The Blues – Part 1 – Changes

Hey Jazz Guy..

Can you explain the difference between a “Jazz Blues” and a regular Blues? How can I make my blues playing more jazzy? -Blue and Bored in Birmingham

Dear Blue and Bored,

This is a great question! There are many variations on the jazz blues, but this one is middle of the road and comes straight from bebop. Lets take a look at the chord changes. The first thing to notice about [Ex. 1] is that we’re still using a 12-bar form with the familiar harmonic shape. However here’s what we’ve substituted: In the fourth bar, we add a IIm-V to get to the IV chord. The sixth bar, we added, the #IV diminished as a passing chord up to the I. In the eighth bar, instead of I we go to VI which is really the V/II. NOW the tricky part comes in the turn around. Instead of V-IV-I as BB King might play it, Wes Montgomery might play it like this; IIm-V7-I followed by a VI-II-V and back to the top.
Practice the example below to get used to hearing the added harmony. The voice leading is important because your lines will have to include those notes. This will get you started, next month we will solo hard on these chords. –jazz guy

Blues in Depth:

Ok, so now that you’ve read the article and ventured out here, lets discuss the jazz blues in more detail. The jazz blues was derived from musicians in the swing era attempting to make the regular blues form (that had developed by then) more harmonically exciting (and thus a little more interesting for big band writers.)

There are hundreds of variations but the basic principles remain the same. Single chords are replaced with ii-Vs (from the last lesson…hahah did you shed that?) to create motion. Then you can side slip the ii-V up or down half a step to make it even more interesting. Other cycles, like coltrane cycles ect… can be used to depart even more from the blues and get into jazzier territory.

The Bebop cats created a very cool variation called the descending blues (downloadable here) that keeps the motion and ii-Vs going as much as possible. Check it out!!!

Practice Tips
First off, as always, LISTEN. Certain players are very blues based. Grant Green, Kenny Burrell, Peter Bernstein, ect…these are cats to check out for the bluesier side of jazz.

Get these voicings down, and more importantly, learn very well the elements of the form, what you can change and what you can’t. Everything else is ear candy, in terms of tensions, substitutions ect. Next Lesson is soloing on these changes. So get ready to have some fun.

Link to PDF Example: HJG – Jazz Blues Changes

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Categories: Chords, Harmony

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