The blues has always played a central role in jazz music from the very beginning and is without a doubt one of the most important forms in jazz.
It’s important for every jazz musician to know a good handful of blues heads, and even variations on the typical 12 bar form.
The blues has so much to teach us about jazz harmony. In fact, I often suggest to jazz beginners to learn a blues first.
Spend a lot of time on the blues and you are guaranteed to have an unfair advantage with all the rest of jazz improv!
The other great thing about the blues in a jazz context, is there are many variations of the chord progressions.
There is, of course, a basic I-IV-V blues, but jazz musicians add a variety of different substitutions and additions to the progression. You’ll find that different blues heads sometimes have different changes.
Here’s a video I did on 3 main blues forms you see come up often in jazz.
There are many different blues heads that have become popular among jazz musicians over the years, but this is a great list to help you get started!
I would consider each one of these to be essential to have in your repertoire.
Of course, these are great tunes, but if you really want to start mastering a jazz blues it’s going to require so much more.
Be sure to sign up for my free masterclass “Boost Your Jazz Blues” and I’ll help you take your improv abilities over these tunes to the next level.
28 Jazz Blues Tunes You Need to Know:
- All Blues– blues in 3/4 by Miles Davis
- Au Privave– bebop blues head by Charlie Parker
- Bag’s Groove– easy blues head in concert F
- Billie’s Bounce– bebop blues head by Charlie Parker
- Birk’s Works– easy minor blues head
- Blue Monk– classic Thelonious Monk blues
- Blues for Alice– a “bird blues” using alternate changes
- Blues In The Closet– easy blues head
- C-Jam Blues– easiest blues head of all time. Literally only two notes!
- Cheryl– awesome blues head by Charlie Parker in concert C
- Chi Chi– another great “bird blues” head
- Cool Blues– Simple blues head by Charlie Parker
- Equinox– John Coltrane minor blues head
- Footprints– a variation of a minor blues
- Freddie Freeloader– classic blues head with a variation on the last chord
- Freight Trane– awesome “bird blues” from the Kenny Burrell and John Coltrane album
- Mr. P.C– entry level John Coltrane minor blues
- Now’s The Time– Charlie Parker blues head with an iconic solo
- Relaxin’ At Camarillo– classic Charlie Parker blues head
- Route 66– singer blues tune
- Sandu– Clifford Brown blues head in concert Eb
- Sonnymoon For Two– classic Sonny Rollins blues head
- Straight No Chaser– simple Thelonious Monk blues head
- Take The Coltrane– blues by Duke Ellington for John Coltrane
- Tenor Madness– Sonny Rollins blues head and his only recording with Coltrane
- Things Ain’t What They Used To Be– entry level blues head
- Watermelon Man– Herbie Hancock variation on a blues
- West Coast Blues– Wes Montgomery blues head in 3/4
All of these blues heads are excellent to learn. I would suggest picking 3 you don’t know and learning them.
In my free jazz blues masterclass I talk about using blues heads as a tool for learning jazz blues language.
Something simple you can do to start taking great jazz blues solos right away is to take themes from blues heads and apply them over different parts of the form.
I talk about this in more detail in this video.
Of course, sign up for my free masterclass, because learning blues heads and applying them to your improv is only a small piece of the puzzle.
Jazz blues is a great way to get emersed into the language of jazz and start developing your jazz skills.
Use this this list as a starting point and start applying the lessons you can learn from them.
Have any more jazz blues heads you’d like to add? Feel free to leave a comment below!