Stella by Starlight - Chord Melody, Single-Note Solo & Chord Shapes

chord melody jazz guitar standards Feb 11, 2015

Composed by Victor Young

Tune's History

This wonderful tune is widely regarded as one of the greatest standards of all time. It was composed in 1944 by Victor Young for the horror film, The Uninvited. In fact, it was a recurring theme in the movie. Young later asked lyricist Ned Washington to add words to it in 1946.

The Nuts and Bolts

This tune is played in all sorts of tempos and styles. Personally, I prefer to play it as a "walking" ballad or a latin. The changes for this tune are widely debated, especially the first few bars.

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You see, in the original take from the movie, the very first chord is actually a Bb diminished 7th, but in the "Real Book" adaptation which I believe are the Miles Davis changes, we have a related minor ii-V progression - Em7b5 to A7. In this case, Bb diminished is simply the upper structure of an A7b9 chord, and the Em7b5 is added before it to add some color. That's my take on it, anyway!

With that said, we will stick to these Real Book changes since that is usually what is played at gigs and jam sessions these days. Even still, people take all kinds of liberties with the harmony as this tune is quite fun to explore!

Stella by Starlight: Comping Ideas

Here are some simple voicings you can use to comp over Stella by Starlight. We aren't focusing on voice-leading or anything like that here. This is to provide you with some simple chord shapes so you can begin comping.

Take the shapes and move them onto different sets of strings so they are easier to find. Rhythmically, take advantage of the whole note spaces to inject some more rhythmic interest while using longer values yourself for the busier sections.

Stella by Starlight: Chord Melody

For the most part, we are simply making use of shell voicings and drop 2 voicings. There are other voicings with added color to create some more interest, but these shapes make up the majority of the arrangement.

There are lots of ii V progressions in this one to explore. Have fun!

Stella by Starlight: Single-Note Solo

This tune has plenty of fun changes to explore with lots of ii V I progressions, so this is a great solo to take some content from. Have at it!

Stella by Starlight: Backing Track

Here's a nice little backing track for you to practice some of the material covered here!

Stella by Starlight: Chord Reference Sheet

As always, we have included a chord reference sheet with the PDF. In this sheet, we show you some cool basic shapes with nice upper extensions that fit the tune!

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Suggested Listening

-Charlie Parker's Charlie Parker with Strings album recorded in 1952. This is the first jazz recording of this tune and it features a large orchestra including strings.

-Miles Davis' 58 Sessions album recorded in 1958. This is often a primary reference for jazzers learning this tune. Definitely check this one out.

-Chet Baker's Chet Baker Sextet album released in 1954. Here, he plays the tune as a medium-up swing, showing the tune's versatility.

-Jonathan Kreisberg's The South of Everywhere album released in 2007. Once again showing us the versatility of this particular tune, Kreisberg takes it in 7 and plays it beautifully.




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