Not so long ago, I wrote an article analysing Charlie Parker’s excellent jazz standard, “Blues For Alice.” You can read that article by clicking here. The post has since turned into one of the most popular pages on my entire site, so I thought it’s about time that I analyse another great Parker tune, with today’s jazz guitar lesson and jazz theory lesson focusing on “Bird Feathers.” Featuring the legendary Miles Davis on trumpet, “Bird Feathers” was written by Charlie Parker and is a nod to his much publicised nickname of “Bird.” With all the classic musical features of Be Bop, this tune, although difficult at first, is well worth a learn. In today’s lesson, we will look at the chords and melody to “Bird Feathers”, with a music theory analysis of the chord progression and melody as well.
“Bird Feathers” – Chords
To begin with, let’s have a look at the chords that make up “Bird Feathers.” You can play these chords in any position on the neck, but below are my suggested fingerings for each chord type:
“Bird Feathers” – Chord Progression
Now that you’re familiar with the chord diagrams, it’s time to look at a simplified chord chart for Charlie Parker’s “Bird Feathers.” Note the fast tempo of 220 BPM for this song, as well as the swung tempo. Take your time moving between each chord shape and practice with a metronome if necessary.
“Bird Feathers” – Chord Progression Analysis
Charlie Parker’s “Bird Feathers” is in the key of Bb major, although like most jazz standards, it does not just stick to strictly using chords and notes from this key centre. In order to begin our jazz theory analysis of this tune, we must first look at the harmonised scale of Bb major:
“Bird Feathers”, much like “Blues For Alice” could be described as a jazz blues with a slight twist. For a more detailed explanation of the jazz blues form, please read my article on the aforementioned “Blues For Alice” by clicking on this link. As we saw with “Blues For Alice”, Parker liked to mess with the familiar jazz blues structure, and reharmonise the chord sequences to come up with unique progressions. The chord sequence to “Bird Feathers” has a few interesting chord substitutions. I have marked up the chord chart below to demonstrate a few of these concepts:
Note that most of the chord progression is diatonic, apart from the use of the bVII dominant chord in bar 6. I believe this has been done to create more harmonic interest on the standard blues IV chord that precedes it, and to give the soloists another chord type to play off of. Also to note is the G7 chord in bar 8, which has been included to create a perfect cadence to the C-7 in bar 9. Finally, there is a really nice tritone substitution of chord VI in the turnaround. A standard jazz blues turnaround would consist of chords iii, vi, ii and V. However, in this case, the vi chord as has been substituted for a diminished 7th chord a tritone away, in order to create the descending chromatic bassline you can see above.
Below is a transcription the main melody to “Bird Feathers.” As this is a guitar website, I have included a guitar tab for this section as well. Keep in mind that the fingerings are my own suggestions and work best for me, so feel free to move positions on the neck as you see fit. As this piece was originally performed on saxophone, there are some tricky passages that don’t translate that well to guitar. However, even though this maybe difficult to play all at once at first, remember to practice it slowly and build up the speed gradually.
Melody: Music Theory Analysis
Below is a transcription of the melody with some notes regarding the theory concepts behind it. I have labelled each note as an interval in relation to the chord that is played underneath it, as well as including some sporadic notes on some of the devices used, such as specific arpeggios.
From studying the transcription above, the melody of this tune stands out for a number of reasons:
- The use of upper extensions on a lot of the chords. Parker favours the 9th on the Bb6 chord in particular.
- The F#aug arpeggio in bar 4, creating an outside sound before the Eb6 chord.
- The Ebm arpeggio superimposed over the Ab7 chord, generating the 5th, 9th and b7th intervals.
- The b13 on the G7 chord creating an altered sound.
- The Ebmaj7 arpeggio superimposed over the F7 chord, generating every upper extension against the chord.
- The altered sounds over the Dbo7 chord and the F7 chord.
The composition, melodies and solos on “Bird Feathers” are truly outstanding, and represent Parker at his best. Check out the original version here and enjoy learning this great jazz song.
Until next time,