From Debussy to Pharrell: How extended harmony ‘brightens up’ a pop landscape.

More Information:

‘Happy’ Chorus Chords:
Happty chords

My ‘worng-sounding’ harmonisation (played around 04:59)happywrong

Further Reading:

The Guardian article noted in the video:

I am also cognisant of recent articles from Owen Pallett in the Slate, where he is attempting to revive a Tovey style musicological) appreciation of current pop hits.



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My PhD was entirely devoted to the process of composing music. Before academia I spent eleven years (from 1990) as a full time musician based in New York, working as both as a session player, and as the musical director of The Groove Collective, a band that combined Jazz, Latin, and Funk forms. This led to six albums and performances around the world including Montreux and North Sea Jazz Festivals, the Roskilde Festival, Red Rocks Amphitheater Colorado, and Filmore West. I have also performed in orchestras, and as a solo flutist, including a broadcast on BBC Radio Three.

4 thoughts on “From Debussy to Pharrell: How extended harmony ‘brightens up’ a pop landscape.”

  1. Very engaging post, Richard! I was recently listening on the car radio to Pharrell choosing his favourite records – while I was listening, he picked Steely Dan’s ‘Any Major Dude’ and talked about the huge influence of them, Stevie Wonder, Herbie Hancock, Earth Wind & Fire, the Doobie Brothers etc because of ‘the sophisticated jazz extensions’ in the bridges (, 6:48 in). So spot on! (though don’t know that you brought yacht rock into the mix here…?)

    1. Aaah yes
      Yacht rock
      you’re right I should have brought that in, because some of the same things are happening- Simon Frith’s pop music seminar have been sharing yacht rock lists for a while now, but it’s really hard to tie it down-just a lot of the seventies and some 80’s
      What i do know is that i got to work with Gary Katz (steely dan producer) back in the early 90’s- the way he described the recording sessions back then everyone knew each other and used each other on all genres- so Wayne Shorter playing on Steely Dan (everybody playing on Steely dan in fact) Chaka Khan doing backing vocals everywhere- all the smooth Joe sample type pianists, Clare Fischer doing string arrangements for everyone, Herbie Hancock etc. – made a very cross over world between jazz and smooth rock commercial funk etc.

  2. And thanks for that radio show-it’s a gold mine – I’m going to have to transcribe this whole thing, because I have a longer article on this and lots of my suppositions about Pharrell are completely backed up by this….

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