More Thoughts on Reharmonization: Just Friends

This time around I’m sharing my reharmonization of the standard, Just Friends, which began during one of my jazz piano student’s lessons.  I was intrigued by his choice of a B7 chord, which initially seemed rather boring (to me), since the melody note was also a B, but turning the B7 into a B7b9 (with it’s C natural) instantly added a little dissonance (hence the intrigue), so although the student’s work went off in another direction, I decided to pursue a reharmonization of my own.  The final result is at the bottom of this post, but here’s a few thoughts about the process that got me there.

I’m a big fan of strong bass motion (and plan to come back as a bass player in my next life), not just because it can suggest a strong chord progression, but also because it can create a melody (second in priority to only the song’s melody) that helps lengthen and strengthen the phrases of the tune.  Here below I’ve condensed the rhythm of the bass line of my reharmonization (and thus the harmonic rhythm of the song), so it can be played as a melody, and analyzed for intervalic motifs and general form.  Some measure numbers are shown below the staff, indicating that each quarter note beat represents one measure of the original lead sheet.  Try playing this bass line, and see if it stands on its own as a strong melody.  Also, add one more note at the end…letting that final written F# resolve back to the starting B (to my ears, without hearing the Fmin9/Bb chord above it, the dotted quarter note Bb near the end sounds more like the A# in an F#7 chord, which makes that final F#-B that much stronger).  Note: Bass players are not bound by this line (especially when they are given a strong chord progression to work with), but a strong bass line like this lends an inherent strength to a reharmonization, or to an original tune.

The dotted slurs and brackets highlight the two most prevalent patterns, half step motion (either up or down, represented by the dotted slurs), and Perfect 4th up (or the equivalent Perfect 5th down), as part of a II-V couplet (highlighted by the brackets). Small arrows show other incidences of strong Perfect 4th up/Perfect 5th down motion. Inverted V shaped brackets show the interval of a Major 3rd down, and the brackets with dotted lines show a motivic sequence.  The notes in parenthesis are the 7th of the chord of the moment, and are part of a common path bass players often take to connect chords in this context.

My ear heard that opening B7b9 chord as the V7 in the key of E minor, but I also wanted some harmonic motion in measure 2…what you expect from good counterpoint when the other voice (in this case the melody) is static.  An easy solution was to add the C diminished chord, which could share the same applied scale with the B7b9 chord (e.g., the E harmonic minor scale).  I also heard/saw (*) the opportunity to continue the ascending bass line by choosing a C#min9(b5) chord (which is a substitute chord for Emin6) in the third measure.  Measures 3 and 4 in the original progression are a II-V couplet (Cmin7-F7).  I wanted to keep the same sense of harmonic rhythm (and counterpoint), especially after adding a new chord in bar two, and heard/saw that I could create my own II-V couplet by following the C#min9(b5) chord with an F#13(b9,#9) chord at bar 4.  My II-V couplet had a much higher “Hip Factor” (my term, explained below) than the original II-V couplet in those two measures, plus it moved strongly to the song’s original Gmaj7 chord in measure 5 (although by keeping with the spirit of reharmonization, I changed the Gmaj7 to Gmin9).

*The creative process can sometimes be difficult to describe.  We never know what might trigger our inspiration…what can serve as our muse.  I believe that being engaged in the creative process (even when it feels more like struggling) develops and fine tunes our sensitivities and intuition, and also (even if they appear to be less glamorous) our knowledge base and fundamental skills.  Sometimes the things we consciously belabor over the most can sound the most spontaneous, and at other times what was totally effortless, done with hardly a thought, can later be discovered to be full of other delights of form…so much so that it is hard to conceive it wasn’t accomplished without great calculation.  In spite of all of the complexities described here, the driving force was not to be complex, but instead to engage in the creative process…to experience the joys of discovery and self expression.

The Hip Factor which I mentioned in the paragraph above, refers to the melody note’s relationship to the chord.  Roots, 3rds, and Perfect 5ths are pretty commonplace, but as you ascend to the upper extensions…9ths, 11ths and 13ths, the chords created with the addition of the melody note become more complex.  Altering 5ths, 9ths and 11ths make the chords even more sophisticated…hipper. The next example (below) shows the melody note above every chord, presented in the same condensed way as the bass line was earlier (moving at one measure per quarter note).  The melody’s relationship with the chord is labeled above each note, with the top numbers belonging to my reharmonized chords and the bottom tier applied to the original chord changes.  You can see that the reharmonized version usually has the melody creating a more complex harmony, and that the Hip Factor is relatively consistent.  I should also mention that there are some enharmonic equivalents here, like the Eb in measure 3, instead of a D#, which would be the true 9th over the C#min7(b5).  I decided to preserve the exact notes of the original, even if they were not always enharmonically correct.

By the time I had reharmonized the first five measures, the bass motion and Hip Factor had revealed their personalities, which meant that what followed had to honor their direction in order for the reharmonization to remain consistent.  That doesn’t mean that there can’t be a little variety though, and I enjoy the challenge of providing that variety as a way of  avoiding blatant repetition (like the original harmonies in the second half of the tune), and yet still developing the new harmonic forms of the reharmonization (note that the bass line example above shows roughly the same number of dotted slurs and brackets in the second half of the tune).  Measure 15 shows an extended, descending bass line (briefly interrupted by a Perfect 4th up/Perfect 5th down), which produces an E7#9 chord at the second half of the tune, yet still arrives at the familiar (like the beginning’s) C#min7(b5) chord in the third bar of the phrase.  Although my reharmonization is the same in bars 19-21 as bars 3-5, it then introduces new harmonies from measures 22 to the end (and including new, sequential bass lines, shown with those dotted line brackets, from measures 21-27).

Other points of interest:

  • Measure 9 begins with the original tune’s Amin7 chord, but is then followed by a chromatically ascending bass (another diminished chord like measure #2), leading to another chord from the original (the Bmin7 in measure 11).  The ascension continues with the CMaj7 (a substitute chord for the tune’s original Emin7).  This time the chromatically ascending line is longer, followed by a greater intervallic leap, with the peak of the rising bass line in measure #13 coinciding with the climax in the melody.
  • Although the second half of the tune (from measures #22 through 24) is harmonized differently than the first half, and does not have that long ascending bass line, the sense of ascension is still present, thanks to the Abmin11(b5)-E13(#11) being one half step higher than the previous couplet, Gmin6/9-Eb13(#11).  I especially like the contrasting hip factor of the melody and chord at measure #29 (the climax of the second half of the tune), where the “less hip” major 3rd sounds almost triumphant. Also, this time the bass moves in contrary (rather than similar) motion (measures #27 and 28) towards that melodic climax.
  • Notice how the harmonic rhythm speeds up near the end of the song’s two major sections (measures 15 and 16, and measure 32), and before the song’s final climax at measure 29 (measures 27 and 28).  This is another way to produce tension and release, and to highlight key areas of the song.

There is nothing really adventurous harmonically here, but the interest lies in hearing the  old melody framed with new, strongly flowing chords, and the higher hip factor.  I hope you enjoy it!  (If you are interested, click on the lead sheet for a larger, printable version)

If case you haven’t read the earlier post, Reharmonization, and Other Ways to Increase Your Listening Skills, Knowledge and Creativity, it has some guidelines for that process, along with a reharmonization of Nature Boy.

This entry was posted in Composing, Composition Lessons, Improvisation Lessons, Jazz Piano Lessons. Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to More Thoughts on Reharmonization: Just Friends

  1. David says:

    Hello! This is interesting. My friends and I are currently playing this in a very old fashioned style trio and I’m thinking of introducing these harmonies somewhere in the arrangement. Do you have a recording or a video we can hear?

    • bobgillis says:

      Hi David,

      It’s good to hear that you might use these alternate changes with your group! Currently I have no video or recording, although I’m underway with a project that will use my reharmonizations of Nature Boy, Oleo, I Remember You, and Con Alma (also on the blog). I wish you all the best with your music!

      Take care,


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