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Section 31.8 Standard Chord Progressions

In this section we will focus only on the ii–V–I progression and the iii–vi–ii–V progression. Both were already mentioned in Section 9.3.

Subsection 31.8.1 II–V–I

The II–V–I is one of most common progressions in jazz, especially in tunes like “Autumn Leaves,” “What Is This Thing Called Love,” “Tune-Up,” “Pent Up House,” “Lady Bird,” and “Firm Roots,” to name just a few. In major the progression is Dmin9–G9(13)–C\(\left.\text{}{\Delta}\right.\)9. In minor it is Dmin7(♭5)–G7alt–Cm\(\begin{smallmatrix}6\\9\end{smallmatrix}\).

Figure 31.8.1. The II–V–I Progression in Major
Figure 31.8.2. The II–V–I Progression in Minor

Subsection 31.8.2 III–VI–II–V

The iii–vi–ii–V progression is called a turnaround because it replaces the static harmony of the I chord in the last two measures of a tune with harmonic motion that leads to the I chord that will occur upon repetition to the top of the form. This also applies to the I–VI–II–V progression.

One can modify a iii–vi–ii–V turnaround so all four chords are dominant seventh chords: III\(\left.\text{}^{7}\right.\)–VI\(\left.\text{}^{7}\right.\)–II\(\left.\text{}^{7}\right.\)–V\(\left.\text{}^{7}\right.\) (or V\(\left.\text{}^{7}\right.\)/vi–V\(\left.\text{}^{7}\right.\)/ii–V\(\left.\text{}^{7}\right.\)/V–V\(\left.\text{}^{7}\right.\)—E\(\left.\text{}^{7}\right.\)–A\(\left.\text{}^{7}\right.\)–D\(\left.\text{}^{7}\right.\)–G\(\left.\text{}^{7}\right.\) in lead sheet symbols). Turnarounds made solely of dominant seventh chords can them employ tritone substitutions (substituting a dominant seventh chord a tritone away because they have the same guide tones). For example, E\(\left.\text{}^{7}\right.\)–A\(\left.\text{}^{7}\right.\)–D\(\left.\text{}^{7}\right.\)–G\(\left.\text{}^{7}\right.\) becomes E\(\left.\text{}^{7}\right.\)–E♭\(\left.\text{}^{7}\right.\)–D\(\left.\text{}^{7}\right.\)–D♭\(\left.\text{}^{7}\right.\).

Figure 31.8.3. The III–VI–II–V Progression in Major and shown with Tritone Substitutions

Because of tritone substitutions, the ♭II\(\left.\text{}^{7}\right.\) chord can be substituted for V\(\left.\text{}^{7}\right.\). In C, D♭9(13) is often substituted for \(\left.\text{G}^{7}\left(\begin{smallmatrix}\text{♯9}\\\text{♯5}\end{smallmatrix}\right)\right.\)).

Figure 31.8.4. The ♭II\(\left.\text{}^{7}\right.\) substituting for V\(\left.\text{}^{7}\right.\) in a Tritone Substitution

Subsection 31.8.3 The Blues Progression

Below are two choruses of a common jazz version of the blues progression. The first chorus uses the first category of voicings (“spread” voicings) while the second chorus uses the second category (“close” voicings with the 3rd or 7th as the lowest note).

Notice that the voicings for the \(\left.\text{A}^{7}\left(\begin{smallmatrix}\text{♯9}\\\text{♯5}\end{smallmatrix}\right)\right.\) and \(\left.\text{E}^♭{}^{9}\left(\text{13}\right)\right.\) are identical (not counting the roots) because the \(\left.\text{E}^♭{}^{9}\left(\text{13}\right)\right.\) is a tritone substitution for the \(\left.\text{A}^{7}\left(\begin{smallmatrix}\text{♯9}\\\text{♯5}\end{smallmatrix}\right)\right.\). The same is true for the \(\left.\text{G}^{7}\left(\begin{smallmatrix}\text{♯9}\\\text{♯5}\end{smallmatrix}\right)\right.\) and the \(\left.\text{D}^♭{}^{9}\left(\text{13}\right)\right.\). The Roman numerals below the staves are simplified.

Notice that the voice leading is very smooth for each part with the exception of the bass line. All voices move by step or by 3rd.