The pitfalls of Fake Books

Here’s another post in a series on simplifying chords for soloing. This is not rocket science, so advanced players don’t need to read it.

Lockdown has been a good time for revisiting standards that I learned in my jazz infancy and haven’t reconsidered since. Tunes for which I worked out an approach based on my meagre harmonic understanding at the time, and which I’ve not thought much about since except when someone calls the tune. Nuggets of ignorance that yield rapidly to having a bit of light shone on them.

For example, A Beautiful Friendship. In the key of C the little fake book in my brain gives the first line as:

| CΔ | F♯7♯11 | FΔ | EØ A7 |

What to do with the F♯7♯11 chord resolving to FΔ?

It’s a tritone substitution so my naive approach was that I should play an F♯ triad and find some notes to go with it. And it kinda works, but doesn’t really tell me what’s going on harmonically. The result is that it’s hard to find a consistent line through the whole 4 bars.

Turns out it’s more natural to understand if I think of it as

| CΔ | C7/F♯ | FΔ | EØ A7 |

which apart from the bass note is standard harmony that you could see anywhere. The bass note isn’t my problem if I’m soloing. Note that C7/F♯ has precisely the same notes as C7♯11 and F♯7♯11*.

So for soloing, I think of the first four bars as:

| CΔ | C7 | FΔ | EØ A7 |

for which I have a load of vocabulary. The change when looking at it this way is focussed on the move from B to B♭, rather than from nowhere in particular to F♯, A♯ (which is of course B♭) or C♯. And this sounds good not only because it’s familiar territory, but also because making the F♯ triad sounds like I’m trying too hard. Too much harmony again.

The moral of the story is that chords in fake books can be misleading, because they are trying to compress a whole load of information into a single chord symbol.

*Update: Note that C7/F♯ has precisely the same notes as C7♯11 and F♯7♯11. This is wrong because there is no G in F♯7♯11 and there is no C♯ in C7♯11. The C7 might be thought of more accurately as C7alt.

5 thoughts on “The pitfalls of Fake Books

  1. The revelation for me was that tritone substitution takes you from the altered domain to the unaltered. But also that unaltered means #11 because natural 11 in a dominant is an avoid note.

Comments are closed.