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So I came up with this little tune that roughly follows the standard 12-bar blues form but it substitutes the subdominant (IV7 chord) with VIImaj7. It sounds unusual but quite smooth and not jarring at all. How do I explain it in terms of functional harmony? Why it sounds good? Second question: do you know any examples of similar progression in music? The closest I could find is G7->Gbmaj7 in Jobim's Desafinado but there the context is different (the key of F and the sequence has more of a passing/shortlived character)?

Here the whole progression for clarity:

|F7///|////|////|////|
|Emaj7///|////|F7///|////|
|Bbm7///|C9sus///|F7////|////|
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    You should probably write out the whole progression, because there is some confusion about whether F is your tonic. Apr 24, 2023 at 16:20

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Disregarding the sevenths for simplicity, if you go from I to VII - meaning the tonic major chord to a major chord rooted on the leading tone - and you want to see functional harmony, an example that comes to mind is Red Roses for a Blue Lady. In that song the chords are C B7 E7 A7 Dm7 G7..., which is clear a series of secondary dominants.

Obviously the secondary dominant chords are different that your VIImaj7 major seventh chord, but the difference is in the quality of the sevenths, not the roots. The initial root progression I VII and the triad portions of the chords at least suggest, to me, the sound of the opening to Red Roses for a Blue Lady. It adds a sort of sophisticated sound to a basic blues progression, depending how you play it, I'm thinking more jazz than something like barrelhouse blues.

In regard to functional harmony you should consider what chord comes after the VIImaj7, what comes next has much more importance for function that what chord came before. If you just go back to the tonic, like I VIImaj7 I, you don't have much for functional harmony, and the movement is more of an auxiliary movement, a neighbor chord.

...or should I say #VIImaj7 if we are assuming blues so possibly mixolydian modality

Just a technical note, Roman numerals are relative to either a major scale or a major/minor key, depending on which convention you follow. Roman numerals for chords rooted on the seventh scale degree are particularly confusing and inconsistent compared to other chords. But in jazz I think I've only seen Roman numerals in relation to major scale degrees. So, the common ones are viio for the diminished leading tone chord, and ♭VII for the minor subtonic chord, or as you pointed out, it could be the mixolydian subtonic chord. VII is less common, but should read as "major triad root on the leading tone." ♯VII is confusing, because it looks like "major triad" rooted on a leading tone raised a half step, which would be enharmonically equal to the tonic. I think you should label F7 Emaj7 as I7 VIImaj7.

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  • Thanks for the useful clarification on the roman numerals. Indeed the VIImaj7 seems a correct way though arguably a bit misleading.
    – Jarek.D
    Apr 24, 2023 at 17:13
  • I guess this question could be narrowed down to whether I just interpret it as auxiliary movement or some sort of a secondary substitute to the tritone substitute (so Emaj7 substituting E7 which is tritone sub for Bb7 which should be there in the blues form). I always associated the auxilitary movement with something more temporary or not structurally significant and here we have some sort of replacement for a subdominant function
    – Jarek.D
    Apr 24, 2023 at 17:19
  • I'm not a fan of invoking tritone substitution when not involving a dominant or even a tritone in the substitute chord. I understand your feeling about auxiliary and temporary, but I would point out that non-functional shouldn't be misconstrued as 'unimportant.' If we set aside terms "function" and "subdominant", and think about "purpose", your VIImaj7 chord provides non-dominant harmonic contrast to the tonic chord, and that is an important structural purpose of bars 5-6 of a 12 bar blues. You just fulfill that purpose with a chromatic chord. Apr 24, 2023 at 18:07

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