— 2013 — Jan 11

A nameless ii-V cadence

by Anton Schwartz

We’re all familiar with the standard ii-V-I progression, which plays such a central role in jazz harmony. At some point we all learn about the variant called the tritone substitution, where a Dm7-G7 sequence resolves not to the conventional Cmaj but instead to Fmaj. Another variant, which I presented in a previous post is called the “Backdoor ii-V” progression, in which Dm7-G7 resolves to Amaj. This time we consider yet another: one that (as far as I know) has no name. In it, Dm7-G7 resolves chromatically upward to Amaj.

This sequence isn’t quite as ubiquitous as the others, but it is still pretty common. If you get to know what it sounds like, you’ll recognize it frequently. Notice it, for starters, in bars 2-3 of I Remember You (Bm7-E7-Fmaj). Play that for yourself a few times. Then see if you can hear where it appears in these songs:

  • Whispering
  • Groovin’ High (same changes as Whispering)
  • The Song is You
  • Almost like Being in Love
  • Pensativa
  • There Will Never Be Another You
  • Like Someone in Love
  • I Remember You
  • It Could Happen to You
  • But Beautiful
  • Remember
  • Limbo

Note how often in these songs the melody note held over the sequence is the leading tone of the tonic – that is, a B if the sequence is Fm7-B7-Cmaj. This note, the major third of the G7 chord, is perhaps the most obvious note choice to lead to C major (hence the name leading tone)… but by using Fm7-B7 instead of G7, the B becomes the eleven of a m7 chord—an elegant and sublime sound.

Any suggestions for a good name for the chord sequence?
Maybe “Whispering ii-V”?  Or “ii-V from below”?

14 Responses

  1. CM says:

    I’m enjoying your blog very much, and got to playing with this progression, trying to understand what it was doing. And one thing that came out after a while is that it almost felt like a deceptive cadence, except with a major bVI substituting for the minor I that might have been expected (instead of the minor VI for major I). I was playing it Dm7 G7 followed by G-C-Eb, with either a C bass or an Ab bass.

    Anyway thank you for these interesting articles.

    • Yes, Cherilyn! Differently stated: If a backdoor ii-V is a cadence that leads to the parallel major (VI) of the normal destination’s relative minor (vi), then a “Whispering ii-V” is a cadence that leads to the relative major (VI) of the normal destination’s parallel minor (i). Thanks for pointing that out!

  2. Josh says:

    I’ve always thought of it as a deceptive cadence in a minor key too. But I’m a little confused as to your idea of substituting #ivm7-VII7 for V. That is, it makes sense as a reharm, but if you’re thinking superimposition, wouldn’t it clash with the b7 of the V?
    PS: another similar concept that works a little better as a superimposition is a III7b9 for V.

    • Exactly, Josh. The progression makes a great reharm of a V chord when the third is in the melody… or a great device to use in writing a new song. But I’m not suggesting a soloist superimpose it when the rhythm section is playing a V chord; that would clash big time! Rather, I’m suggesting that we as soloists be able to identify it by its sound and by its written appearance, the way we can a standard ii-V, so we’ll be able to improvise more authentically over it.

  3. Greg says:

    This is probably implied in the article and comments, but this resolution was taught to me as a functional substitution. The idea is that the I, III and VI (or Cmaj7, Emin7 and Amin7) are all tonic function chords. In a functional substitution, the II-V doesn’t resolve as expected. It resolves instead to one of the other tonic chords.

    I learned Dmin7-G7-Amin7 as a deceptive cadence too, but this functional term helped me decipher other surprises. With F#min7-B7-Cmaj7, the resolution steers around the usual II-V to Emin7. It replaces Emin7 with Cmaj7.

    If you combine functional substitution with tritone substitution, it fits progressions like Fmin7-Bb7-Cmaj7. In this key, Fmin7-Bb7 could work as a tritone-sub II-V resolving to Amin7, but it resolves instead up to another tonic chord, CMaj7.

    I’m sure there are other possibilities and other ways to describe it, but this one helped me (thanks to Hummie Mann and Tim Huling).

    Thanks for the articles. They’re great. I’m looking forward to seeing your band again some time soon.

    • Yes, Greg—thank you. I think you and Cherilyn are saying very similar things, but I couldn’t agree more with your added emphasis on the importance of the iii chord. The relationship between a major chord and the minor chord a minor third below (the “relative minor”) gets talked about everywhere, but the important relationship with the minor chord a major third higher doesn’t even have a decent name. (I keep a list of blog posts I mean to write when I have the time, and that one’s been on it for a long time!)

      • Vik says:

        I’m not sure if I correctly understand your concern about the lack of a proper name for min 3-rd/Maj 3-rd relationships between any two chords but in general terms aren’t they called ‘Mediant’ relationships? When the third is diatonic to the key the relationship is called ‘Diatonic mediant’ and otherwise it’s a ‘Chromatic mediant’. Of course at least one chord is assigned to a current key. This term is quite common but I’m not quite sure whether it applies to any chord qualities. However I assume when the second chord becomes chromatic it’s quality is less important in the context of the key but I would be careful to make a strong statement since I’m not an expert.

  4. I’m not sure cadences need names but I guess I think of this a sort of a tritone-subbed plagal cadence if you want to get all nomenclatury about it. The dominant chord in this cadence seems to function sort of like the IV chord in a plagal cadence, really like a IV7 chord in a bluesy plagal cadence. But substituted a tritone away. And as jazz players we always seem to want a running start at any dominant chord from some variety of m7 chord a fourth below. So when I ask myself how I could have thought up this cadence starting from someplace super familiar in all of western music, these are the steps of evolution that make up my answer:

    1. Plagal cadence: Bb – Fmaj
    2. Partly bluesified: Bb7 – Fmaj
    3. Tritone sub: E7 – Fmaj
    4. Optional intermediate chimaera if you like suspended chords: Esus – E7 – Fmaj
    5. Unnamed cadence nirvana: Bm7 – E7 – Fmaj

    The other thing that comes to mind is the common jazz resolution from the tonic diminished major 7 chord to the tonic major 7 — the way lots of people play the third bar of the A section of “Star Eyes,” for example (and there are many others). Another way to name that diminished major 7 chord is a sharp-9 voicing of a dominant chord a half-step below, with a tonic bass pedal tone (so in Star Eyes it’s D7#9/Eb resolving to Ebmaj). From there it’s small steps to re-root that Eb diminished major 7 (aka D7#9/Eb) to have D in the bass so then it’s just a dominant chord. Stick some flavor of Am7 in front of it like we always do, and there you are.

  5. Didier Leclaire says:

    Somethings else came to my mind after reading the reply’s. Since we’re basically using a II-V that would usually lead to Cmaj, to bring us to Cm7 (or, a substitution, Abmaj), I had to think about how I’ve always liked the sound of a II-V that should lead to a minor chord, actually leads to a major7 chord. So in this case, Ddim – G7alt – Cmaj.

    I have no idea if there’s a name for that theory or not, I just did it once and I liked it, but just assuming we’re doing this, logically you can use the functional substitutions and tritone substitution on that as well. Although, in this key, I’d find Cmaj the prettiest one.
    But you could do
    Ddim – G7alt – Am7
    Ddim – G7alt – Em7
    Or you could do
    Ddim7 – G7alt – F#maj
    Ddim7 – G7alt – A#m7
    Ddim7 – G7alt – D#m7.

    I kinda like how you can end that one with a Am7 or an A#m7, or Em7 and D#m7.

  6. Angelo Reyes says:

    Bm7-E7-Fmaj7?…Lydian #2 progression. min5, dominant7, maj1.

    • Thanks, Angelo. But I’m afraid I’m not following what you mean. Say it in a sentence?

  7. […] We can define a dominant chord as a chord that contains a major third and a minor seventh. Those two notes create a certain dissonance. A dynamic use of a dominant chord is one where that tension is part of a cadence—where the tension gives rise to resolution to a different chord. The most common resolution is to a chord down a fifth (e.g. G7→C). Some other common resolutions are: down a half-step (as in the tritone substitution), up a whole step (see my post about the Back Door ii-V) or up a half-step (see my post about the common but nameless cadence used in the song “Whispering”). […]

  8. Sarah says:

    these are the times i wish i could read sheet music, usually when leianrng chords i list each note (low to high) like these:C C E GDm D F ABm B D F#i’m still only slightly confused, the only music theory i know is the kind i taught myself so i’m a bit uneducated in this mattercould someone

    • Then this post is not the right place to start, Sarah. I applaud your interest and suggest you begin with an introductory book. Mark Levine’s “The Jazz Piano Book” is a classic – or there are many others. Wishing you fun & success!

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