All the Things You Are is one the most commonly played jazz standards and is often one of the first tunes called at any jazz jam session. Because of the tune's popularity many guitarists learn to play ATTYA at a fairly early stage in their development.
What most guitarists fail to realize is that the piece actually has a fairly intricate harmonic structure that can pose quite a few problems for the novice improviser or comper. By understanding the relationship between each section of the tune, and the chords within those sections, we can develop a greater appreciation for the overall formation of the harmony, which will allow us to better navigate the changes in both a solo and chordal fashion.
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All the Things You Are can be divided into four sections, with the first two being sub-sections of one larger section:
There are two key centers found within the first eight bars of the tune, Ab and C:
Notice how the composer links the two keys with the half-step movement between the Dbmaj7 chord in bar five and the Dm7 chord in bar six. Even though these chords are in two different keys, the fact that they are a half-step apart makes for a smooth modulation.
The next eight bars have a similar key structure as the first eight, though this time the two keys being used are Eb and G:
Thinking of the second eight bars as a transposed version of the first eight will allow you to develop motivic ideas over the first half of the tune. Anything you play over the first eight bars can be played over the second eight bars, just a fourth lower, or a fifth higher depending on how you want to think about it. See Fig 1 for an example of how this could be done. Notice how the fingering and the intervals are the same between the two lines, the second motive has just been moved up the neck to fit the new key center.
Bars seventeen through twenty-four are often referred to as the “bridge” section of All The Things You Are, since the melody line has changed and we are now dealing with two new key centers.
Below is a Roman numeral analysis of All The Things You Are. Notice how similar each section is to the other sections of the tune. If we take out the key centers, the first eight bars have exactly the same numbers as the second eight (6-2-5-1-4-2-5-1). As well, the first three bars of the bridge have the same numerals as the second half of the bridge, and the last A section starts with the same numerals as the first A section.
Knowing the Roman numerals will not only help us to understand the harmonic structure of AATYA, but it will help us to transpose this tune into other keys. It can also give us an idea of how important certain progressions are in the jazz idiom, such as 2-5-1, which occurs ten times during the thirty-six bars of ATTYA.
If you are having trouble remembering the Roman numerals to this, or any tune, try saying them out loud as you are practicing the piece. Don’t worry about the quality of the chord, m7 maj7 etc, just focus on remembering the numbers. For example, if you are blowing over the first eight bars, in your head, or out loud, you could be saying, “six, two, five, one, four, two, five, one”. This will make it much easier to transpose this song into a different key if the need ever arises.
When I teach this song to younger or less experienced players they usually have trouble navigating through bars 29-32, the descending chord section. Most of these players try and navigate through the changes using big, bulky two-octave scales and arpeggios which cause them to be late on the next chord, or not get there at all. Instead of trying to work out larger groupings of notes over this section, I’ve found that it can be beneficial to pick a short four to six note motive to base ideas of during this section.
In the first example we have a motive built of the one-octave arpeggio for each chord. I’ve switched up the rhythm a bit to avoid running eighth notes, but have kept the same rhythm over each chord to make give the line a sense of melodic and rhythmic continuity.
In the second example I have kept the same rhythm but instead of using the R 3 5 7 arpeggio, the line is based off of the 3 5 7 9 arpeggio of each chord. This type of arpeggio comes in handy when playing with a bass player or another comping instrument, as the root is already being heard and therefore we do not have to reiterate it in our lines. Since the 9th is not a commonly used interval over a diminished chord the root is being used over the Bdim7 chord in bar 32. In that bar, instead of 3 5 7 9, the motive uses the intervals 3 5 7 8, which better fits the diminished quality of the chord.
Now that you have a better understanding of the harmonic layout of All the Things You Are, try and analyze other jazz standards in a similar fashion. Being able to quickly recognize key centers, and short excursions outside of the main key areas, will make sight reading any tune a breeze. Try writing out the key and Roman numeral analysis for one of your favorite standards, then once you feel confident enough, try calling out the names of the chords and their function without writing them down. Having an understanding of any tunes harmony will make your solos have a deeper connection to the tune.
To finish, here's a video of Joe Pass playing All The Things You Are. Also check out the versions played by Pat Metheny, Baden Powell and Grant Green: