How Insensitive | Tom Jobim

How Insensitive (originally: “Insensatez”) is one of Tom Jobim’s most beautiful ballads. The short and catchy form of the song has also made it very popular among jazz musicians. Pat Metheny is known for regularly playing the song live and a version that beautifully captures the gentle melancholy of this piece comes from jazz guitar giant Pat Martino.

Despite these influential role models, Joao Gilberto’s recording remains the definitive version for guitarists. Once again Gilberto chooses a special key, in this case B-Minor instead of the more regularly used key of D-Minor.

How Insensitive For Solo Guitar

This arrangement for solo guitar is also in the key of B minor, which suits the guitar very well and makes many chord fingerings easier. The form consists of two equal halves of 8 bars each.

A special feature of “How Insensitive” is the chromatic movement of the bass notes. The diminished passing chords play an important role here. They are the “all-purpose glue” and elegantly connect the harmonies.

Analysis - The Diminished Chords

Already in the second bar the first diminished chord appears as a link between the tonic chord B-Minor and the A- Minor6 chord. The chromatic descent that starts in the beginning of the song is resolved as late as bar 5 at the G-Major7 chord.

A diminished chord on the raised VII degree (like A#-Diminished)  is most easily interpreted as a dominant seventh chord (F#7/A#) without the root note. The second chromatic connecting chord (E7/G#) is already written like that. This double meaning (Diminished chord equals Dominant Seventh Chord without root note) might be confusing at first, but is a very powerful harmonic tool. 

In the second half of the song there is again a diminished chord in the second bar – the harmony of the first part is imitated. This repetition reinforces the succinct structure of “How Insensitive”. The diminished G# chord can again be interpreted here as a rootless dominant seventh chord to the preceding A minor chord.

Both downward-pointing diminished chords have very coherent voice leading to their subsequent chords and can therefore also be interpreted as suspended chords – without a direct functional harmonic purpose. Diminished chords are and remain extremely versatile both in their harmonic function and in their associated melodic scales and are true chameleons of jazz harmony.

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