How to Play a Jazz Blues Chord Progression
One of the fundamental skills to becoming a jazz guitarist is a solid understanding of and ability to play over a jazz blues chord progression.
This set of chords is the basis for many different tunes, both blues and standards, and it is one of the most commonly called tunes in jam sessions or on gigs.
Because I often get questions from students and readers about what exactly is a jazz blues chord progression, I decided to lay out this common form in an article that starts with the basic I-IV-V blues and works its way up to the full jazz blues progression.
Check out these chords, from both a comping and improvising standpoint, having a good grasp of the jazz blues chord progression is an essential tool for any jazz guitarist to have down in their playing.
Basic Jazz Blues Chord Progression
In this first example I have laid out the “basic blues” chords that are the basic outline of the traditional blues genre.
These are the fundamental chords that you would find in early blues tunes, which also have their own set of variations such as the V7-IV7 addition in bars 9 and 10.
From here we will change one chord at a time to build up to the jazz blues progression, and the various jazz blues chord substitutions, so having a strong understanding of this form is important as you move towards internalizing the jazz blues progression.
Quick Change Jazz Blues Chord Progression
The first addition is in bar 2, the Bb7 (IV7), and it is often referred to as the “quick change” progression as there is a quick chord change between bars 1 and 2, and bars 1 and 3.
This is a tough change to navigate when first working on the jazz blues as the chords, and keys, change quickly.
So go slow with this one when working on arpeggio licks and scale lines through these first four bars of the blues.
Jazz Blues Chord Progression – ii-V Chords
As many of you already know, jazz guitarists love to use ii-V progressions whenever we can.
It’s part of what makes jazz sound like jazz. So, it is not surprising that we find a ii-V progression not once, but twice in the 12-bar jazz blues form.
Both times use the same chords, Gm7-C7 (ii-V in the key of F), and you can find them in bars 9 and 10 as well as shortened to fit both chords into bar 12.
Bar 12 is a tricky spot in a jazz blues, mostly because the chords move so quickly.
So again, take your time when practicing these two chords as they can often be the make or break moments in any jazz blues guitar solo.
Jazz Blues Chord Progression – #IV Chord
Another cool, yet tricky, chord that jazz guitarists use when playing the blues is the #IV diminished chord that is added in to the fifth bar.
Here, the chord is often used to create a smooth melody line in the bass as you can move from IV7 to #IVdim to I7/V, or in the key of F, Bb-B-C in the bass.
When navigating the #IVdim chord in a soloing context be sure to check out both the Whole-Half Diminished Scale, as well as the diminished 7 arpeggio.
Both provide plenty of practice room material, and can help you get through this tricky change smoothly, creating interesting lines at the same time.
VI7b9 Chord – Full Jazz Blues Chord Progression
The final chord we need to add in order to build the full jazz blues progression is the VI7b9 chord that is found in bars 8 and 11.
This chord acts as both the VI chord in the home key, in this case D7b9 in the key of F, as well as the V7b9 of iim7, which is the chord that follows it in both of these instances.
To improvise over this chord, the best option is the Half-Whole Diminished Scale, but you can also use a diminished arpeggio starting on the b9, or even the fifth mode of the Harmonic Major Scale if you like that sound.
So there you have it, we’ve moved from the basic blues to a full jazz blues chord progression.
As there are many variations on these chords, depending on the style of jazz blues you’re playing and the musicians you’re playing it with it is a good idea to have this progression down in your playing so that you are ready for any deviations that get thrown at you on the bandstand.
Do you have a favorite variation on the jazz blues, or a favorite blues head that you like to play over these changes? If so, please share it in the comments section below.