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Dominant Decision

Jazzed Magazine • Basic TrainingMarch 2020 • March 18, 2020

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A cadence is a series of chords that leads to a resting point. The most common cadence would be the iim7 chord followed by the V7 chord and resolving to the I chord (i.e Dm7-G7-Cmaj 7th). Another very common cadence would be the vim7 followed by the II7 chord followed by the iim7, V7, and the I chord (i.e. Am7-D7-Dm7-G7-Cmaj7).

I want to explore how Jimmy Heath and Dexter Gordon navigate this cadence. The transcriptions are from the song “Lady Bird.” The Jimmy Heath solo is from the album Continuum and Dexter Gordon solo is from a live version (Belgium) on YouTube. The transcription is of their first chorus. The cadence is bracketed. The solos are in the tenor key(D) – therefore the cadence is Bm7-E7-Em7-A7-Dmaj7.

Jimmy Heath makes the sound of the Bm7 and the E7 but he chooses to make the sound of A7 where the written chord is the Em7. The result is a two measure phrase starting with 3-5-7-9 of the A7 chord and using the be-bop scale to emphasize the dominant 7th sound (i.e. playing a chromatic scale down from one to seven).

Dexter Gordon, on the other hand, chooses not to make the sound of the Bm7 but rather the sound of the E7 using the 3rd and the be-bop scale to the 7th. But  he chooses to make the sound of the Em7 and again using the be-bop scale for the A7.

So what we learn is the dominant 7th chord is not eliminated but sometimes I can leave out the minor 7th chord and just make the sound of the more important chord – what I’m terming the “Dominant Decision.”

In a career spanning over 50 years, New England-based bandleader, sax player, and jazz educator Miles Donahue has performed on and recorded 14 albums. His third album with Mike Stern is coming out in 2020 on Whaling City Sound. Donahue is currently a visiting professor at Middlebury College, teaching a class on the music of Motown and popular piano styles. His site,, offers an effective course for new players to learn jazz improvisation and for seasoned players to learn fresh approaches to soloing.

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