10 Jazz Blues Tunes Every Beginning Guitarist Should Know
Building Your Jazz Blues Repertoire
A big part of learning jazz guitar means building his own repertoire of pieces. Here is a list of 10 jazz blues songs every beginning guitarist should know.
This short list covers a range of jazz blues chord progressions and their different variations (form, tonality, Harmonic structure) with a brief analysis and also represents the most played jazz blues tunes at jam sessions.
1- All blues - Miles Davis
“All Blues” is surely the most famous jazz blues tune that every beginning guitarist should study. It was written by Miles Davis in 1959 and appears on the influential record, “Kind Of Blue”, still one of the best-selling jazz albums of all times. “All blues” is a 12 bar blues in 6/8 containing only dominant 7 chords.
The particularity of this tune is that there is a bVI7 that goes to V7 in the turnaround. Another particular characteristic of this tune is the bass line which is almost the same from the beginning to the end except in bars 9 and 10.
Why “All blues” is considered an exceptional jazz, blues tune ? A reference for every jazz player ? Surely because it has been recorded by an exceptional band : Miles Davis (Trumpet), John Coltrane (Tenor sax), Bill Evans (Piano), Cannonball Adderley (Alto sax), Paul Chambers (Bass) and Jimmy Cobb (Drums).
All blues chord changes
G7 | % | % | %
C7 | % | G7 | %
D7#9 | Eb7(#9) D7(#9) | G7 | % |
2- Blue Monk - Thelonious Monk
Blue Monk is a 12-bar medium blues in Bb composed by Thelonious Monk. This tune is characterized by the use of four-note chromatic scales in bars 1,2,4 and 5.
There is an interesting variation of the basic blues progression in which Thelonious Monk inserts a IV in bar 2 and a diminished seventh chord (E°7) in measure 6 a half-step higher the IV of the bar 5. It is a variation among many other jazz, blues variations.
Blue Monk chord changes
Bb | Eb7 | Bb F7 | Bb Bb7 |
Eb | E°7 | Bb F7 | Bb |
F7 | % | Bb | % |
3- Blues for Alice - Charlie Parker (Bird)
Blues for Alice is a Bebop tune composed by Charlie Parker (Bird) and first recorded in 1951 with Red Rodney (Trumpet), John Lewis (Piano), Ray Brown (Bass) and Kenny Clarke (Drums).
It is surely the most complete and interesting variation of the typical 12-bar blues progression. The "Bird blues" or "Charlie Parker blues" is often referred to as "Bird changes", "New-York changes blues" or "Cycle blues".
This is a very common 12-bar form played by jazz musicians since the bebop era. This is evidenced by "chi-chi" or "Blues for Alice" (Charlie Parker) or "freight trane" (Tommy Flanagan). The main characteristics of this progression are :
- A major seventh chord instead of the dominant seventh chord in bar one.
- Three consecutive II-V sequences in bars 2,3 and 4. The first is a minor II-V that resolves to the relative minor, Dm7 (VIm7) of Fmaj7. The second goes to the Vm7 (Cm7) and the third to the IV7 (Bb7).
- Three chromatic descending II-V sequences in bars 6,7,8.
- A II-V (Gm7 - C7) cadence in bars 9-10 that goes to a I-VI-II-V sequence (F-Dm7-Gm7-C7).
Blues For Alice chord changes
Fmaj7 | E-7b5 A7 (b9) | Dm7 G7 | Cm7 F7
Bb7 | Bb-7 Eb7 | Am7 D7 | Abm7 Db7
Gm7 | C7 | F Dm7 | Gm7 C7
4- Mr P.C - John Coltrane
Mr P.C is a basic C minor 12-bar blues composed by John Coltrane in 1959 in tribute to his friend and bass player Paul Chambers. It was first recorded on the landmark album “Giant Steps” by Coltrane’s quartet the same year he recorded the legendary “Kind of blue” with Miles Davis. It is an easy and accessible minor blues, an essential jazz tune to know.
John Coltrane (Tenor saxophone)
Tommy Flanagan (Piano)
Paul Chambers (Bass)
Art Taylor (Drums)
Mr P.C chord changes
Cm7 | Cm7 | Cm7 Bb | Cm7 |
Fm7 | Fm7 | Cm7 Bb | Cm7 |
G7 D7 | G7 | Cm7 Bb| Cm7
5- Tenor Madness - Sonny Rollins
Tenor madness is a Bb blues composed by Sonny Rollins from the eponymous album recorded in 1956. This tune is the result of the unique collaboration of two jazz masters, John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins.
It is a basic 12-bar blues with some variations as a II-V (Fm7 - Bb7) cadence in bars 4 that goes to the IV7 (Eb7) and a IIIm7 - VI7 - IIm7 - V7 sequence (Dm7 G7 | Cm7 F7) in bars 9 and 10.
Sonny Rollins (Tenor saxophone)
John Coltrane (Tenor saxophone on Track #1 “Tenor madness”)
Red Garland (Piano)
Paul Chambers (Bass)
Philly Joe Jones (Drums)
Tenor Madness chord changes
Bb7 | Eb7 | Bb7 | Fm7 Bb7
Eb7 | % | Bb7 | %
Dm7 G7 | Cm7 F7 | Bb7 | %
6- Straight no chaser - Thelonious Monk
Straight no chaser is an easy Bb 12-bar blue composed by Thelonious Monk, it is a common jam session tune. Monks recorded it first in 1953 with its quintet featuring Sahib Shihab on alto sax, Al McKibbon on bass, Milt Jackson on vibes and Art Blakey on drums (He begins the tune with a drum chorus).
This second version with Gerry Mulligan on Baritone saxophone, Wilbur Ware on drums and Shadow Wilson on drums has been recorded in 1957. There is a third version recorded in 1967 taken at a faster tempo with saxophonist Charlie Rouse, Larry Gales on bass and Ben Riley on drums.
This jazz-blues head has been recorded numerous time by many other musicians. Miles Davis makes it popular in the key of F in his record “Milestones” in 1958.
Straight no chaser chord changes in F
F7 | Bb7 | F7 | %
Bb7 | % | F7 | Am7 D7
Gm7 | C7 | F7 | %
Straight no chaser chord changes in Bb
Bb7 | Eb7 | Bb7 | %
Eb7 | % | Bb7 | Dm7 G7
Cm7 | F7 | Bb7 | %
7- Watermelon Man - Herbie Hancock
Watermelon man is a 16-bar blues composed by Herbie Hancock originally recorded in 1962 for the album “ Takin’ off”. He released a better known soul-funk version arranged by Harvey Mason in the 70’s with the Head Hunters band. It is most commonly played in the key of F.
Takin’ off Musicians
Butch Warren (bass)
Billy Higgins (Drums)
Freddie Hubbard (Trumpet)
Dexter Gordon (Tenor saxophone)
Herbie Hancock (Piano)
Head Hunters line up
Bennie Maupin (Soprano & tenor Saxophone, bass clarinet, Alto flute)
Paul Jackson (Electric bass, Marimbula)
Harvey Mason (Drums)
Bill Summers (Percussions)
Herbie Hancock (Electric piano, clavinet, synthesizers)
Watermelon man chord changes
F7 | % | % | %
Bb7 | % | F7 | %
C7 | Bb7 | C7 | Bb7
C7 | Bb7 | F7 | %
8- West coast blues - Wes Montgomery
West coast blues was composed by the greatest jazz guitarist of all time, Wes Montgomery. This tune first appeared on its 1960 album, “The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery”.
The key feature of this tune is that the solo changes are different than the melody changes. You may also notice that it is in 6/4 time. One other characteristic is that instead of playing the IV7 chord in bar 2, the tune goes to the bVII7 (Ab7).
West Coast blues is a great tune for working on II-V progressions because there are many of them, particularly in the solo changes (Bm E7 ; Bbm7 Eb7 ; Ebm7 Ab7 ; Dm7 G7 ; Dbm7 Gb7 ; Cm7 F7).
The final consideration is the turnaround, it is as a series of tritone substitutions for a VI-II-V in Bb. Indeed, Db7 is three tones away from G (VI), Gbmaj7 is 3 tones away from C (II) and Bmaj7 is three tones away from F (V).
West coast blues chord changes
Bb7 | Ab7 | Bb7 | Bm7 E7
Eb7 | % | Bb7 | %
F7 | Eb7 | Bb7 | %
Bb7 | Ab7 | Bb7 | Bm7 E7
Bbm7 Eb7 | Ebm7 Ab7 | Dm7 G7 | Dbm7 Gb7
Cm7 F7 | Cm7 F7 | Bb Db7 | Gbmaj7 Bmaj7
9- Bag’s groove - Milt Jackson
Bag’s groove is a jazz-blues tune in F composed by Milt Jackson an American jazz vibraphonist. The song owes its name to Jackson’s nickname “Bags”. It was first recorded by the Milt Jackson’s Quintet (Lou Donaldson, John Lewis, Percy Heath and Kenny Clarke) in 1952 for Blue note Records .
The most famous version was recorded by Miles Davis’s quintet in 1954 and released in 1957 on the album Bag’s groove. This is a great jazz-blues tune to know, the melody is simple, repetitive and it’s quite easy to improvise over.
Bag's groove - Chord changes
F7 | Bb7 | F7 | %
Bb7 | % | F7 | %
G-7 | C7 | F7 | C7
10- Blues for Willarene - Grant Green
Blues for Willarene is a Bb soul-jazz tune composed by Grant Green (Guitar) from his 1961 debut album “First stand” recorded in a trio with Baby Face Willen on organ and Ben Dixon on drums. This tune is not well-known, but deserves to go in this top 10 list.
Blues for Willarene chord changes
Bb7 | % | % | %
Eb7 | % | Bb7 | G7
Cm7 | F7 | Bb7 G7 | Cm7 F7
Obviously, there are many other jazz blues heads which deserved to be listed here as “Chitlins con carne”, “C jam blues”, "Billies Bounce", "Equinox", "Foot prints" or “Blue Trane”. This could be the subject of another article. In the meantime, you can complete this list using the comment form below.
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