Have you ever watched a nature video of a school of sardines swimming in the ocean? The school is constantly shifting its shape. Sometimes it looks like a huge fish, then it spontaneously changes to a gyrating donut, before it changes to yet something else. The voice-over says it does this to confuse predators. Dolphins love to eat sardines, hence the sardines have evolved to swim this way to confuse dolphins and other predators.
Likewise, the harmony in Dolphin Dance is in constant motion, changing shape after every few bars, just as our ears think they have found a new point of reference. It evokes the way the school of sardines keeps shifting shapes, making it hard for its predators to find anything to focus on. Herbie might have called this tune "Sardine Dance", but dolphins are just more sexy (and a lot more like us).
I find Dolphin Dance to be a gem of a tune, but parts of it are confusing. The A section is straightforward enough, but starting at the B section, things get weird. What's up with those two pedal-point sections with G and then F in the bass? Where are they going? I like to think of these as
| Gmaj | Fmaj | G7#4 | F7sus |
for soloing. This allows me to reference the opening four bars, but a whole-tone higher. For soloing, I think of the three F-pedal bars as
| Ebmaj#4 | F-7(b9) | Ebmaj#4 |
Again, this echos the opening four bars, but the two-bar harmonic motif is reversed direction. What about the | E-9 A13 | Eb9#11 | ? Eb9#11 is just a tritone sub for A7, so I can treat it harmonically as a continuation of the previous bar. That's about where the sleepy melody suddenly springs into action. The rest is pretty straightforward until it gets to the last four bars of the chart.
| Dbmaj7/Eb | Bb13(b9)/Eb | C7#9/Eb | G7alt |In some charts, that C7#9/Eb is spelled as Abmaj#5/Eb.
This cat has some interesting comments about Dolphin Dance, but he's a little hard to follow. I did manage to pick up that he thinks that those last/first 4 bars that begin each solo are again an echo of the 4-bar intro, but with the two-bar harmonic motif reversed as before. Unless you have to solo over more than one chorus, restating the opening melody here may be the most straightforward way to treat this. It lets the listener know that we are back at the top of the tune.