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Jazz Transformations of the ii7–V7–I Progression

Dariusz Terefenko


Jazz syntax features a variety of chordal formations, intervallic structures, idiomatic harmonic progressions, and contrapuntal procedures that—in comparison to common practice and other kinds of music—constitutes a distinctive musical language. [1] Not only is the surface level of jazz music susceptible to its own grammar rules, but more importantly, so is the deeper level, governed by idiomatic voice leading procedures, an assortment of harmonic progressions and contrapuntal behaviors. Given the uniqueness of jazz harmony and a number of historically significant transformations that have had a lasting influence on its syntax, jazz scholars have proposed numerous theories enabling examination of various aspects of jazz music and strategies for advancing jazz improvisation. [2] Among many publications on the subject of jazz theory, the contributions by Waters (1996), [3] Martin (1996), [4] Larson (1998), [5] and others, stand out as truly exceptional, and by now, have entered the canon of scholarly publications on jazz. [6] They have helped advance the status of jazz in academia and put jazz scholarship on the par with other “legitimate” types of writings about music.

Nowhere is the uniqueness of jazz harmonic syntax more evident and its grammar rules more explicit than in the structure and behavior of the ii7–V7–I progression. [7] Broadly speaking, the function of the progression includes cadential confirmations, local tonicizations, and harmonic substitutions. Its syntactical origins are rooted in the fundamental V7–I motion. The structure of the progression and its behavior are ultimately related to the conventions of various performance practice traditions exemplified by particular jazz styles. Although we will discuss the behavior of the ii7–V7–I progression in a number of historically significant contexts, its manifestation in early jazz, which was closely linked with the early blues, was often disguised by a much more idiomatic V7–I progression—the structural backbone of the ii7–V7–I progression.

The concept of jazz transformations or reharmonization has been intimately related to jazz theory and (especially) practice. [8] Whether one intends to realize a lead sheet or provide substitute changes, the ability to reharmonize the ii7–V7–I progression constitutes an important starting point in that process.

Note: This article uses interactive musical notation produced using Sibelius notation software. The Sibelius Scorch plug-in allows for musical notation to be displayed as well as heard. Transcriptions are notated at concert pitch. The play button starts playback from the beginning. Clicking on any point in the notation starts the playback from that point. Key and tempo can be changed by the user. If you do not see the score, get the Scorch plug-in here.


Example 1 shows a four-measure ii7–V7–I progression that will undergo a number of harmonic transformations.

Example 1. The ii7–V7–I Progression

First, let us examine the harmonic structure and contrapuntal behavior of the progression. Note that the 3rd and 7th (6th) constitute the essential members of the progression. They form two independently moving melodic strands, also known as guide-tone lines: one starting on the 7th and the other on the 3rd of Dmi7. The unfolding of the progression results from the voice leading forces engaging the chords’ most potent members and their natural directional propensities: the 7th of a chord descends down to the 3rd of the next, the 3rd of a chord becomes the 7th, and the 7th of the tonic moves downwards to a more stable 6th. Not only does the guide-tone line determine the functionality and typology of a chord, but, more importantly, its members have the potential of being reinterpreted as chord tones or chordal extensions of various substitute formations.

Figure 1 shows a typical chord progression from the repertory of standard tunes. [9]

Figure 1. “All the Things You Are”—Chord Changes

What is particularly striking—and generally true about the harmonic design of the majority of standard tunes as well—is the sheer number of ii7–V7–I progressions controlling the harmonic structure in Figure 1. A close analysis reveals a variety of contextual and hierarchical manifestations of the progression as well as its different rhetorical layouts. The function of the progression includes cadential confirmations and local tonicizations, and its rhetorical layout—complete and incomplete—further qualifies and determines the status and functionality of the progression. Given the tonic of the piece, A♭, the ii7–V7–I progression in mm. 33–35 is hierarchically more significant than other ii7–V7–I’s. Its role is to confirm the arrival of the tonic key. Other ii7–V7–I’s, such as in mm. 6 or 14, function as mere tonicizations of the secondary key areas, C major and E♭ major, respectively. Still others, as in m. 30, are incomplete and offer a sense of harmonic departure from the underlying framework expanding its diatonic structure.

Having discussed the basic properties of the ii7–V7–I progression and the kinetic forces governing its behavior, let us now turn to the specific harmonic techniques that can transform the structure of V7–I.

Early Jazz Harmonic Transformations

Example 2a illustrates a typical V7–I progression from the early jazz period; its relationship to the ii7–V7–I progression is shown in Example 2b.

Example 2a. Early Jazz Progression—V7–I

Example 2b. The ii7–V7–I Progression

The comparison of the two progressions shows a fleeting similarity between the design of bass lines and the supporting harmonies: it is true that the presence of the D in the bass of Example 2a can be justified as an arpeggiation of the dominant (G) harmony, yet, that D has the potential of being transformed into a predominant ii7.

Example 3 demonstrates yet another version of the progression embellished with an assortment of chordal inversions—another trademark of early jazz harmony.

Example 3. The V7–I Progression—Chordal Inversions

Examples 4a, 4b, and 4c illustrate further substitutions of the V7–I progression that originated during the swing period.

Example 4a. The V7–I Progression—Diminished Seventh Chords I

Example 4b. The V7–I Progression—Diminished Seventh Chords II

Example 4c. The V7–I Progression—Diminished Seventh Chords III

The diminished seventh chord plays an important role in transforming the V7–I framework; it adds welcomed chromaticism and “improves” the voice leading between the participating chords. The use of upper and lower chromatic neighbors as well as passing and double passing chords is not only idiomatic, but greatly enhances the structure of the progression. Note that the structural V7–I progression becomes heavily disguised and the result of such elaborations yields very interesting harmonic outcomes. In Example 4a, for instance, the use of lower chromatic neighbor of ^2 creates a tritone relationship with the root of the dominant. The chromatic passing, D°7, between Dmi and C/E in Example 4b adds a much more interesting chromatic bass line to the otherwise diatonic framework. The use of two consecutive diminished seventh chords, A°7 and A♯°7, in Example 4c further transforms and enhances the diatonic V7–I progression. What becomes apparent from Examples 4a, 4b, and 4c is that the use of diminished seventh chord has boundless potential for transforming the V7–I progression.

Modern Jazz Transformations

During the bebop and post bop periods, the ii7–V7–I became subject to a number of harmonic transformations. The structure of the progression was greatly transformed through a number of idiomatic substitutions (tritone substitutions and symmetrical root movements) intimately associated with the bebop and post bop periods.

Example 5 illustrates a tritone substitute change at the dominant level.

Example 5. The ii7–V7–I Progression—Tritone Substitution

Note that the tritone of the dominant remains invariant, with chord tones, the 3rd and the 7th, swapping their functional roles: the 3rd of G7 becomes the enharmonic 7th of D♭7 and the 7th of G7 becomes the 3rd of D♭7. When used musically and always in support of the melodic layer, this substitution has a potential to “improve” a diatonic progression and make voice leading—on the account of a chromatic descent from ^♭2 to ^1—parsimonious.

Another substitution of the diatonic ii7–V7–I includes the use of the secondary dominant seventh in place of the predominant as shown in Example 6.

Example 6. The ii7–V7–I Progression—Secondary Dominant Seventh

The use of the secondary dominant creates a directed motion toward the point of repose. The “guide-tone” line features chromatically altered notes that make the arrival of the tonic more forceful and inevitable. Note that the behavior of the chromatic note, F♯—which does not get to resolve (up to G)—does not fulfill the rules of common-practice voice leading and causes motion where there was no motion before! The F♯ replaces an F which would have been a common tone between Dmi7 and G7.

Given the premise that any local dominant seventh formation can be transformed via tritone substitution, and that both diatonic dominants and their tritone replacements can be paired in a variety of creative ways to accelerate harmonic rhythm and enhance the harmonic progression, one can generate an impressive number of possible substitutions of the ii7–V7–I progression. Examples 7a, 7b, and 7c include a number of idiomatic transformations combining diatonic and tritone substitution dominant formations.

Example 7a. Tritone Substitution at the Dominant Level—Combined

Example 7b. Tritone Substitution at the Dominant Level—Direct

Example 7c. Tritone Substitution at the Predominant and Dominant Levels—Combined

One of the most effective jazz reharmonization techniques is the expansion of the dominant seventh (either diatonic or chromatic) into a local incomplete ii7–V7 progression. Based on that premise, the tritone substitution of the diatonic V becomes an incomplete chromatic ii7–V7 as shown in Example 8.

Example 8. The ii7–V7–I Progression—Dominant Expansion I

Following the same logic of dominant expansion into an incomplete ii7–V7, A♭7 can be expanded into E♭mi7–A♭7 enhancing the structure of the diatonic progression and further departing from the diatonic environment. Example 9 illustrates this possibility.

Example 9. The ii7–V7–I Progression—Dominant Expansion II

Ever since the bebop period, the ii7–V7–I progression has become a fixture of tonal jazz. Jazz players in the post bop period have searched for new ways of transforming the progression either through the use of symmetrical cycles or chromatic expansions. Example 10 shows John Coltrane’s transformation of the ii7–V7–I progression using a symmetrical major-third cycle.

Example 10. The ii7–V7–I Progression—Coltrane Substitutions

John Coltrane’s recording of “Giant Steps” in 1959 corresponded to the period of the artist’s harmonic explorations, most notably symmetrical cycles. His recording of “Countdown,” which constitutes a “harmonic" contrafact on Miles Davis’s “Tune Up,” illustrates the use of the so-called Coltrane Substitutions. At the core of that substitution lies the projection of a major-third cycle generated from the governing tonic with each local major chord tonicized by its dominant. In the context of the Dmi7–G7–Cma7 progression (provided in Example 10), the A♭ma7 harmony is accessed through its dominant, E♭7, following the predominant, Dmi7. The next member of the third cycle, Ema7, is preceded by its dominant, B7, before completing the progression with the diatonic G7 resolving to the tonic.

Since the tritone divides the octave into equal parts and since the tritone, in the context of the dominant seventh, is intimately related to the half-whole collection, other symmetrical partitions such as the minor-third cycle can participate in harmonic transformations of the ii7–V7–I progression. The minor-third cycle in the context of the dominant chord corresponds to the half-whole collection and, therefore, dominant formations a minor third apart can be used as viable substitutions of the diatonic dominant seventh. Example 11a and 11b shows the relationship between the half-whole scale and the dominant seventh chords, respectively.

Example 11a. The Half-Whole Collection—Chord Tones and Chordal Extensions

The half-whole collection contains major chordal extensions: ♭9, ♯9, ♯11, and 13. Given the symmetrical nature of the collection—its intervallic invariance in a minor-third cycle—these chordal extensions are also present in the dominant formations shown in Example 11b.

Example 11b. The Half-Whole Collection—Available Dominant Chords

The use of various minor third substitutions, ensuing voice leading, and the hierarchy among them are illustrated in Example 12a, 12b, and 12c.

Example 12a. Tritone Substitution—Incomplete ii7–V7

Example 12b. Minor Third Substitution Up

Example 12c. Minor Third Substitution Down

What becomes clear from Examples 12a, 12b, and 12c is that in musical practice, the relationship between voice leading and melody influences a particular substitution. In the context of five-part texture and without reference to any specific melody, it is quite difficult to choose between different substitutions. Based on the hierarchy of usage in jazz literature, the tritone substitution is the most common; a minor third up substitution—with its blues-like flavor on the account of the ♭VII♭7 harmony—is also quite effective; and a minor third down is probably least desirable given its relative scarcity and practicality of use. Once we begin to consider the design of the melodic structure—an ultimate determinant for launching any harmonic transformations—our substitute choices become more manifest.

Practical Demonstration

Figure 2 shows mm. 1–16 of “All of Me” by Seymour Simons and Gerald Marks.

Figure 2. “All of Me”—Original Changes

Examples 13a and 13b illustrate two basic transformations of the original progression: diatonic with complete and incomplete ii7–V7’s, and chromatic with various tritone substitutions.

Example 13a. “All of Me”—Diatonic Transformations

Example 13a utilizes a basic reharmonization technique that expands an underlying local dominant seventh into an incomplete ii7–V7 progression. These particular substitutions speed up the harmonic rhythm of the progression and convincingly support the melodic content.

Example 13b. “All of Me”—Chromatic Transformations

Example 13b provides a number of tritone substitutions creating a variety of interesting melodic/harmonic relationships, not all of which work effectively. In m.4 the use of B♭7 nicely supports the E in the melody and so does D♭7 in the last measure harmonizing the note B. The use of E♭7 in m. 6 and A♭7 in m.14 is not as effective. The melodic content in the former emphasizes upper chromatic extensions: the E being ♭9 and the A being ♯11; in the latter, the pitch succession: A, D, B functions as ♭9, ♯11, and ♯9, respectively. Such a use of tritone substitutions renders the melody too chromatic.

Examples 14a, 14b, and 14c show three different melodic phrases derived from the repertory of standard tunes with their possible substitutions derived from the minor-third cycle.

Example 14a. “I Should Care” (Sammy Cahn, Axel Stordahl, and Paul Weston) mm. 29–31

The tritone substitution change works quite successfully: the melodic note, B, which in the original chord progression functions as a major 3rd of the underlying dominant seventh, becomes a minor 3rd of A♭mi7 and later a minor 7th of D♭7. The incomplete A♭mi11–D♭7(♯9) progression expands the diatonic G7 which is momentarily inserted on beat 3 to chromatically render the diatonic members of the A♭mi11, the D♭ and E♭, as ♯11 and ♭13, respectively.

Example 14b. “I Remember You” (Johnny Mercer and Victor Schertzinger) mm. 33–35

In the original chord progression, the melodic motion E♭–F in the penultimate measure is supported with the diatonic ii7–V7 progression. A minor third up substitution is plausible on account of melodic reinterpretation of the E♭ and F as a perfect 5th and a major 3rd of the A♭mi7–D♭9 progression. Note that the outer voice counterpoint between the penultimate and last chords features an effective contrary relationship.

Example 14c. “I’ll Never Smile Again” (Ruth Lowe) mm. 8–10

In this instance, the harmonic reinterpretation of the melodic pitch, G, is more daring, yet within the parameters established earlier. In the original harmony, the G functions as a major 9th and major 13th of the Fmi7–B♭7 progression; upon a minor third down substitution, it becomes a natural 11th of Dmi11 and the root of G7(♯5). The choice of the alternate progression renders the melodic note G “more inside.” Another set of transformations of the ii7–V7–I progression that involves the use of the major third cycle through the projection of the augmented triad can further modify the diatonic framework. Examples 15a and 15b demonstrate the use of the major-third cycle up and down from the predominant ii7, respectively.

Example 15a. “Polka Dots and Moonbeans” (Jimmy Van Heusen) mm. 1–2

Not only does a major third up ii7–V7 substitution—provided that it agrees with the melodic content as is does in Example 15a—add an interesting chromatic flavor to the diatonic progression, but it also anticipates the arrival of the final tonic in a parsimonious manner along with a compelling outer voice counterpoint. The melodic descent: E–D–C concluding the phrase is reinterpreted as the 11th of Bmi11, the 7th of E9 and the 5th of Fma7.

Example 15b. “I’m Glad There Is You” (Paul Madeira and Jimmy Dorsey) mm. 33–35

The harmonic reinterpretation of the F in m. 33 as a major 9th and major 13th of the chromatic E♭mi9 and A♭9, respectively, fulfils the conditions for the use of that particular substitution and also prepares the arrival of Gmi9 in m. 34 in an effective manner satisfying the rules of voice leading.


Given a plethora of transformational possibilities that can enhance the structure of the ii7–V7–I progression, jazz theory offers a fascinating subject to be studied and researched. While this paper sought to explore the harmonic possibilities of the ii7–V7–I progression with emphasis on some important substitute techniques, in my future research I will examine the progression’s contrapuntal ramifications and propose a number of linear improvisational techniques that enable horizontal navigation of the progression and its substitute variants.


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  • Larson, Steven. “Schenkerian Analysis of Modern Jazz: Questions About Method.” Music Theory Spectrum 20.2 (1998).
  • Levine, Mark. The Jazz Piano Book. Petaluma, CA: Sher Music Co., 1989.
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  • Martin, Henry. “Jazz Harmony: A Syntactic Background.” Annual Review of Jazz Studies 4 (1988).
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[1] By common practice music, I mean music between circa 1675 and late 19th century.

[2] Thomas Owens, “Charlie Parker: Techniques of Improvisation,” 2 Vols. (Ph.D. dissertation, University of California, 1974); Milton Stewart, “Structural Development in the Jazz Improvisational Technique of Clifford Brown,” Jazzforschung/Jazz Research 6/7 (1975): 141–273; Steven Strunk, “The Harmony of Early Bop: A Layered Approach,” Journal of Jazz Studies 6 (1979): 4–53; Henry Martin, “Jazz Harmony: A Syntactic Background,” Annual Review of Jazz Studies 4 (1988): 9–30; Allan Forte, “Harmonic Relations: American Popular Harmonies (1925–1950) and Their European Kin,” Contemporary Music Review 19.1 (2000): 5–36; Keith Waters, “Motivic and Formal Improvisation in the Miles Davis Quintet 1965–1968,” Tijdschrift voor Muziektheorie 8.1 (2003): 25–39.

[3] Keith Waters, “Blurring the Barline: Metric Displacement in the Piano Solos of Herbie Hancock,” Annual Review of Jazz Studies 8 (1996): 19–37.

[4] Henry Martin, Charlie Parker and Thematic Improvisation (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1996).

[5] Steven Larson, “Schenkerian Analysis of Modern Jazz: Questions About Method,” Music Theory Spectrum 20.2 (1998): 209–41.

[6] For more bibliographical sources visit:

[7] Since (analytical) chord symbols in jazz writing feature a variety of shortcuts that are largely understood by jazz practitioners and theorists, the tonic “I” in the ii7–V7–I progression stands for either Imaj7 or I6 depending on the context.

[8] Bill Dobbins, A Creative Approach to Jazz Piano Harmony (Rottenburg N, Germany: Advance Music, 1991); Henry Martin, “Exempli Gratia: As You Like it (Chord Substitution in Ellington’s ‘Satin Doll’),” In Theory Only 1 (1975): 371; Mark Levine, The Jazz Piano Book (Petaluma, CA: Sher Music Co., 1989); Mark Levine, The Jazz Theory Book (Petaluma, CA: Sher Music Co, 1995).

[9] The term “standards” refers to primarily American “popular” tunes performed frequently by countless musicians.

Author Information: 
is Assistant Professor of Jazz and Contemporary Media at the Eastman School of Music, University of Rochester. He teaches courses on jazz theory, jazz improvisation, and jazz history. He is also a jazz pianist.

The ii7–V7–I progression is an essential part of jazz and over the course of the music’s development, transformations of this progression have enriched the harmonic language of jazz. This article explores the harmonic possibilities of the ii7–V7–I progression with emphasis on some important substitute techniques.

jazz, harmony, chord progressions

How to cite this article:

  • Chicago 15th ed.: Terefenko, Dariusz. “Jazz Transformations of the ii7–V7–I Progression.” Current Research in Jazz 1, (2009).
  • MLA 6th ed.: Terefenko, Dariusz. “Jazz Transformations of the ii7–V7–I Progression.” Current Research in Jazz 1 (2009).
  • APA 5th ed.: Terefenko, D. (2009). Jazz transformations of the ii7–V7–I progression. Current Research in Jazz, 1

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