Using Chord Substitutions – ‘Blues for Alice’
The chord changes below (for the Charlie Parker composition ‘Blues for Alice’) are pretty much what you will see in a ‘Real Book’, (a collection of jazz compositions in lead-sheet form)
They can be transformed in a whole number of different ways to increase harmonic interest and also add to the overall ‘forward motion’ of the accompaniment. Read on to find out more about how this can be achieved.
Here are some useful and very common jazz chord substitutions that could be employed on the first 5 bars of the progression:
Fmaj7 – Am7, Dm7 (creates Fmaj9 and Fmaj6 sounds respectively)
Em7b5 – Gm6 (creates an inversion of the original chord)
A7b9 – C#dim7, Edim7, Gdim7, Bbdim7 (all really the same chord, but gives you some alternatives), Gm7b5 (or Bbm6)
Dm7 – Fmaj7 (creates Dm9)
G7 – Fm7b5 (creates G7#5b9)
Cm7 – Ebmaj7 (creates Cm9)
F7 – Ebm7b5 (creates F7#5b9)
Bb7 – Dm7b5 (creates Bb9)
You will see from these chord substitutions that many of the ‘new’ chords are actually the ‘old’ chords minus a root. As an example of this, if we take the last chord, the Bb7 – we see that the substitute chord is actually a Bb9 chord with no root present.
Another way of looking at this would be to see the notes of the substitute chord as they would be over the original. For example, D, F, Ab, C are (respectively) the 3rd, 5th, b7 and 9th of the original Bb7 chord.
In many cases, leaving the root out of a voicing can be perfectly acceptable, as in itself, the root pitch doesn’t tell the listener all that much about the chord’s character.
Pianist Bill Evans is often credited with popularising rootless chord voicings and it is well worth checking out his trio recordings to hear this concept in action in the hands of a master.
You may also notice that some of the chord substitutions are extending or altering the original chords, even though the chart isn’t indicating that. I’m referring particularly to the dominant seventh chords in bars 3 & 4. Here, I used an altered dominant chord for both of the II-V’s as this helped to give smoother voice-leading and also enriched the harmony.
The excerpt below shows one way of voicing the chords fingered on the middle four strings exclusively.
The voicings illustrated above are not supplied with any particular rhythm, so experiment with different placements of the chords. Very often using a ‘push’ from the beat before will give good motion to the sequence, as in the example below:
You can see (and hear when you play them) in the example above that the chords now have much more forward motion and ‘drive’ than they would if only played on the beat as in the first example.
Having now tried out some of the substitutions in the first few bars of the progression here are some ideas for the remaining bars.
Bbm7 – Dbmaj7
Eb7 – Gm7b5
Am7 – Cmaj7
D7 – F#m7b5
Abm7 – Bmaj7
Db7 – Fm7b5
Most of these substitutions just emphasise the 9th of the original chord and omit the root.
Gm7 – Bbmaj7
C7 – C#dim7, Edim7, Gdim7, Bbdim7 etc. Dbm6 or Bbm7b5
Musical circumstances play a large part in the success or failure of accompaniment ideas, for example in a duo situation you will probably need to more heavily emphasise roots within chords as there wouldn’t necessarily be another harmonic instrument present.