversion with a G bass.

The first four chords could therefore be quite logically written as C/D, D/G, C/D and Bm/G. The sequence would sound exactly the same as the original, but rhythm players would not be happy with such an illogical chord movement.

Using the third in the G major 7 chord when it appears again in bar 2 puts the ear, and the mind, at rest.

The examples are taken from “Sailaway” by Maurice White (Saggifire Music), recorded on the Earth, Wind and Fire album “Faces”.

Also of interest to the arranger is the choice of chords in this introduction. The use of the minor 11 instead of dominant 7 on the upbeats has a haunting effect on this passage, while the modulation from G to E and back again is absolutely stunning in its simplicity.

Substitute legato quarter-notes for the dotted quarter-notes and the passage loses much of its charm. Don’t forget that the played length of a dotted quarter note is two thirds of a normal quarter note (i.e. not merely an eighth note). On the recording these eight bars, with variations, continue throughout the piece as a background. It is a beautiful arrangement.

If you wish to write out Examples 2 and 3 using a music scoring programme set the sound of all instruments to programme number 89, often called Pad 1 (New Age). Although this was conceived and played solely by keyboard instruments, such a passage would be enormously effective if the upper line were played softly by four flugelhorns, or trumpets in hat, with two trombones in unison on each of the lower tones of the triads.

Both alto saxophones could double the trumpets, with a tenor doubling each of the trombone lines. The baritone and/or bass trombone could double the bass line. Such a passage would have to be played very softly, and balanced evenly for maximum effect.

As a matter of interest I have included a few bars of the melody of this song. This is the upper line of Example 3. You can see at once that in bar 2 the melody tone C is dissonant to the chord for one beat before moving down on to the major third. This is harmonically wrong, although it is obviously acceptable, because, on the record, it sounds good. As the instruments involved are so different in quality, i.e. voice against keyboards, the dissonance is hardly noticeable.

(It is an interesting fact that a similar phenomenon often occurs during choruses of the twelve-bar blues. The penultimate chord of the blues in Bb is F7, but jazz players very often include the Bb, which is a suspension of F7, in their solos. This has led many rhythm instrument players to regard this chord as being more of an F7/4 – sometimes written F7sus4.)

In a later part of the melody the origin of the intro can be seen. (Ex. 4.) There are very many lessons to be learned by studying the old Earth, Wind & Fire records. The student should try and lift whole passages, such as this one, and analyse them. There are many powerful examples of sudden modulation, the introductions are always sensational, and the brass writing contains much which can be remembered and perhaps used later on in various other guises.

To illustrate this: Peter Herbolzheimer once asked me to write a big band arrangement of “Serpentine Fire”. Wanting to stay close to the original, but to introduce more of a big band flavour, I listened to the record several times. Upon hearing a sound that I could not identify I played the record again at half speed.

The sound I could not identify was suddenly exposed as an extremely fast and complicated brass passage, lasting for eight bars, that had been dubbed at normal speed on to a half speed playback. The result, at the correct speed, was a very high, fizzy tinkling sound.

I confirmed this later on with Chuck Findley, who had been on the Earth, Wind and Fire recording, and who came over from Los Angeles to play my arrangement with the Herbolzheimer band, in which I used the passage as a new intro, at normal speed. (Example 5) Needless to say: the trombones played this perfectly, first time off, without a word of complaint.

The result can be heard on the Panda record “Bandfire” with the Peter Herbolzheimer Rhythm Combination & Brass (Panda l-LC8033).