After the 12 bar blues, the most common chord progression in mainstream jazz is probably the 4 chord turnaround I / VI / ii / V. This is the harmonic formula we’re going to tackle today as it appears in “Rhythm Changes”. This 32 bar progression is based on George Gershwin’s classic tune “I Got Rhythm”. It is typical A-A-B-A form, the A sections relying primarily on I / VI / ii / V and the B section consisting of a common variation: III / VI / ii / V (see the Rhythm Changes pdf).
Because the chords move so quickly our quarter note walking line is fairly restrictive; there’s not a whole lot of wiggle room when you only have two beats to outline each harmony. Our task today is to find a few alternate routes through the changes so we don’t get stuck playing the same shape every time through the form.
This video suggests a few chord substitutions and hopefully gives you some ideas for generating a variety of shapes on the A section of “Rhythm Changes”. Feel free to drop me a line if you have any questions. Enjoy!