Lesson 03: “Solar”
Song number 3 is one of my all time favorites: “Solar” made famous by Miles Davis.
There are different claims about who originally wrote the song but in general people attribute it to Miles Davis.
On youtube you can find many examples, this is the original:
Why did I pick this tune? I remember the first time I heard it, my girlfriend and I were having dinner when suddenly this song came up (iTunes -Genius). Subconsciously I picked up the melody and chords and it immediately got hold of me. I dropped by knife and fork and rushed to my pc to see what song was playing.
The song is hypnotizing, it seems to stop or to modulate but then starts over again. Just like in an Escher drawing.
I first thought it had to do with the dominant 7, it seemed to me it wasn’t played. But when I researched the song, it turned to be something else that makes this song so catchy.
The chord progression of ‘Solar’ is as follows:
Cm | Cm | Gm7 | C7 |
FM7 |FM7 | Fm7 | Bb7 |
EbM7 | Ebm7 | Ab7 | DbM7|
Dm7b5 | G7 |
These are the chords:
OK, here the real work starts. First of all, the song starts off with a regular minor chord, not a minor 7th, just a minor chord.
This would point into the direction of a ii-V7-I progression, but it isn’t. The first chords are Cm, Gm7, C7 and Fmaj7. The Cm at the beginning is a little bit odd, or not? With a C, a G and an F, everything points in the direction of a I-IV-V standard progression, but now something like i-iv-v.
Let’s have a look at the i-iv (Cm – Gm7). You can consider this as a way to go from C minor to F major.
Then the song progresses from Gm7 to C7 to Fmaj7. This is a typical ii-V7-I progression. What follows is another common pattern in jazz, going from a major to a minor chord (Fmaj7 to Fmin7). Basically, it makes the I in a ii-V-I progression into a ii so you can start all over again.
So the we have ii-V7-I as Fm7-Bb7-EbM7. Perfectly according to the rules. And then the Major-Minor trick is executed again, we go from EbM7 to Ebm7!
This enables us to continue on the next ii-V7-I pattern which is Ebm7-Ab7-DbM7.
The song ends with a standard turn around, the same we have seen in “Blue Bossa”: Dm7b5 | G7. A standard turn-around for a C minor 7.
But we don’t play a C minor 7, we play a C minor.
- first we play a i-iv progression in C minor (Cm-Gm7)
- second a ii-V7-I progression in F major (Gm7-C7-FM7)
- third a ii-V7-I progression in Eb major (Fm7-Bb7-EbM7)
- fourth a ii-V7-I progression in Db major (Ebm7-Ab7-DbM7)
- fifth a turn-around (ii-V7) in C minor (Dm7b5 – G7)
And the cool thing is that from the second to the third to the fourth progression, there is always a major to minor change.
Remember, there are two main progressions in jazz that cover maybe over 70% of all progressions:
- ii-V-I progression
- going from major to minor in the same key
There are always numerous scales that you can play over chord changes, but I would like to limit it as much as I can. Since the scales should only give you a starting point. From there you have to fill in your musical ideas yourself with licks, runs etc.
As we have seen, the song consists of five parts.
Part 1: the Cmin chord
Part 2: Gmin7-C7-Fmaj7 (ii-V-I progression to F)
Part 3: Fmin7-Bb7- EbMaj7 (ii-V-I progression to Eb)
Part 4: Emin7-Ab7-DbMaj7(ii-V-I progression to Db)
Part 5: the ‘turn-around’ Dm7b5 and G7 to end up at Cmin
When I leave all the ‘fringe’ of the ii-V-I progressions away, I end up with a 5-chord song:
As a starting point you can play over the first part the C minor scale (aeolian): C – D – Eb – F – G – Ab – Bb – C
For the second part, a good starting point is the Eb major scale (ionian): Eb – F- G – Ab – Bb – C – D
For the third part, again the C minor.
And as you can see, the C minor and Eb major contain exactly the same notes!
But this song has much more possibilities. The opening chord for example is often written as a CmMaj7 which means a C minor-major 7 chords. Ooops, what does that mean?
It is a C minor chord with the major seventh (B) added. By the way, they also call it the ‘James Bond’ (or ‘Hitchcock’) chord…
do you understand why (use some tremolo effect -no not the bar but the real tremol- an you know why)?
In this song, I’d like to start off with the standard C major scale (listed above C – D – E – F – G – A – B).
When moving to the bold part:
Cm | Cm | Gm7 | C7 | FM7
On the Gm7 and C7 you can play the G Dorian scale which is a minor scale and perfectly fits the Gm7 chord. When moving to the
The FM7 consists of the following notes: F-A-C-E.
Just give all these notes a try when the song moves to the FM7:
F: is possible but I find it a little bit boring, maybe in a later stage in the solo, it has possibilities.
A: I like this one, gives a nice tension (mind you, this is the 3rd in the chord and you can hear it also in the melody line)
C: No, too boring
E: Moves into a completely different direction (as the 7th always does). Don’t go here.
So we stick with the A. A good scale will be the A-Phrygian which is a parallel scale to the G-Dorian (it contains exactly the same notes, only starts at a different note)
Moving to the nect part after the FM7:
FM7 |FM7 | Fm7 | Bb7 | EbM7
I like to approach this one thesame as with the previous ii-V-I progression, play the F Dorian. Just move the G Dorian two positions upwards and y’re there.
On the EbM7, make the same move an play an G-Phrygian. The same as F-Dorian but starting on a different note in this case the G.
The next part:
Ebm7 | Ab7 | DbM7
Again, start off on the Eb Dorian and move to the F#-Phrygian.
For the turn-around Dm7b5 and G7, I like to play the D-Dorian which is parallel to the C-Major (Ionian).
5. The Miles Davis solo
The Miles’ solo on Solar is a classic one. Miles Davis stays within the harmony structure, hardly missing a beat. Anyone else who would play
a solo like this would sound very boring, but Miles Davis not. Like a boxer he punches at the right moment. His punches maybe not that suprising
but he hits you everytime in the face.
The first (there is also a solo at the end) solo consists of four verses.
Miles starts off in bar 1 and 2 with some notes from a C (minor/major doesn’t matter here) scale. Since the accompanying chord is Cminm7, you
can both play a C minor or C major scale. Miles starts with a B (7th note) to build up harmonic tension, the 7th ‘pushes’ to the root C.
In bar 3 and 4, Miles plays a riff in C-Mixolydian (C-D-E-F-G-A-A#) starting on the A and ending on the E. This little riff is played when the C7
chord (C-E-G-A#) is played. As you can see, the C7 perfectly fits the 1-3-5-7 chord rule on the C-Mixolydian.
I think starting on the A is fine since it is not in the C7 chord and therefore brings some flavour. The ending on E is nicely chosen since the chord
progression ends in FMaj7 (F-A-C-E). That E is the 7th note in FMaj7 and really pushes to the root.
Bar 5 and 6 gives another riff in C-Mixolydian (C-D-E-F-G-A-A#). While the song ‘rests’ on the FMaj7 chord it’s good to not have too many exciting
things happen. The notes in C-Mixolydian perfectly mix with FMaj7.
Then the chord progression moves to Fmin7 (which is a kind of standard maj to min move) and Miles plays here a C and G in the same way as
he played a D and A. Kind of a repetition in the riff. Still within the C-Mixolydian boundaries but you feel there is going to move something.
Important is that we can recognise a standard ii-V-I progression in bar 7-8-9:
ii – Fmin7 (F-G#-C-Eb)
V – Bb7 (Bb-D-F-G#)
I – EbMaj7 (Eb-Bb-G-D)
This is perfect for a Eb Mixolydian scale (Eb-F-G-G#-Bb-C-C#).
Miles ends with a riff (that he repeates in every verse) on the turn-around:
This riff is a in D-Dorian (D-E-F-G-A-B-C-D) with some notes added (e.g. the G# in bar 12 – 5th note, this G# also appears in the Dm7/5-)
ending on the C which is off course the perfect step to the next verse.
In bar 15-17 a riff C-Mixolydian (C-D-E-F-G-A-A#) starting on A and ending on C.
Bar 19 and a part of bar 20: F-(G#)-C repeated note riff. The G# is an odd note, hinting maybe at the Eb mix scale that follows.
Bar 20 a harmonic note sequence to the G, then to F# and then to F
Some nice examples of this song. A piano player that explains really well how to build up a solo:
I like this version as well:
And Keith Jarett going wild: