One of my all-time favourite jazzy-sounding chords is the ‘Greensleeves’ chord… the chord of the added 9th. I learned it from Fred Harding who mentored my own ‘playing by ear’ with his Sunday morning offertories. Those extemporaneous hymn arrangements of his were invariably laced with 9th and 11th chords, and I remember making my way down to the piano after service one day to ask how he ‘got’ them. Fred had huge hands, and he simply said, “Well, just think of it as F major with your left hand and C minor with your right”. Then he magically spread out his big left hand and played a wide open F major triad, with a full 10 notes between his pinky and his thumb. With his right hand thumb on Eb, he then added a simple C minor chord. It sounded like heaven to me… and my musical love affair with 9ths and 11ths was ignited.
For many years, I’ve improvised settings of Greensleeves for offertories or singers in various keys without thinking too much about the actual chords themselves. But this year I finally had to write one down for Jackie Richardson, a Canadian blues/gospel singer who is guesting with the Orpheus Choir and Hannaford Street Silver Band at their joint Christmas program. As I worked out the harmonies for this beautiful old folk tune I realized I was once again visiting Fred Harding’s lush sound-world. From now on, I think I’m just going to call them my Greensleeves chords.