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Discussing “Stella By Starlight”

Discussing "Stella By Starlight"
I want to use our scale theory now to apply it to a really important standard, one of my favourites, Victor Young’s “Stella By Starlight”. Just a warning before we get into it, this might seem a bit daunting at first and I don’t want you to be overwhelmed by it because, in the end, what matters, I suppose, is motivic improvisation - playing tunes - and you can play tunes on this tune without knowing this theory. If you start to get into the theory of scales it tells you, in a sense, which notes you can make your tunes out of and, in that sense, it’s good to start getting on top of that.
Let me, first of all, just play you the tune. I’ll play it in root position although I’m mostly interested in the next section with playing this with an Aebersold playalong. Here’s the tune.
As a preliminary to playing the playalong, let’s look at our chords in the left hand. We’re just going to analyse them as chords and not a chord sequence until the next session. So our first chord E minor7 flat5 - half diminished - sometimes I write it as half diminished, sometimes I write it as minor7 flat5. I’d like you to be used to both. I could use by root voicing, which I really like in this position. I think it works really nicely. But then the other thing I could take E minor7 and flatten the five.
Notice that I have an ordinary ninth and not a flattened ninth, so that I’m going to use my scale for this - for the ordinary ninth - and not the more conventional thing where you flat the 5 and you flat the 9 as well and then you can get an Ionian mode. Our second chord is A7 flat9 - so A7, if I put in a ninth and I flatten it I get that. Or I could think this - rather than E minor7 flat5 to A7 flat9 - I could think of this A7 flat9 sus to A7 flat9.
We’re in the key of B flat, so we’ve got C minor7, F7 - those are our standard chords - and then it goes F minor7, B flat7, E flat major7, A flat7 - I’m using thickening notes quite a bit to keep most of the voicings 4 notes - B flat major7 and then our first 2 chords - this time only 2 beats each - D minor7, bar 12, B flat minor7, E flat7, bar 13, F major7, bar 14, first 2 chords again, bar 15, A minor7
third inversion and flat the 5 - or you can think again of this as D7 flat9 sus going to D7 flat9. Now this important bar, which is I want to concentrate on scalically, is the augmented chord for G - G plus 7, G7 with a sharp5, if you like. So if I take G7 - that voicing, that’s the closest one to the present voicing - and with a sharp 5, it gives me an E flat and if I want to put in flat nine and sharp nine, I can put in those in as well, because that’s the flat nine and that’s the sharp nine. We going to play this altered scale which is so important - G altered.
You see we’ve got quite a few of those notes in the chord. Then C minor7, which is that voicing. Then we’re going to have an A flat7 chord, but it’s going to have a sharpened eleventh in it. I could actually - there’s A flat7, there’s a thicker version - I could actually put that in the left hand if I wanted by playing the D - the sharpened eleventh. Then back to B flat major7 and now our next 2 bars are how we started E minor7 flat5, A7 flat9. The next 2 bars after that are exactly the same but down a tone and the next 2 bars after that exactly the same but down a tone.
So we’re going to get a D minor7 with a flat 5, going to G7 flat9 and then C minor7 flat5, F7 flat9 and then home to B flat major7. What I want to do now is just write down for you the scales that go with each chord - looking at it just as a chord - not looking at it as a chord sequence. As I said, I’m not going to flatten the ninth. In that case, the half diminished is going to be my preferred scale which you get by going up a minor third and taking the melodic minor ascending. If it’s an E chord I get a G and I get G melodic minor ascending.
I’ve written this out for you - I call it GMMA - melodic minor ascending. Then the next bar we have a seventh with a flattened ninth that signals a diminished scale. Which one? Well the flattened ninth in B flat so it’s B flat diminished. But I prefer only to work with 3 diminished scales C, C sharp and D, and if I take that I get C sharp. For me, that is C sharp diminished. If you’re good enough to make that B flat diminished then good luck to you. Then C minor7 - that’s a Dorian. F7 - that’s a Mixolydian
then F minor7 - that’s a Dorian so E flat major. B flat7 - that’s a Mixolydian, so it’s E flat major. E flat major7 is E flat major. A flat7, Mixolydian - D flat. Bar 9, B flat major. Bar 10 is the same as bars 1 and 2 but compressed, 2 beats each only. So we get 2 beats of G melodic minor ascending and 2 beats of C sharp diminished. D minor7, Dorian scale, C major which is rooted on D. B flat minor7, that’s Dorian again, A flat major. E flat7, Mixolydian, A flat major. Then F major7 is F major scale. Then again, we’ve got our first 2 bars compressed.
Then we have A minor7 flat5, so we have a half diminished. We go up a minor third from A, we get to C. So we get C melodic minor ascending.
Then D7 flat9. What’s the flat nine? That’s E flat which, for me, gives me a C diminished. You see we’ve got these 2 C-based scale, but go back a bit, 15, C melodic minor ascending Bar 16
C diminished. Now we come to this important bar, bar 17. I’d really like you to work on this. So we take our chord and we have G altered. We’ve discussed the altered scale for 2 bars so you can get quite a bit of the scale out. Then C minor7, it’s Dorian so B flat major. Then we’ve got A flat7 sharp11. Let me just do that again. Let’s do it for C. You take C7. Then we sharpen the eleventh, which means we flatten the fifth, if you like, but these days it’s better to think of it in terms of sharpened eleventh. So we take the scale that goes with C7 and replace the G (F) with F sharp.
That’s the scale. What is that? That is the scale of G melodic minor ascending.
So from C to G is down a fourth or up a fifth, or however you want to look at it. So A flat down a fourth is E flat - up a fifth is E flat. So we take the chord we come to and we play the chord with a D in it. So it’s E flat melodic minor ascending - it’s the Lydian dominant.
You can think of it, going back to first principles, as A flat7 but we’re going to sharpen the eleventh - we’re going to flatten the fifth. That’s the same thing as E flat melodic minor ascending. B flat major. Now our first 2 bars again E minor7 flat5 to A7 flat9. You know how it goes. It goes G melodic minor ascending to C sharp (diminished)
Now the next 2 bars, as we said, are the same but down a tone. And the next 2 bars after the same down a tone. We go down from G, we get to F F melodic minor ascending B diminished
E flat melodic minor ascending
to C diminished
B flat. So just think of it in terms of scales, what are the notes that are available to us, then we’ve been through it all. What I’d like you to practice this maybe, is just to do one chord at a time and play the whole scale - either going up or coming down - so that you get used to the sound of the scales as they go with the chords, like this. First bar second bar
third bar
second line
third line
Now the next bar is the first 2 bars and so we’ll play again the whole scale.
Fourth line, F major then again
Then our C melodic minor ascending.
Now our altered scale - the most important of all
B flat major
Then we’ve got this Lydian dominant in bar 21.
Have a practice of getting the scales out with the chords and then we’ll have a look at playing it with the Aebersold playalong.

We discuss the important jazz standard “Stella By Starlight” and look at the scales which accompany each chord.

You can download the chart for “Stella By Starlight” in PDF format at the bottom of this step.

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