Miles Davis’ Tune-Up is considered a jazz standard and is a great vehicle for working on a very important and common chord progression found in many jazz compositions.
This progression is known as the ii-V-I (two-five-one). There have been many, many jazz books written about this progression and Jamey Aebersold has dedicated more than a few play-a-long volumes to this topic. I highly suggest that the curious improviser spend some time researching this topic and Jamey’s site would be a great place to start. This is a huge topic so I am just going to give an overview in this post.
Jazz Theory 101
Here’s the short version: there are basically three types of chords in music (tonal, functional harmony) and roughly all chords, no matter how exotic, can be justified in one of these three categories – minor, dominant or major. Furthermore, tunes composed with functional harmony (virtually all pre-1955 standards, show-tunes, ballads…) are based on this simple Rule. All minor chords are ii’s, all V7 chords are dominants and all major chords are I’s. Take for example D-7 G7 Cmaj7. Majors are I’s, or Tonic. Note that D is the second note in a C major scale and G is the fifth note. Building these chords is simply stacking thirds on top of either D, G or C. The trick is to remember that C is Tonic or Home and is the ruling key signature. So, when we stack thirds on top of D, the first third is an F natural (not F sharp) because F natural is in the key of the Home key, C major. If you play D-7 G7 Cmaj7 on the piano it sounds very nice and homogenous. That is a typical ii-V-I, i.e. the Rule. What makes composers and improvisors unique is not only how they master this rule but know how to break and manipulate the Rule. This takes us to the concept of chord substitutions and that is for another post.
D-7 G7 Cmaj7 (ii-V7-I) sounds good because all three of those chords share the same key and thus, a lot of the same notes. It is very important for improvisors to recognize ii-V-I’s or ii-V’s in the lead sheets they are playing. Once you learn how to see them, you see them all over the place in fake books. When I’m teaching this concept, it’s always an “ah ha” moment when I can have the student open the fake book to virtually any page and find some ii-V’s. Because they are everywhere in tonal jazz music it is also very important for us improvisors to not only recognize them but have some nice melodic information to be able to play over these ii-V’s. This is where I suggest jazz students start a jazz journal and write down licks or melodic fragments that fit nicely over The Rule. Then, LEARN THESE LICKS IN ALL KEYS. It’s important to understand that ii-V7-I’s come in many sizes; meaning four measure phrases, two- and one-measure phrases. So, I suggest you look through some of your favorite jazz transcriptions and find some ii-V7-I’s in these different sizes and write down the melodic material that you like – IN ALL KEYS.
So now on to the tune, Tune-Up. The website “Learn Jazz Standards” is a very nice resource and has some helpful information about Tune-Up. You should check out the chord progression for the tune in your key. (This site also has a link to a play-a-long for Tune-Up on the same page.) Notice that with the exception of measures 13-16, the entire tune consists of four-measure ii-V7-I’s. My suggestion is you find a lick or two that fits over a four-measure ii-V7-I and learn it in the three keys that are in Tune-Up. Then use the play-a-long as a musical metronome and plug that lick(s) into those measures in the tune.
Another approach is Scalar, instead of Lick-oriented. Tune-Up is built in four measure phrases and each four measures is in a different key. Remember that ii-V7-I’s are different chords that share the same key signature so, you could play notes from the key D major for the first four measures (concert pitch) and then anything from C major for the next four measures and so on. The forth set of four-measures is that problematic area I mentioned earlier and is the one case where the composer “broke the Rule”. (ii-V material can still be implemented in that area but it falls in the category of substitutions and we’re saving that for a later post.)