February 22nd, 2016

7 KIller Turnarounds for Your Next Jazz Solo

By Eric


If you’ve spent any time practicing jazz improvisation, chances are you’ve heard of the turnaround…

Those little two bar chord progressions that pop up at the ends of tunes or in the middle of your solo, leading you back to the top of the form.

But what you might not realize is that these turnarounds can become one of the most important tools in your musical arsenal.

You just need to practice them in the right way…

“[Turnarounds] were a series of chord changes that progressed eloquently back to the main theme of a song. They were important because they let you extend a song without making it sound like you were repeating it. From a listeners’ standpoint, they created anticipation and made you want to hear the main part again.” ~Yusef Lateef

There are places in any chord progression that have the potential to create harmonic motion and melodic interest to your lines. And this is a technique that many great players have spent time developing in the practice room.

Tadd Dameron

The beautiful thing about improvisation is that you don’t have to feel chained to the written chord progression. You don’t have to play the same scale over every chord or the same chord changes in every chorus.

And one way to do this is by implying chords or melodic substitutions within an existing progression – turn backs and turnarounds.

Below we’ll show you 7 killer turnarounds that you can use in your next solo…

1) The standard “jazz” turnaround

Let’s start with the basic turnaround…

The majority of jazz standards have a chord progression that ends like this:

A ii-V7-I leading right back to the top of the tune…

You’ve seen it in the Blues, Rhythm Changes, and countless other tunes. The only problem is that this simple progression can become monotonous when it’s used over and over again.

To create interest however, improvisers and rhythm sections frequently use a turnaround,  a I – VI7- ii – V7 progression that ‘turns back’ to the top of the tune.

Instead of a static I chord leading directly to another I chord, the turnaround provides forward motion leading into the top of the form:

Jazz Turnaround

As you’ll see, the turnaround doesn’t need to be written into the chord progression to be implied by the soloist. Listen to how Clifford Brown incorporates this common progression into his solo on Joy Spring:

Clifford Brown, Joy Spring turnaround


Step one to mastering the turnaround begins with learning this standard progression in every key. Remember, everything we’ll explore in the following examples starts with the standard turnaround, so make sure you have it down!

  • Learn the standard jazz turnaround I – VI – ii – V – I
  • Be able to visualize this chord progression in all 12 keys
  • Find and transcribe ‘turnaround’ language from your favorite players

2) Tritone substitution on V7 chords

While the turnaround adds forward motion to your solo, it can also become predictable if it’s played the same way every time…

This is exactly why many players employ tritone substitution, a Bebop reharmonization technique of substituting a dominant chord with a dominant chord a tritone away.

For example, check out how Clifford Brown substitutes the Bb7 chord with an E7 chord in his solo on Stompin’ at the Savoy:

Clifford Brown turnaround


You can also apply this concept to both of the dominant 7 chords in a turnaround progression. Listen to how Charlie Parker utilizes tritone substitution in his solo on Donna Lee:

Charlie Parker turnaround


By substituting both dominant chords in the turnaround he creates a descending chromatic motion:

Charlie Parker Tritone Substitution

An easy way to do this is by using minor and major arpeggios to outline the tritone substitution, as Bird does in the example above.

  • Use a tritone sub on the V7 chord: I – VI – ii – bII7 – I
  • Use a tritone sub on the VI chord: I – bIII7 – ii – V7 – I
  • Use a tritone sub on both the dominant chords: I – bIII7 – ii – bII7 – I
  • Visualize and memorize these variations in all 12 keys
  • Listen you how your musical heroes use tritone substitution

3) The “Lady Bird” Turnaround

One of the most famous turnaround substitutions comes from Tadd Dameron’s composition Lady Bird.


Dameron utilizes the following turnaround in the last two bars of the form:

Lady Bird Turnaround

If you listen closely, you can hear how this progression evolved from the tritone substitution of the standard turnaround. In addition to substituting the V7 chords, he substitutes the minor ii chord as well.

Lady Bird and tritone subs

Here’s how Fats Navarro solos over the Lady Bird turnaround:

Fats Navarro Lady Bird


And another well known example is Miles Davis’ Half-Nelson melody:

Half-Nelson Turnaround


  • The ‘Lady Bird turnaround’: I – bIII – bVI – bII – I
  • Visualize this turnaround in all 12 keys
  • Study how great improvisers utilize this progression in their solos
  • Learn the Half-Nelson turnaround melody (above) in every key

4) Kenny Dorham Turnarounds

K.D. wasn’t just a great individual trumpet stylist who developed his own sound and linear harmonic language (listen to Kenny’s “turnbacks”—how he gets to the end of the harmonic progression—and you’ll certainly know what I’m talking about). He was also a great composer and arranger who created new rhythm section textures…~Don Sickler

Skilled improvisers play with the goal of creating a melody over an existing chord progression, and the same is true for substituting chords. The goal is a melodic approach to substitution, rather than a mechanical music theory exercise.

One player known for his clever use of the turnaround is the great trumpet player Kenny Dorham. Check out how he implies the “Lady Bird” turnaround in a creative way in this solo break:

Kenny Dorham turnaround


As you become more familiar with these chord substitutions, aim to get away from the cliche patterns often used over this progression and tunes like Giant Steps. Think in terms of melody.

Here’s another KD line that utilizes tritone substitution. Notice how he doesn’t start on the roots of each chord, but uses different inversions and upper structures in a melodic way:

Kenny Dorham tritone sub


Start by checking out some Kenny Dorham records and listen closely to the way he navigates various turnarounds. As you practice, ask yourself: Am I creating a musical line over the entire progression or am I just inserting patterns?

5) The Descending Turnaround

The chord progression to Rhythm Changes is essentially one big turnaround, so it’s a logical place to look for creative substitutions…

Take a listen  to Jimmy Heath’s variation on Rhythm Changes, C.T.A.:


Heath’s progression uses a series of V7 chords descending by whole step from the root to the V7 chord: Bb – Ab7 – Gb7 – F7:

C.T.A. turnaround

You can apply this same chord progression equally well to the turnarounds at the ends of your solo choruses.

Another great example of this technique is Clifford Brown’s tune Brownie Speaks:

Brownie Speaks


Clifford’s rhythm changes reharm combines the tritone subs of Lady Bird and the descending motion of C.T.A.:

Brownie Speaks melody

  • The descending turnaround: I – bVII – bVI – V7
  • Visualize this progression in all 12 keys
  • Learn the first 4 bars of CTA and Brownie Speaks in all keys

6) The Isotope turnaround

The next turnaround variation comes from Joe Henderson’s altered blues, Isotope:


At the end of each chorus Henderson uses the following turnaround:

Joe Henderson, Isotope turnaround

A sequence descending in minor 3rds from the root. You can think of it like a descending diminished chord.

Joe Henderson, Isotope


  • The ‘Isotope turnaround’: I7 – VI – #IV – bIII – I
  • Review your fully diminished chords and visualize this progression in all 12 keys
  • Explore the diminished relationships inherent in this progression
  • Start by experimenting with patterns like the one used in the melody

7) Joe Henderson turnaround in ‘Night and Day’ Reharm

Finally take a listen to Joe Henderson’s reharm of Night and Day, influenced by Coltrane’s Giant Steps:


Here the chord progression moves up a major third (Bb – D) and back down a major third (D – Bb):

Joe Henderson, Night and Day turnaround


Henderson’s turnaround is similar to the “Coltrane Changes” found in Giant Steps which would start one bar earlier:

Coltrane Changes


  • The Night and Day Turnaround: I – VII7 – III7 – V7
  • Visualize this chord progression in all 12 keys
  • Take a similar approach to the progression as you would for Giant Steps
  • Study the movement of chords by Major thirds

Applying these turnarounds to your own solos

“KD and Wynton used to show me turnarounds and ‘passing’ changes, how there were chords that weren’t on the sheet music and how they could be put in.~Bob Mover

Once you’ve learned these 7 turnarounds and memorized them in all 12 keys, the next step is applying them to your solos…

Take the tunes that you play all the time and try incorporating some of these turnarounds into the progressions.

Start with one turnaround or variation and apply it to:

  • The Blues
  • Rhythm Changes
  • At the end of the A sections in your solos
  • At the end of the form of the tunes you’re soloing over

Remember, a turnaround doesn’t have to be written in the chord progression – you can apply it wherever you see fit.

Start slowly and apply one of these turnaround techniques at a time. Over time you’ll have multiple harmonic options for these key musical situations.

For some inspiration, check out how Stan Getz implies the ‘Lady Bird turnaround’ to the chord progression of Move:

Stan Getz Lady Bird turnaround

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