Sandy Brown Jazz

[Your computer might ask you to allow the music to play on this page]


Full Focus

Tom Green Septet




The idea behind our Full Focus series is to let the reader listen to a track from an album at the same time as reading the concepts behind the track as seen by the composer and the musicians involved. A few months ago we reviewed Skyline, the excellent album by trombonist Tom Green's Septet. The Septet has completed a very successful tour and the album has received acclaim from many critics.


Tom introduces the album and the band in this video.





In this article, Tom talks about the track Equilibrium from the album.


Equilibrium is the longest track on my album “Skyline” and is influenced by music from Spain and South America, particularly styles like Tom Greenflamenco and choro, a type of early 20th century popular music from Brazil. These styles use a very distinct type of harmony, and I wanted to explore this kind of sound by writing a piece for my Septet.

This group is my main compositional outlet, made up of four horns (trumpet, alto sax, tenor sax, and trombone) as well as rhythm section, and with seven musicians I can use a wide range of colours and textures in the pieces I compose. I also love writing for the individual musicians in the band and using their improvisation to shape the music.

Tom Green

I chose the title Equilibrium as the piece is all about balance, whether it is between different key centres, counterpoint and block harmony, rhythmic and free sections, or between dense chords and Misha Mullov-Abbadosections in open key. Almost all of the piece is based on just 8 bars of music in C harmonic minor, marked as ‘melody in Cm’ on the score, and I thought I would use this article to explain some of my composing process in turning 8 bars into a 13-minute long piece of music. The piece goes through lots of different keys as it evolves, and has quite a logical structure.


The rhythm section enter with the main 5/4 groove, with Scott Chapman playing hand-held shaker as well as drums to set up the Latin feel. On double bass and piano, Misha Mullov-Abbado and Sam James play the bassline in unison. The notes of the bassline are all on the beat, compared to the piano right hand which sits on the off beats, and the difference between the two gives some forward motion to the groove. The rhythm section always has to react to the melodic shape of the horn parts throughout the piece, and often has the very important job of controlling the dynamics and feel of each section.

Misha Mullov-Abbado





The band plays Equilibrium.





Equilibrium Study Score


The first statement of the 8-bar melody starts with tenor and trombone in unison, one of my favourite sounds used by classic big band composers such as Duke Ellington and Sammy Nestico. For the second statement, a direct repeat, the tenor splits off in harmony below the trombone melody. In the last three bars of this second statement, the first modulation marked as “A” happens (see the score sheet), with the tune that started in C minor ending up in B minor. The way this modulation (and most of the modulations in the tune) happen is through the musical symmetry of diminished 7th chords (see the 'music theory aside' at the bottom of the page).

The third statement of the tune starts in B minor, and I wanted to start adding more horns at this point – the trombone and tenor are still playing the melody and harmony, but now the alto and flugel enter in unison on a new countermelody.

In the 4th bar there is another modulation “B”, which substitutes a D minor for a D major chord, and I wrote a new melody with a bit more movement to go with the new chords and new key. At this point I also wanted to venture outside harmonic minor harmony, and wrote 3 new bars with some more triadic chords leading to Fm.

I split the horns up differently in each section to mark each one out as distinct, and also to give things a bit of forward motion – for the fourth and final statement of the tune the flugelhorn finally takes the melody, with the tenor on the harmony part and the trombone and alto on a new countermelody.




Tom Green Septet


Tom Green Septet horn section


I wrote the countermelody without thinking about time signatures or bar lines, so in order to have the melody and countermelody trade phrases, the main melody often has to wait a few extra beats while the countermelody finishes, leading to irregular bar lengths – I borrowed this technique from the late great Kenny Wheeler! This fourth statement uses the same chord sequence as the third statement (modulation “B”), from F minor leading back to B minor as the horns all finally join together in the climax. This is the end of the “head”. In terms of key shifts:



1st statement C minor
2nd statement C minor > B minor (key shift “A”)
3rd statement B minor > F minor (key shift “B”)
4th statement F minor > B minor (key shift “B”)


James Davison and Matthew Herd


At this point, as James Davison’s flugel solo starts, I wanted things to settle down and have an absence of harmony, which has been quite relentless up to this point. The rhythm section play a pedal B, as the backings from the other 3 horns create a new chord sequence which is also used for the next section of the solo, alternating between B minor and D minor. After this new section I wanted to bring back the main thematic material, so at an appropriate point in the solo in D minor the melody returns as a solo backing, returning to the original chords but at half the speed. This leads to a climax and the same tritone modulation “B” as before, this time from D minor to Ab minor, for the saxophone solos.

James Davison and Matthew Herd




Sam MilesMatthew Herd


I decided to have the saxophones, Sam Miles on tenor and Matthew Herd on alto, trading 8 bar phrases and eventually playing together, as I wanted the piece to build to its largest climax at this point. I love using improvising musicians to shape a piece – it’s a tool in the jazz composer’s repertoire that classical composers don’t get to use. At the end of the section I wanted to make sure we got back to C minor, using the same chord sequences as at the start of the tune. I realised I could do this by just having two repeats of the “head in” chord sequence, and repeating the 3rd statement changes one more time:

Matthew Herd

Sam Miles



1st statement Ab minor
2nd statement Ab minor > G minor
3rd statement G minor > Db minor
1st statement Db minor
2nd statement Db minor > Cm minor
3rd statement C minor > F# minor
3rd statement F# minor > C minor


Obviously this requires the saxophone players to be able to play fluently in all keys – I wanted them to build up during the solo to a climax and then as things get to their loudest, to allow them a chance to go nuts in a short “free” section.


Tom Green Septet

Tom Green Septet by Ken Drew


After the saxophones calm down, the “head out” begins, with exactly the same key shifts as the “head in”. However, to avoid a direct repeat, and instead of having the same arrangement as before, I decided to have the band continue playing out of time for the first and second statements of the tune – the first statement is played by trombone answered by flugel playing a new counter-line, and the second statement with flugel + tenor answered by trombone + alto.

Then on the third statement (B minor) we get into tempo with a gradual speed up, and finally in the fourth statement (F minor) I decided to add one more surprise key change marked “C” at the end of the second bar. Using the same device as before, this time the C7b9 chord functions as an Eb7b9 chord to lead to Ab minor rather than back to F minor. Then modulation “B” leads a tritone away to D minor for the final chorale to end the piece.

I love getting the maximum amount of material out of a small amount of music, and use this in many of my compositions. In this case, just 8 bars evolved into the entire piece very organically. Although it’s one of our longest Septet tunes at 13 minutes, there are still enough sections for each musician to stretch out during their solos and play freely that we still really enjoy playing this piece on most of our gigs.


Tom Green Septet Skyline album

The Tom Green Septet on Equilibrium are:

Tom Green (Trombone/Compositions), James Davison (Trumpet/Flugelhorn), Matthew Herd (Alto/Soprano Saxophones), Sam Miles (Tenor Saxophone), Sam James (Piano), Misha Mullov-Abbado (Double Bass), Scott Chapman (Drums).

Reeds player Matthew Herd moved on from the Septet just before the tour and the impressive Tommy Andrews has continued in the alto and soprano saxophone role.

Click here for our review of Skyline. Click here for our profile of Tom Green.

The Tom Green Septet play the London Jazz Festival 2015 at St James Theatre Studio on Monday 16th November click here for details.:

Click here to buy Tom’s album “Skyline” at his website:



A short aside from Tom on music theory – a diminished 7th chord is made up of four notes a minor 3rd apart, for example, C, Eb, F# andA.Adding a D, F, Ab or B bass note these 4 notes become the major 3rd, 5th and minor 7th of a dominant chord with a flattened 9th (7b9) – for example adding a D bass note to the above diminished 7th chord will have F# as the 3rd, A as the 5th, C as the 7th and Eb as the b9th, creating a D7b9 chord. Because the notes of the diminished 7th are all a minor 3rd apart, a D7b9 chord is equivalent to F7b9, Ab7b9 and B7b9 chords, with the only difference being the bass notes. Using this principle it is possible to modulate smoothly from any of these four dominant chords to the tonic major or minor of ANY of the four dominant chords – so from D7b9 you would expect to modulate to G, but Bb, C# or E are also possible modulations which will work musically.

In this piece I decided to use this device a few times to break up the 8-bar melody in different places, leading to modulations to different key centres (marked as A, B, C on the music). In the first modulation “A” the D7b9 chord is used as a B7b9 chord to end up in E minor (rather than G major/minor). The following few new chord changes lead us to B minor, followed by 2 extra bars turnaround to establish the new key. Of course, using any of this theory is always dictated by ear – if it doesn’t sound good then no amount of music theory is going to help it sound better!

© Sandy Brown Jazz 2015

Like us on FacebookFacebook

Visit some of our other Full Focus pages:

Tommy Andrews - Crystal Car
Dave Maningon's Riff Raff - Agile
Sam Braysher - Braysher On Bird