Days of Wine and Roses: Jazz Arranging

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In this article we’ll take a look at a great jazz standard, “The Days of Wine and Roses,” and talk about advanced jazz arranging concepts. We’re going to squeeze out so much information in just 4 measures that your brain might explode from the incredible amount of knowledge you’ll gain.

Days of Wine and Roses: The Original 4 Measures

Here are measures 9-12 with simply the right hand playing the melody and the left hand playing chord shell voicings.

days of wine and roses 1

Days of Wine and Roses: Measure 9 and Reharm

Reharm” is jazz-speak for “reharmonize,” which basically means that we’re going to build new ideas into the chords. Let’s take a look at what we’ve done to reharm measure 9 and talk about why these ideas work.

days of wine and roses 2

We have a couple principles that we’re working with here:

  1. We never alter the melody, only the harmony. The melody is off-limits;
  2. We want to use chords that “move” the harmony (i.e., create a chord progression that moves the song in the same way as the original chords).

In measure 9 we’ve used a device called “contrary motion,” meaning that we have created a counter-line to the melody that moves in the opposite direction. Notice that the left hand counter-line moves down by half-steps, from E to Eb to D to C#, while the right hand melody moves up. On beat 1 we use the Am7 chord; on beat 2 we change that chord to Am7b5 in order to create some movement (the 5th of the left hand chord shell moves down by half-step, from E to Eb). On beats 3 and 4 we move to an A dominant chord. Why? Because in measure 10 we’re going to a Dm7 chord, and by using an A7 chord we’re creating some “V to I” movement.

Days of Wine and Roses: Measures 10 and 11, Tritone Substitution

In measure 10 and 11, notice that we begin on beats 1 and 2 with the original chords, Dm7 and Gm7 respectively. But on beats 3 and 4 of each measure we have inserted new chords, Ab7 and Db7 respectively. Why?

days of wine and roses 3

These new chords are referred to as tritone substitutions. Some of you might be saying “Hey, I thought you’ve said previously that tritone substitution only works with DOMINANT chords. Dm7 and Gm7 are MINOR chords. What gives?” Well, you’re right. Tritone substitution generally only works with dominant chords. But we’re not really substituting chords here – we’re inserting. So I’ve got you on a technicality (haha). But why these particular chords? Notice that Ab7 is the tritone sub of D7. The Ab7 (like the D7) resolves to Gm7 in measure 11, so we’ve created some more “V to I” movement. Ditto on the use of the Db7 resolving to C7 (just as G7 resolves to C7).

Days of Wine and Roses: Measures 12, Sus4 to Altered Resolution

This is a great little harmonic device that you can use on most dominant chords. It works by treating the dominant chord first as a sus4 chord and then resolving the chord to a regular dominant.

days of wine and roses 4

On beats 1 and 2, the C7 chord is treated and harmonized as a C7sus4 chord. On beats 3 and 4, we resolve to a C7 chord with a couple altered extensions, b9 and #11.

Here is the completed 4-measure phrase:

days of wine and roses 5

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Welcome Paul Buono

Paul Buono has returned to the JazzEdge family as an instructor.  His professional piano/keyboard experience includes national and international touring, university professor, musical director, pit

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  1. I don’t like the sound of the chords. They are not pretty or soothing. The sound is rather jarring to me.

    Is there a reason for choosing this type of sound? If it is personal preferrence then I accept it but if there is something else I should learn, please explain. Thank you.

  2. Hi Debra Ann. As you likely know, each time we play the 32 bar head, it’s called a “chorus”. So, we can play the original through the first time, maybe with a vocalist, and then the next chorus alter the harmony a bit, third time get outside a bit more, say for a solo, then return to the mellower original for the fourth or whatever is the last. It’s all discretionary, I suppose.

  3. Hey willie,
    That’s pretty good stuff and tips!
    Always wonder how some jazz players could come out w different sounds and this really gives me a clue now!!
    Please post more of these!!!
    Exciting for me !
    Thank you!

    1. I think the chords are beautiful. They make the song much richer. Is the term “contrary motion” (bar 9), the same as inner voice movement?

      1. no contrary motion is not the same as inner voice movement. inner motion is the inner voices moving and contrary motion is all the voices moving in opposite direction, whether it will be outer or inner voices. like they have oblique, parallel, contrary and still there is another one i just don’t remember right now. inner voices are alto and tenor. outer is soprano and bass.