Jazz Blues – Adding Substitutions to the Blues

In this article we are going to cover the blues in more detail, specifically jazz blues. To refresh your memory of the blues click here.

It is possible to find a jazz blues with the same progression as the one mentioned in the previous post, however having it this simplified is relatively rare. There are many ways that jazzers take this form and edit it just a little. The most common change would be to replace the IV and V and a ii-V. This would look like this:

I7   |       |     |    |

IV7 |       | I7|    |

ii-7 | V7 |  I7|    |

Another simple version of the blues is Freddie the freeloader where he replaces the I7 at the end with bVII7.

I7|         |         |       |

IV7|       |I7     |       |

iV7|IV7|bVII7|       |

These variations on the blues can go on forever.  There are tons of substitutions that can be used in jazz blues.  Once the bebop era hit, the blues became a vehicle for reharmonization. Some people (Charlie Parker) took this form so far that it is practically not recognizable.

The first step to adding chords to the blues typically starts with a diminished chord right after the IV7 chord. On top of this it is very common to add an extra ii-7-V7 before the already existing ii-7-V7.

I7           |              |            |                |

IV7         | #IVo7  | I7        |iii-7   VI7|

ii-7         | V7        |  I7       |                |

You will see this on a lot of Charlie Parker tunes such as Now is the Time and Billie’s Bounce.  Next is a common substitution for improvisers and sometimes rhythm section as well. Adding a ii-7-V7 before the IV7 chord.

I7           |              |            |v-7    I7   |

IV7         | #IVo7  | I7        |iii-7   VI7|

ii-7         | V7        |  I7       |                |

So far we have covered the majority of blues you will see in jazz. I want to make a quick mention that this is the major blues. There is also a minor blues form. They are pretty similar and you may see them mixed together sometimes.  Here is an example:

i-7   |       |       |    |

iv-7 |       | i-7  |    |

bVI7 | V7 |  i-7|    |

You can also use a minor 7 flat 5 as the ii chord.

i-7         |              |        |      |

iv-7       |              | i-7   |      |

ii-7(b5) | V7(alt) |  i-7  |      |


Typically when someone says “blues” they mean major unless they specify minor blues. Charlie Parker has taken the blues form to such extremes that it is practically not recognizable.  These are called “Bird Blues”. A Bird Blues is a bit beyond the scope of this lesson.


This concludes our lesson on jazz blues. With this knowledge you will be able to go out and play any kind of common jazz blues progression. We have covered the common chord substitutions and some terminology.  Now go blues out.