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