Dominant seventh sharp ninth chord
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|Component intervals from root|
|5-32 or 5-limit JI 160:200:240:288:375[a]|
|Forte no. / |
|5-32 / |
In music, the dominant 7♯9 chord ("dominant seven sharp nine" or "dominant seven sharp ninth") is a chord built by combining a dominant seventh with an augmented second. This chord is used in many forms of contemporary popular music, including jazz, funk, R&B, rock and pop. As a dominant chord in diatonic harmony, it most commonly functions as a turnaround chord, returning to the tonic. However, the 7♯9 is also frequently used in some styles as a tonic without the resolution typical of a dominant chord.
The chord is also sometimes colloquially known, among pop and rock guitarists, as the Hendrix chord or Purple Haze chord, nicknamed for guitarist Jimi Hendrix, who showed a preference for the chord and did a great deal to popularize its use in mainstream rock music. When used by The Beatles it has also been called the Gretty chord although this can refer to a distinct 6 string version.
Spelling and notation
There are two main ways to spell the chord, depending on the musical style, kind of musical notation (score or chord symbols), and personal taste. One consists of a dominant seventh chord with an added minor third placed one or more octaves over the major third (a minor tenth); the other, more common, consists of a dominant seventh chord with an added augmented ninth. The former can be written in popular chord symbol notation systems as 7♭10 and the latter as 7♯9.
Other more uncommon notations and names include major/minor or 7 (add min 3).
Nature of the chord
The 7♯9 is an altered chord, and it is one option when seeing the chord symbol 7alt. It is functionally a dominant chord and thus "wants" to resolve to the tonic in diatonic harmony.
Stuart Isacoff has called the chord "funky" or "bluesy", because of the tension "generated between the major third and the augmented ninth"; while Doug Munro deems it as "jazzy" rather than bluesy. Eric Starr says that "the sharp nine tends to be edgier, bluesier, and meaner sounding [than the flat nine]." In jazz, 7♯9 chords, along with 7♭9 chords, are often employed as the dominant chord in a minor ii–V–I turnaround. For example, a ii–V–I in C minor could be played as: Dm7♭5 – G7♯9 – Cm7.
The 7♯9 represents a major divergence in the world of tertian chord theory where chords are stacks of major and minor thirds. The 7♯9 does not satisfy that simplistic constructionist definition, as the interval between the minor seventh and augmented ninth is an augmented third. The same also pertains to the rarer M7♭9, where the interval between the major seventh and minor ninth is a diminished third. Rather than fully allow the inclusion of diminished and augmented thirds into the theory, a typical solution in jazz is to define chords as stacks of chordal degrees, where each degree has some range of selection from which to take its note or notes.  Thus, for example, the ninth is available in flat, natural, sharp, and flat-and-sharp "alt" styles.
The English cadence is a distinctive contrapuntal pattern particular to the authentic or perfect cadence described as archaic or old-fashioned sounding. This pattern was primarily used by English composers of the High Renaissance and Restoration periods. The hallmark of this device is the dissonant augmented octave (compound augmented unison) produced by a false relation between the split seventh scale degree.
The dominant 7♯9 chord appears in impressionist classical music. An example can be heard in Claude Debussy's Feuilles Mortes, from his second book of Préludes (1913). There, the unresolved, dissonant ninth chords (at least a, "C♯7" with a "split third" and "added minor ninth") help create, according to Richard Bass, an "utterly sad, desolate character," throughout the piece.
This chord can also be found in serial music. For example, the Elektronische Musik vom Freitag aus Licht (1991–94) by Karlheinz Stockhausen, from an opera composed using formula technique, concludes on this chord.
Jazz and blues
The dominant 7♯9 chord is normally found in blues contexts, because in a blues scale a minor third (blue note) in the melody is usually played against a dominant seventh chord. The third of the dominant chord is the seventh degree of the scale.
Pop and rock
While this sonority has been previously used in jazz and related styles, one particular voicing of this chord is commonly nicknamed the "Hendrix Chord" among rock guitarists. This association is because it was a favorite of Jimi Hendrix, who did a great deal to popularize its use in mainstream rock music.
The most notable Hendrix song that features the 7♯9 chord is "Purple Haze", while it is also implied in "Foxy Lady", both coming from his 1967 album Are You Experienced?. When performing "Voodoo Child (Slight Return)" live Hendrix later used not only E7♯9, the sharpened ninth chord on the tonic, but also D7♯9 and C7♯9 chords, the subtonic and submediant.
This harmonic device is one of many factors that, according to Gleebeek and Spairo, contribute to "the dirty, raw, metallic, angular sounds of [...] Hendrix songs". It is an example of how he would embellish chords "to add new colours to the music, often derived from his own roots in black music". "In essence," John Perry writes, the Hendrix chord is "the whole of the blues scale condensed into a single chord."
The chord is heard quietly at the end of the bridge in Santo and Johnny's 1959 instrumental hit "Sleep Walk". It was also used more prominently by the Beatles in songs such as "The Word" and "Taxman". McCartney called this a "great ham-fisted jazz chord" that was taught to them by Jim Gretty who worked at Hessey's music shop in Whitechapel, central Liverpool. George Harrison uses it as the penultimate chord of his solo on "Till There Was You".
The chord is favored by Pixies lead guitarist Joey Santiago, with D7♯9, reminiscent of the opening to "A Hard Day's Night", opening and being called the "secret ingredient," to the song "Here Comes Your Man" and "brutally scraped" F7♯9 featured on the chorus to "Tame" against the three chord rhythm guitar part's D, C, and F chords.
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