19 May 2013


You can sail through most traditional jazz tunes without ever coming across a diminished chord. Some tunes are even playable using only the three-chord trick.

However, I am fond of hearing diminished chords because they almost always inject a spot of drama, contrast and excitement. At the very least they add colour.

For example, in Have You Met Miss Jones?, I love the diminished that accompanies the word Jones, and therefore appears in the first, second and final eights. Another dramatic one occurs five bars from the end of The Very Thought Of You, where the melody leaps to its final high note, accompanied of course by the diminished.

And that good old jazz band favourite The World is Waiting for the Sunrise has a striking diminished throughout bars 3 and 4, and again through bars 19 and 20.

But the most dramatic and noticeable uses of the diminished occur in cascading arpeggio form. Sometimes this can be left to an improviser in a 'break' (such as bars 13 and 14 of the first theme of Fidgety Feet) but more obviously it is part of the written tune, such as the beginning of the second theme of Blame It On The Blues (climbing up the arpeggio ladder):
The first theme of Memphis Shake depends for its effect on its two opening bars being based on the diminished chord of the tonic.

There is another thrilling example in the third and fourth bars from the end of the second theme in Ostrich Walk. After three bars of breaks, the melody glisses down through the diminished version of the tonic chord, leading into a bar of Dominant 7th and then the Tonic.

And most famous of all is the terrific Louis Armstrong Introduction to Dippermouth Blues, which cascades down through the diminished: