Approaching a chord sequence

Aspiring jazz musicians get to a stage where they can recognise and hear chord progressions (i.e. harmonies) behind a tune. Cm7 Fm7 Bb becomes not just an accompaniment but a basis for developing a solo. Substitutions can make this sequence more interesting i.e. Cm7 B7 Bb.

The following workshop explores some ways of approaching a chord sequence.


  1. The right chords;
  2. Won't You Go Away Bill Bailey;
  3. More Quotations;
  4. What's a Riff;
  5. From Blue Skies to In Walked Bud;
  6. Creating a Jazz Solo on Dizzy Gillespies' Con Alma;
  7. Free arrangement - Secret of Elqui Valley .

1. The Right Chords

The right chords for a tune can be a matter of choice although a band sounds better if everyone is playing the same version. Here are some examples showing the usual chords and some alternatives.


All The Things You Are (first 4 bars)

Fm7 / / / | Bbm7 / / / | EbMaj7 / / / | AbMaj7 / / / | etc., or

Fm7 / / / | Bbm7 / / / | Em7 / A7 / | AbMaj7 / / / | etc.


Rosetta (first 4 bars)

F6 / / / | C7+5 / / / | F / / / | D7 / / / | etc, or

F6 / / / | E7 / / / | Eb7-5 / / / | D7 / / / | etc.


Willow Weep For Me (first 4 bars)

G6 / C7 / | G6 / C7 / | etc, or

G6 / D7+5 / | G6 / D7+5 / | etc.


Ain't Misbehavin' (first 4 bars)

Eb / Cm7 / | Fm7 / Bb9 / | Bb7 / Eb / | Ab6 / Abm6 / | etc., or

Eb / Edim / | Fm7 / Gbdim / | Gm7 / G7+5 / | Ab6 / Abm6 / | etc.


Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans
(Contributed by Mike Whitehead)

C / G+ / | CMaj7/ B7 / | etc.

C / F9 / | CMaj7/ B7 / |etc.

2. Won't You Go Away Bill Bailey

After enduring a mammoth jam session at the end of the Dunkirk Jazzopale Festival at which soloists from 13 bands each took a chorus or three on Bill Bailey for two and a half hours the tune has lost its magic. Irving Berlin's "You're Just in Love" (I hear singing and there's no-one there) works against the chord sequence - or more ambitiously "Cheri Cheri Bim" in waltz time. If you run out of ideas for something fresh to say during your jazz chorus play either of these tunes to join the exclusive club that has played the ultimate full chorus musical quote. Bourbon Street Parade also works for a full chorus and somewhat surprising the first half of Hello Young Lovers.

Others to try are half of Secret Love and eight bars of Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend. Singing in the Rain fits the chords for eight bars but is just not a tune that works up tempo. Worthy additions to the list are welcomed.

3. More Quotations

More Quotations: Using a melody quotation from another tune as part of a jazz solo can be anything from humorous, inspired, contrived or annoying. Here are some long quotations that work (some better than others) because the quotes fit the chords (harmonies) of the original.

  • First 8 bars of "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You" against "Rosetta";
  • Middle 8 of "Body and Soul" against "When Sonny Gets Blue";
  • First 8 bars of Joy Spring (Clifford Brown) against Making Whoopee;
  • First 16 bars of "Luck Be a Lady" against "Caravan";
  • First 8 bars of "Roses of Picardy" against "Satin Doll";
  • First 8 bars of "Suicide is Painless" (Mash) against "Autumn Leaves";
  • First few bars of "Four" (Miles Davis) against "Misty";
  • First 8 bars of "Exactly Like You" against "Take the A Train".
  • "In a Mellow Tone" against "Rose Room";
  • First 4 bars of "These Foolish Things" against "Ain't Misbehavin".
  • First 8 bars of Charlie Chaplin's "Smile" against "When You're Smiling".
  • In the case of Exactly like you and Take the A Train you can play the two tunes at the same time. Similarly you can play Luck Be a Lady with Caravan. Whether you would actually want to is debatable but it is interesting to figure out why such disparate melodies fit the same chord sequence;
Jazz Workshop - Click Here for Part Two