Bird Blues Analysis

Blues for Alice is a Charlie Parker tune (also known as a Bird Blues) that is based on a traditional twelve bar (I-IV-V) blues progression, but starts off with a major 7th chord instead of the traditionally seen dominant 7th. I’m going to do a harmonic analysis here, but let’s not forget that this is just a basic reharmonization of a blues progression- now stay with me!

Bird Blues Analysis

The tune starts off with a Fmaj7 (Imaj7) which is followed by a series of II V patterns leading us into the Bb7 (IV7) chord in bar five. Backtracking to bar 4 where we have a II V pattern consisting of C-7 to F7; the F7 is a secondary dominant (V/IV) leading us into bar 5 resolving to Bb7. Preceding that, in bar 3 we have a D-7 to G7 which is an extended II V pattern.  Before that in bar 2 the E-7(b5) to A7 also functions as an extended II V pattern. This is what is known as extended or sequential II V chains.

After the IV7 chord Parker descends chromatically using substitute II V patterns resolving to the G-7 to C7 (II-7 V7) progression in bars 9 and 10. In bar 8 the Db7 points to the C7 acting as a tritone substitute for G7 which would be the secondary dominant of the V7 (C7); before that in bar 7, the D7 is the extended dominant related to the G7. Starting the sequence at bar 6 the Eb7 is commonly used in a Blues to take us back to the I7 chord. This is how Eb7 (bVII7) functions as what I call a diminished V7 substitute for C7 (V7). This works nicely resolving to the A-7 in bar 7 as this is a diatonic substitute for Fmaj7 making the Eb7 to A-7 a V to I resolution.

Looking at this another way, the Eb7 (bar 6) also works as a sub V7 (tritone substitute) leading into the D7 (bar7). Note that all the dominant chords (bars 6,7&8) are preceded by a ‘related II chord.’ In a Blues, any dominant chord can be preceded by a related II chord except I7 and IV7. The related II chord in bar 8 (Ab-7) would be referred to as an interpolated II chord as the D7 in the previous bar is resolving to the Db7 in bar 8. The Ab-7 is heard as an inserted related chord before the actual resolution occurs to the Db7 chord. If we analyzed the Eb7 in bar 6 as a tritone substitute pointing us towards the D7 in bar 7, then the A-7 would also function as an interpolated II-7 chord in that context.


Remember that the Blues form is a song form unto itself based on the I – IV – V progression. Depending on the context, the chords in a blues progression can vary and contain some harmonic alterations along the way. For study purposes, be sure to check out tunes like Bluesette, Nothing Personal, Minority and the first section of Jobim’s Wave.

For a more in-depth look at Functional Diatonic & Non-Diatonic Harmony, please check out my membership website, more notably my Gold and Premium Membership options where you would receive regular weekly lessons. As the demands of today’s professional musician requires an understanding of harmony, you will find that my method is very compatible with analyzing different genres including jazz, rock, pop, latin and other contemporary styles of music.

All the Bass!



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3 Responses to Bird Blues Analysis

  1. Hi Joe Hubbard, thank you to everyone for the article about Bird Blues Analysis. So I liked and I share on my Facebook profile and I tweet on my profile twitter as well, so that everyone can see it. Thank you very much.

  2. hi, excellent post, i just like this kind of destination and also i need to have a look at it. i have a issue for you ; the place do i obtain a images such as this?

  3. Joe Hubbard says:

    The picture of the lead sheet is a scan from the Real Book.

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