Jazz music chord progressions significantly differ from other popular genres. While pop, rock, and country largely use the same sequences and slight variations on those successions, jazz music chord progressions come in a very wide variety. This certainly makes sense, as jazz is, at its essence, freeform. Now, this isn’t to say anything goes in jazz and does so without repetitive forms, but the genre does heavily rely on improvisation. This is why jazz sounds so distinct from its contemporary peers.
Most Popular Jazz Music Chord Progressions
The most common jazz music chord progressions employ a number of chord types and structures. And, some of the most used jazz chord progressions add in a little spice, including minor chords, diminished chords, descending patterns, and more.
Perhaps the most ubiquitous jazz chord progression is the Major ii, V, and I, or the minor second, fifth, and first. So, in the key of C Major, this would be D minor7, G7, and C Major7. (It’s also known as the 2-5-1 progression and found in a long list of tunes in all twelve keys.
Rhythm changes are generally found in jams because they can set off so many melodies. These are based on I7, vim7, iim7, V7, iiim7, VI7, iim7, and V7 chords. In the key of C Major, this is Cmaj7, Am7, Dm7, G7, Em7, A7, Dm7, and G7.
The descending 2-5-1 is a variation, with a different progression of the customary ii, V, I. This pattern is used as a harmonic device with two primary modulations. It begins in the key of C Major, transitions to B flat Major in the 3rd bar, and modulates again in the 7th bar to an A flat Major. So, it progresses this way: C Major7, C minor7, F7, B flat Major7, B flat minor7, E flat7, and A flat Major7.
Diminished seven passing chords really help to spice up a composition with the following pattern: Imaj7, #I°7, iim7, #II°7, iiim7, and VI7. So, in the key of C Major, its chord progression is Cmaj7, C#°7, Dm7, D#°7, Em7, and A7.
The one-to-four or I to IV is something that’s commonly found in blues and it’s also used quite a bit in jazz-blues, with its I Major7, (ii minor7, V7), IV Major7 progression or C Major7, G minor7, C7, and F Major7. Somewhat similar is the four-to-four minor progression or the IV to IV minor, with this pattern: I Major7, I7, IV Major7, iv minor7, iii minor7, VI7, ii minor7, V7, and I Major7. When played in the key of C Major, it goes like this: C Major7, C7, F Major7, F minor7, E minor7, A7, D minor7, G7, and C Major7.
The minor ii-V-I progression features the ever-so-tricky 7alt chord. In the key of C Major, it uses the following chords: D minor7 flat5, G7 alt, and C minor7. Meanwhile, the minor-key turnaround consists of these chords: i minor7, i minor7 or i minor flat7, VI flat7, and V7 or in the key of C Major: Cm7, Cm7/Bb, Ab7, and G7.