Simple Jazz Guitar Lesson: Kenny Burrell's 'Why Was I Born?'

In this article, I analyze and demonstrate Kenny Burrell's jazz guitar intro the ballad "Why Was I Born?"

Simple Jazz Guitar Lesson: Kenny Burrell's 'Why Was I Born?'
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General Performance Info

This is a beautiful ballad jazz guitar intro in the key of D for a song called, "Why Was I Born?" This song is a duet between Kenny Burrell and the great tenor sax titan, John Coltrane.

This song is from an album that the two of them released in 1963, simply titled, "Kenny Burrell and John Coltrane."


All the chords in this intro are played over a constant A bass note (pedal tone), which is the 5th of the key. This is a very common technique with which to create a song intro, because the 5th note of the key (the dominant) naturally resolves to the I chord of the key. This applies to the chord built on the 5th note of the scale as well, which we would call the V chord.


Chord by Chord

First Chord

The first chord over the open A can be considered a D 6/9, since it has (from low to high) F#-3, B-6, E-9, A-5. For demonstration purposes, if you replace the open A string with the 5th fret/5th string D, you'll get the more common version of the D 6/9.

Second Chord

This chord is a 1st inversion Eb major chord (Eb G Bb). However, when placed over the open A in the key of D, it doesn't function as an Eb chord, it functions as an A7 altered dominant.

More specifically...

G-b7, Bb-b9, Eb-b5, G-b7. So, even though it isn't a complete A7 chord (no C#), it still gets the idea across.

Third Chord

This chord is a diatonic F#m, which is the iii chord in the key of D, which also happens to be the upper part of a D major 7 chord (F#-3, A-5, C#-7). The iii and vi chord in a key very commonly substitutes for the I chord in many styles of music, since each of those chords have 2 notes in common with the D.

Fourth Chord

The 4th chord is neither a D (I) chord, or any kind of V chord. Nor is it in the key of D. 2 things help make this work. The pull of the A pedal tone, and the fact that this chord moves by 1/2 step into the next chord. Sometimes things just work!

Fifth Chord

The 5th chord is also a I chord, as we return to the original D 6/9 chord.

Sixth Chord

This chord is a fairly common voicing of a G major 7 chord. Again though, since it's being played over an A pedal tone, it's not functioning as it's self. When we relate those notes to the A note, we get (low to high):

G-b7, B-9, D-4, F#-13 (same as 6).

Since there's a 4 in the chord and no 3rd, the chord becomes a suspended chord. With the F# and the B notes, we can call that an A13sus. As a notation side note, when we say something has a 13 in it, the 9 of the chord is implied.

Final chord (before resolving to D major)

The 7th and final chord, which kind of feels like a finger exercise to me, is another altered dominant chord voicing that you can use. From low to high...

G-b7, Bb-b9, Eb-b5, F#-13

Putting that all together, we get an A13b9b5. I know, it's a mouthful, but it sounds great!

Wrapping it all up...

If I were you, I would take some of these ideas, and try to create your versions that resolve to a D chord. You really don't have to over think this to make it work. One way to do it is to alternate between I chord voicings and V chord voicings, ultimately resolving to a I chord without the A bass note.

Even if you don't have a grasp of these kinds of voicings, you can make it work if you use your ear. The power of the A pedal tone will allow you to get away with notes that aren't in the key. As long as you end on some kind of D chord, you stand a chance of making it work. Give it a try!

I hope you enjoyed this lesson - looking forward to your comments!

About the Author:
Dave Lockwood is an accomplished musician and award winning teacher in the Atlanta, GA area. Keep up to date by signing up at his website, and subscribing to his YouTube channel.

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    jzgy12
    You're welcome - I enjoyed putting it together. There will be more jazz (among other things) coming up, so stay tuned... Dave