4 Bill Evans Jazz Chords You Need To Know

Bill Evans Jazz Chords


Here’s a free jazz piano lesson featuring the awesome jazz chords of Bill Evans.

This particular lesson features a ii-V-i-IV (2-5-1-4) chord progression in a minor key.

These beautiful chords are very useful because you can use them in solo jazz piano arrangements and you can also use them to play behind other instrumentalists. They sound sweet too! (Video lesson, notation and jazz harmony tips below.)  

This is the second set of Bill Evans chords in our series. You can also check out the other Bill Evans chords lesson here.

The best place to start is to watch the video first.

jazz piano chords Bill Evans

2 Take Away Tip For This Jazz Lesson 

1. Bill Evans was a big fan of upper structure triads. He uses them in every chord in the chord progression.  Upper structure triads are extensions of the harmony (9’s, 11’s, and 13th’s) played in simple triads in the right hand.

  • For example, in measure 1 he plays a G major triad in the right hand over the Amin7(b5) measure.  This G chord functions as the 7,9, and 11 of the Amin7(b5).

  • Another example, in measure 2 he plays a Bb major triad in the right hand over the D7.  The Bb triad functions as the #9, b13, and root of the D7 chord.

  • If you want some more tips to understand how to use extensions on your chords then check out this jazz extensions lesson.

The basic idea is that you can take simple triads you already know and stack them on top of each other to create more complex chords. This is a powerful way to improve your jazz harmony.

2. Notice how the top notes of these chord progression only move by step.  One of the best ways to get smooth sounding chord progressions is to pay attention the voice leading of your top notes.

  • To put it simply….try to create a nice simple melody with the top notes of your chords.  If the top note of your chords moves too much from one chord to another it won’t sound very smooth.

Further Jazz Piano Resources

If you like these type of chords you can learn many more of them inside my Jazz Masters Method DVD. You can explore the DVD program right here.


I hope you’ve enjoyed this free jazz piano lesson.  Do you like the sounds of these chords? Do you find this style of jazz harmony interesting? Let us know about it by leaving a comment below.

Also be sure to subscribe to the email list below and/or above to receive free jazz lessons weekly in your inbox.

  • John

    Simple but efficient lesson and sounds great. Thanks again

  • cool – txs!

  • Paulie

    Sincere thanks, takes me a while to really get through this stuff, but it’s priceless.  Have talked to a number of people that saw Bill Evans, what experiences they must have had.

    • Glad you like the chords Paulie. Bill’s stuff is very deep so take your time going through this stuff 🙂

      I never saw Bill live unfortunately. I wonder if any of the other readers had the pleasure of seeing Bill?

  • Kdiddledesign

    Awesome!! Thanks

  • Paul

    Awesome!! Yeah someone´s already said that, but I don´t care….it is!  More power to your pinkies Steve, keep it coming!

  • Jfmcnichol

    Your explanations are great!
    thanks a lot

  • Steve, this is awesome. I love the way you break down this kind of thing, or the “shell” chords. Really looking forward to getting into playing jazz piano on my new piano.

  • Germán

    This is Awesome!! Great work, sir. This chords really sound great. However, i feel a litte bit confused about the Am7b5, because teachers always told me the half diminished chords are the ones a half step down the root of the major scale. I even remember playing this kind of chord by accident and liking it, but because i couldnt approach it with the theory i learned at the time.I decided to forget about it.  Wich scale/mode would you use to improvise over that first bar?
    I guess you use the locrian mode to play over that Cmajj7, right?
    Thank you very much. Germán

    • Hi German,
        Over the first bar you could use the locrian #2 mode. Over Cmaj7 you could use C Ionian or C Lydian.  Hope this helps!

      • If I’m not mistaken, another way to think of a Locrian #2 is the ascending melodic minor of the minor third. e.g.. for a Am7-5, using a C ascending melodic minor

  • guest

    very helpful. you are a great teacher! thank you

  • Robert

    Thanks for sharing something so wonderful and useful career wise.your explanations are easy to understand.bob

  • John Reynolds

    Thank you so much for these jazz lessons and your precise explanations!  Even these small tips have helped me greatly! 

  • Raymond

    Very kind and generous of you to share your knowledge. Much appreciated.

  • Abert

     I liked the Bill Evans chords. Next step is to fit them in your own compositions… thats not so easy..

  • Neil

    Great,  thank you very much for sharing on your site.
    good material, many thanks again   Neil

  • Pertti Peussa

    Very useful, could be used in “The Shadow of Your Smile”. Greetings, Pertti.

  • Astamur

     Big thanks for you!!

  • Juergen Hoefner

    Ihave only joined your community recently, but I am really impressed by your lessons. Thank you so much. I am 76 years old and started playing jazz standards 10 years ago.
    Kind regards Juergen

  • Dredd

    Thanx a Billion times man for the outstanding lessons Big Up and Peace

  • Ben Blake

    Hi Steve; Found your Bill Evans “four chords” tutorial intriguing, if not mystifying, for several reasons. First, there is no key indication.It seems like an altered 3,6 2,5 in F.But the flat 5 in the first chord is indicative of B flat, ie locrian,(except for the B natural) not phyrigian( key of F).Second, Evans has stretched the very definition of a “chord”- usually 3, maybe 4 chordal tones—but 6 ???. In that First chord, between the left hand notes and right hand notes–6 unrepeating tones; flat 7,root,9,flat 3rd,4th(11th),flat 5 – he plays every note in the chord scale but one(the f) simultaneously !Not terribly helpful to a singer trying to find their melody note!, or a solist ttrying to improvise over it. Second, given the implied chord scale—a,b,c,d,eflat,f,g,a =C melodic minor, starting on the “a”its the 6th mode of C melodic minor (John McLaughlin concept, I am a guitarist- and this first chord is simply impossible to finger, you need two hands, its a keyboard thing).This “chord” if you can call it that is more of a passing chord, than anything. Very convoluted,disconcerting, to say the least, and I have never seen this chord in any common useage—probably because of its hybridness (awfully obscure and bizarre, but so is bebop in general) But academically interesting. Thanks, Ben Blake

    • Hi Ben,
      Thanks for your comment. These chords are used all the time in jazz…especially by piano players. The chord progression is a 2-5-1 in Gminor. The C7 chord (4 chord) a lydian domiant chord. This comes from the melodic minor scale. A 2-5-1-4 chord progression is extremely common. Additionally, the extensions put on these chords are also very common. I have to disagree with you when say bebop is obscure. For my ears and experience it’s a very organized style…especially from a harmonic perspective.
      A few things I would recommend doing to get more comfortable with the concepts happening in this short sample.

      1. Listen to lots of jazz. Really get into the style and transcribe. This is the deepest from of listening/study you can do. Specifically checkout Bill Evans on his album Explorations…. Don’t just approach it from a theory/ academic perspective. From my experience…most of the style can’t be adequatedly explained in books.
      2. Now, if you do want to understand the theory more of what’s going on here..Familiarize yourself a bit more with minor chord scale theory (keep in mind that you can go back and forth between Dorian, aeolian, melodic minor). That’s one of the concepts here.

      Hope this helps and good to hear from you.

  • Merritt

    Steve, Thank you so much for what you do. I have good working knowledge of piano harmony I am primarily a horn player. what you’re doing is awesome and it make things so clear. Can’t thank you enough.

  • Bill Peterson

    Steve, you are a marvelous and patient teacher who makes Bill Evans’ chord voicing so clear and understandable. Thank you for you sharing and giving of your own understanding so I can ‘get it’!

    Bill Peterson.
    Former President of Professional Musicians, Local 47, LA, and a continuing student of both the trumpet and jazz playing.

    • Hi Bill,
      Thanks so much for your kind words. I can only imagine what being the president of the music union in LA was like for you. I bet you have some unbelievable stories you could share!
      Thrilled to hear you’re enjoying the material. We’re all life long learners here 🙂

      • Bill Peterson

        I have written a book about my experiences; Playing With The Stars is the book’s apt sub title. The Title proper is SHOW BIZ FROM THE BACK ROW, (because, as you know, that’s where the trumpet section usually sits.) Anyway, it’s about working with Sinatra, Streisand, Dino, Sammy, Nat Cole etc., as well as ‘saving’ Tucson, Ariz. from the dreaded Koreans when John Williams, myself and other fine musicians were in the 775th Air Force band at Davis Monthan AFB during the Korean Police Action or whatever the heck was. The book is available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble online or the publisher, Xlibris. If you’d like read the opus, but have trouble finding it, let me know.
        I will share your Bill Evans chord explorations with my friend, Carl Saunders, who is a marvelous jazz player and extraordinary trumpeter.

  • joe

    Love this website. I’m always looking for doors to open. This site is a world full of doors. Just what I needed.

  • The ii chord is taken from A locrian with a natural 2. It’s a very cool scale if you haven’t checked it out.

    As far as My Foolish Heart I’d make sure you understand what the names of the chords you’re playing are. That will help you map out what key you’re in.

    • Ryan

      Thanks for the quick feedback. So I’ve been delving into diatonic theory, and have looked at the melodic minor and 7 of its modes, including the Locrian you mentioned, and it seems like the progression you have in the video doesn’t seem to “fit” into any of those diatonically. So are you saying then that Bill just borrowed the ii chord from the Locrian and then just did whatever on the 5-1-4 part, playing alterations at a whim and without being in a particular diatonic mode? I’m pretty curious how and why certain chords are chosen, and if there is a one size fits all approach that composers use, or do they just throw in alterations as they feel the need.

  • Phil Cosgrove

    very nice having some great fun turn this thing around. I was listening to Frank Avino on Long Island last week – his piano man – and i didn’t get the name was so effortlessly running thru his progressions that I realized he had committed it all to muscle memory. Realized that I had some learnng left ot do and I stumbled upon your site Steve. Thanks so much.

    On this Evans prog – it is in Gm – I am finishing it off with a C7 D + Gm

    • Phil, thanks for your kind words. I like how you’re immediately applying it to your own music and also adding your own chords in there. Keep up the good work and welcome to our community here.

  • Marcus Schiebold

    What a great lesson, thank you!!

  • Andrew Harmsworth

    What key would be a nice start to improv with this chord progression?

  • Hi Marcus,
    That was the point I was trying to make to Ben. Bill Evan’s music is quite deep on the harmonic level. Thanks for your comment.

    • Marcus Schiebold

      Haha I hope my comment registered as being in response to Ben and not you, Steve! I didn’t even see your response somehow, you made my comment more than unnecessary! Thanks 🙂

  • Dave

    Thanks for this information. Much appreciated. Hopefully will sign up for your new Master Series Course later this month. Thank again, from India.

    • Thanks Dave. Glad you found this useful. I look forward to sharing music with you in The Jazz Platinum Players Program. Thanks!

  • Name

    Any thoughts about putting your lessons into musicxml files that can be imported into free versions of e.g. Finale Notepad or MuseScore?
    You should be able to use a MIDI device to play them into such a program etc. (for that matter I should be able to as well but I’m a newbie – you have the rhythm!)
    Great website.

  • Sam Hall

    Outstanding easy to understand concepts thank you so much

  • Shavais

    3 years ago? Wow, and still opening minds eyes today! (Well, mine, anyway.) I feel like this opening phrase needs an finishing phrase, like maybe some kind of a 2-5-1?

    • Thanks 🙂 The cool part about phrases like this is that you an plug them into lots of places. So, yes you could throw a 2-5-1 in there before hand if you wanted to.

  • Jedidiah Tritle

    Very cool. You definitely pinned down that “Bill sound.” Great work! I still get confused on with alterations of the extensions to use on which chords. Like, I saw you used a natural 9 and 11 on the 7b5, and the b3 and b13 over the D7, and those sound great. I’m still not sure when to flat and sharp extensions comfortably….Thanks for the lesson!

    • Thanks Jedidiah! I love Bill’s playing. On the half diminished seventh chord I was thinking locrian #2 and on the dominant chord I was thinking altered scale. There are lots of course resources on the site on jazz theory if you want to jump in. They’ll help. Thanks again for your comment!

  • Thanks for sharing the cool voicings! Can’t wait to practice in all keys