Blues Plus (4)
In the first blog of this series, I covered the basic 12-bar Blues form and some common variations thereof. I covered the Roman numerals and also how guitar players tend to be guitar-centric in their comfort level as far as keys are concerned.
In the second blog of this series, I covered the I - VI - II - V Turnaround and the Tritone Dominant Substitution.
In the third blog of this series, I went over the Walkdown, the Walkup and how that relates to Stormy Monday, as well as a 12-Bar Blues with all kinds of chromatics and tritone subs thrown in.
Now we're going to go farther out:
Bop Blues Changes
Also known as the Blues for Alice Changes, Bird Changes, Bird Blues, or New York Blues Changes, this form increases the level of complexity to the point where it’s not recognizable as a Blues, although…
it adheres to the 12-bar form,
hits the I chord in bar 1,
the IV chord in bar 5,
the II - V chords in bars 9 & 10 and
employs the I - VI - II - V Turnaround,
...all of which are definitive of a Blues. I like to say a Bop Blues goes way up into the stratosphere but comes back to Earth at the anchor points of the 12-Bar Blues form. Here's the basic Bop Blues:
Yes, I said, “basic.”
Ok, so does this Bop Blues form get screwed with?
Yes it does, and thanks for asking!
First of all, the Major 7 chords in bars 1 and 5 are sometimes played as Dominant.
Secondly, in bars 2-4 Tritone Subs can be used to create chromatic, rather than cyclical, movement ("cyclical movement” means “cycle of 4ths”).
If you don't know what I mean by, "cyclical movement” stop right here and download the 5-Lesson Foundational Series.
The 5-Lesson Foundational Series teaches the Circle of Keys as an organizational mechanism by which you ensure that whatever you learn is drilled in every key in all possible positions.
It also gives you a method to find any note, anywhere, without memorizing note names on every string. That is a beautiful thing!
Since cycles are one of the main ways chords move in music, you really should get a handle on it!
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Back to bars 2-4: Tritone Subs can be used to create chromatic, rather than cyclical, movement:
Keep in mind that the original chords and the Tritone Subs can be used in any combination.
Or, Tritone Subs are added to bars 2-4, meaning all possibilities are used:
This brings us to a concept that might be controversial among theory-geeks; the definition of a Tritone Sub, “...the substitution of one Dominant 7th chord (possibly altered or extended) with another (possibly altered or extended)..." as being too narrow.
By this definition both chords have to be Dominant. That is clearly not the case in the example above, where what I'm calling Tritone Dominants are derived from Minors.
Perhaps we could characterize the added chords as "leading chords" rather than "substitutions" since the original chords are retained. The "leading chords" however, are always Dominant no matter what the originals are, so the term, “Tritone Dominant Substitution” still works.
Continuing the possibilities; Bars 6-8 are II - V's in a chromatic descending key scheme. A common technique here is to use "leading chords" based on the tritone of each minor chord, i.e. Tritone Subs:
The "leading chords" continue from the II in bar 9 to the V in bar 10 and from the V in bar 10 to the I in bar 11:
The last 2 bars consist of a I - VI - II - V Turnaround. All the possibilities discussed in the last lesson for turnarounds apply.
On a personal note:
I learned all this "Blues Plus" stuff mostly in the context of Hammond B3 organ groups wherein the organ player played bass, mostly with his left hand, sometimes with foot pedals.
In that situation the organ player is in total control of the harmonic aspect of the music. No other instrument can compete with a B3 player who’s playing bass; you go where he goes. I obtained a “Street PHD” in chordal movement by figuring out how organ players were thinking about chord progressions.
On July 3, 2021, the granddaddy of Kansas City B3 players, Everette DeVan, passed away. He was one of the most influential B3 players I worked with over the years. I learned a ton of stuff just from being onstage with him.
Following is one of several tributes I posted subsequent to his passing. Perhaps, in light of this blog series, you can now better appreciate what was happening on stage that night back in the early ‘80s:
Back in the late seventies when I was trying to figure out jazz music Everette DeVan would hand me my ass on a platter.
One of the first times I felt good about playing with Everette (early eighties) we were doing a Blues. We were playing behind various soloists but Everette was testing me.
Every other chorus he reharmonized the form; switching up the turnaround, changing things up. So he was giving me ONE chance to get what he was doing, then he would change it up again. Every time he changed something he would look at me, and the look said, “Figure out what that was if you can, motherfu….r!”
The reharmonizations escalated in complexity every other chorus until he played what’s known as, “Bird Changes” which is about as far away from a 3-chord 12-bar-Blues form you can get and still be a Blues. I nailed everything he threw at me.
Then he did the same thing behind my solo, forcing me to improvise through a different set of changes every other chorus, in the same order as before, culminating with the Bird Changes.
Keep in mind that this was just the intellectual dimension of what was going on. The emotional intensity of what he was doing escalated proportionally with each chorus, forcing me to respond in kind, both intellectually and emotionally. It wore me out.
Even though there was plenty of "deep thought" theory-wise, Everette was always about the feeling. One time I asked him, "When you play the Blues, is the II chord minor or dominant?" His answer?
"It depends on how you want it to feel."
Anyway, after the set was over he said, “Good job.”
I will never forget that.
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