Early jazz bands used the banjo as an accompaniment instrument because of its ability to be heard against brass and percussion. The guitar eventually replaced the banjo mainly due to its extended range and improvements in timbre and amplification. The early jazz guitarists played block chords to provide the rhythmic support that was once the role of the banjo. They had to adopt an economic chordal style to match some of the fast tempos they were expected to play. This involved three or four note chords and this legacy is to be found in all jazz guitar styles. Here are three movable exercises illustrating the basic jazz chord vocabulary:
Exercise One: Four Note Jazz Chords In Root Position
Exercise Two: Four Note Jazz Chords In First Inversion
Exercise Three: Three Note Jazz Chords In Second Inversion
Note that in each of the above exercises there is a change of only one note to form the next chord and that this change takes place on one string.
The two main forms in Jazz are the twelve bar blues and the thirty-two-bar ballad.
The thirty-two-bar ballad will normally take the sectional formː
A - A - B - A
Each section consisting of eight bars. Section B is sometimes described as the bridge and will usually modulate to a related key eventually returning to the home key towards the end of the section. Each section can respectively be labelledː
Statement - Statement - Development - Recapitulation (Return of Statement)
A very famous thirty-two bar ballad is "Misty" by Errol Garner with lyrics written by Johnny Burke. Using the lyrics from the Sarah Vaughan version of "Misty" and taking into account the four bar instrumental introduction we can separate the sections into their respective componentsː
"Look at me. I'm as helpless as a kitten up a tree. And I feel like I'm clinging to a cloud. I can't understand. I get misty just holding your hand"
"Walk my way. And a thousand violins begin to play. Or it might be the sound of your hello. That music I hear. I get misty the moment you're near"
"You can say that you're leading me on. But it's just what I want you to do. Don't you notice how hopelessly I'm lost. That's why I'm following you"
"On my own. Would I wander through this wonderland alone. Not knowing my right foot from my left. My hat from my glove. I'm too misty and too much in love"
Jazz rhythms are meant to swing. While not all jazz consists of swinging rhythms, some may have a straight eighth note feel, it is important to become familiar with this style of playing. Swing is a difficult style to notate because it involves pulling and pushing against the beat and therefore students approach jazz by listening to the music first. If you are new to jazz then the song "My Favorite Things" from the musical The Sound Of Music is a good place to start. Listen to John Coltrane's jazz version and compare it against the original soundtrack version. You will notice that the original version swings less and that Coltrane's version lasts longer. Jazz musicians are expected to be able to improvise and this is exactly what Coltrane does by extending the song's harmony and melody beyond its original form. The drums and piano in Coltrane's version swing in comparison to the backing instruments of the original. Swing may be difficult to notate on manuscript paper but it is easy to hear in performance.
The use of octaves is a common technique in jazz guitar. Once a jazz guitarist has learned the notes to a melody they will then play the same melody using octaves. Audiences hear octaves as a single melodic line and therefore using octaves is a highly effective technique for reinforcing the melody line. Jazz guitarists are also very adept at playing scales backwards. The jazz guitarist Kenny Burrell on the album Midnight Blue uses simple minor pentatonic scales to great effect starting on their highest note and descending through the scale to the lowest note. Playing scales backwards is a technique that provides for surprise openings, unusual bridges and tension releasing.
Many famous early jazz guitarists cited horn players as a major influence. The rise of jazz coincided with the development of the radio and gramophone and early recordings of jazz played a major role in developing the main stylistic elements of the genre. Louis Armstrong's "West End Blues" (Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five - 1928) is considered one of the masterpieces of early jazz and cemented the role of the brass soloist. Jazz guitarists from that period took note and soon it became standard practice for guitarists to copy horn riffs. Charlie Christian (Benny Goodman Band 1939 - 1941) is still considered by many as one of the great players of the instrument with many of his riffs displaying horn-like qualities. Christian also played a role in the development of Be-Bop participating in jams with Dizzy Gillespie and Theolonius Monk at Minton's Playhouse in New York (1941) which were recorded by a jazz fan. These recordings represent the transition from Swing to Be-Bop and offer a rare chance to hear the informal after-hours meetings of some of the greatest players in jazz. A good jazz guitarist will normally have a few horn riffs in his vocabulary. Try playing along to a Miles Davis or John Coltrane recording and preferably choose a slow tempo ballad which will allow you time to hear and emulate. Brass instruments are melodic instruments and therefore, unlike the guitar, horn players cannot form chords. This means that horn players develop very strong melodic capabilities and this provides an ideal opportunity for a guitarist to improve their solo lines.
The sound of the city. The age of the automobile. The wireless radio and electric neon lights. Jazz must be placed in its social context. Duke Ellington's "Take the A Train" invokes a New York train journey and the pace of urban life. A listener's response to the Miles Davis and Gil Evans interpretation of the slow movement from "Concierto de Arunjuez", the most popular guitar concerto in the Classical repertoire, can only conclude that the style is jazz but the themes are Spanish. Music transcends geography and time offering the listener's imagination new ground to traverse. The study of jazz styles is the study of context. The importance of this should be borne in mind to avoid dismissing certain jazz styles. The validity of "Early Autumn" by Woody Herman is equal to the validity of "Take The A Train" by Duke Ellington. The soulful sound of "Mercy Mercy Mercy" by Cannonball Adderley is no less jazz than the live performance in Berlin of "How High The Moon" by Ella Fitzgerald. Context must be extended to take into account the length of career and the artist's complete output. The later work of Billie Holiday was marred by personal problems and is not a true indication of her artistry. The popularity of Louis Armstrong and his later commercial pop music does not tell you why he was so important to the development of Jazz. The black-tie Sinatra singing "My Way" in his later years masks the original vocal phrasing that he developed with the Tommy Dorsey Band that Miles Davis based his own trumpet style upon. To know that Benny Goodman acquired some of his music charts from Fletcher Henderson provides the opportunity to discover Chu Berry and Coleman Hawkins. Context provides the means to see that jazz style is not exclusively or independently developed by genius or any one group or person. Two versions of "Sugar Foot Stomp", as performed by Fletcher Henderson, will illustrate the style analysis of early Jazz stated in the introduction - block chords, fast tempos, and the change from banjo to guitar - "Sugar Foot Stomp" recorded in 1925 by Fletcher Henderson with banjo played by Charlie Dixon and the 1931 version recorded by Fletcher Henderson under the name Connie's Inn Orchestra with guitar played by Clarence Holiday.
Jazz Style Exercise
The following four bar exercise illustrates how to use blue thirds and added ninths over a simple I - VIm - IV - V progression in D majorː
The above solo line is to be played against a simple diatonic progression and is suitable for beginners. It would be useful to have another guitarist or musician to provide the chords but if this is not possible play the chord progression first to hear it and then play the solo line. A tempo of 60 BPM is one count per second since there are sixty seconds in a minute and a slightly faster BPM of 70 would be suitable for this exercise. The exercise uses simple quarter notes for the solo and it is recommended that the chords should also be played as quarter note down strokes. There is no need for extended or complex chords and the chord progression can be played using open chords at the first position.
The first note is the minor third which resolves into the major third (F#) of the D major chord. The third note is the fifth of the D major chord and the fourth is the added ninth. Notice how the fourth note is played at the ninth fret of the G string. It could also be sounded by striking the open high e string which is the same note but it is common that Jazz guitarists may avoid the open strings which can only be stopped from sounding by dampening.
The first note is called a temporary leading note. Any root note can be preceded by its leading note. The chord of B minor can therefore take a temporary leading note during a solo without disturbing the harmony as long as the temporary leading note resolves a semi-tome up to the root. The third note in the bar is the diatonic third of the B minor chord and the last note in the bar is the diatonic fifth of the B minor chord. So there is only one chromatic note in this bar and that is the temporary leading note that resolves to the root note of the B minor chord.
The first note is a sixth added to a plain G major chord strum. Note that the e note is now treated as an extension of the G major chord. In Bar One we saw how the addition of the same note added a ninth to the D major chord. Each melody note must be analysed in relation to the chord or chords forming the harmonic background for the bar in which it appears. The e note is the sixth degree of the G major scale from which the G major chord is derived. It is also the second degree of the D major scale but it is not the D major chord that is being stated in this bar. The open e string is avoided again by playing the note at the 5th fret of the B string. The next two notes, D and B, are respectively the fifth and third of a G major chord and therefore diatonic. The last note is a minor third (blue note) but its resolution has to await the start of the next bar.
The first note is the root of the A major chord and also functions as the resolving note of the blue note that preceded it as the last note of Bar Three. If you look at the blue note resolution in Bar One you will see that the resolution is a semi-tone up to the diatonic third. The resolution of the blue note (minor third) here is a semi-tone down to the root of the next chord. The second note is the blue note of the A major chord and therefore is not diatonic. The other blue notes all resolved up or down a semi-tone but here the resolution returns to the root note of the A major chord and therefore is an interval skip. The resolution of any dissonance is to a consonance and the root note of a chord offers the opportunity for an interval skip resolution of the blue note. The last note is the added ninth of the A major chord. Jazz guitarists do tend to play flattened ninths and it is quite feasible to change the last note from a B to a B flat and the solo would still make sense though the ending would be more dissonant.
Jazz Movement Exercises
These three exercises lend themselves to the 12-bar blues form. They are designed to aid movement along the fretboard and to give the student the chance to practice applying one chord on each beat of a bar.
Jazz Movement Exercise One
Jazz Movement Exercise Two
Jazz Movement Exercise Three
Essential Jazz Guitarists and Recordings
The following list of influential jazz guitarists illustrates the major stylistic changes in Jazz ranging from Swing to Progressiveː
- Charlie Christian was the first guitarist to popularize the electric guitar as a solo instrument in jazz. Listen to the recordings he made with Benny Goodman in the late 1930s, including "Solo Flight."
- Django Reinhardt was gypsy jazz guitarist born in Belgium who played swinging single-note lines on the acoustic guitar. Listen to his recordings with the Hot Club of France from the late 1930s.
- Tal Farlow brought the harmonic and melodic innovations of the Bebop style of jazz to the guitar. His mid-1950s recordings are recommended listening.
- Jim Hall brought a motif-based style of improvisational development to the jazz guitar. His recordings with Bill Evans are an excellent starting point.
- Wes Montgomery is renowned for his horn-like single lines, innovative octaves, and chord solos. The three essential Wes Montgomery recordings, all from the early 1960s, are The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery, Full House, and Smokin' At The Half Note.
- George Benson is known for his improvisation as well as his more popular later works. Listen to his work with organists Jack McDuff and Dr. Lonnie Smith.
- Pat Martino is known for his fluid single-line improvisation. A good introduction to his playing is Live At Yoshi's, featuring organist Joey DeFrancesco and drummer Billy Hart.
- Joe Pass was a great improvisor, but he is known especially for his solo chord-melody arrangements of jazz standards. Essential listening includes the "Virtuoso" series of recordings which showcase his solo pieces.
- John McLaughlin is known as a pioneering jazz-rock guitarist. His work in the 1970s with the Mahavishnu Orchestra should be considered essential listening.
- John Scofield is known for his angular lines and use of dissonance. For new jazz listeners, his two recordings with Medeski Martin and Wood are probably the best introduction to his playing.
- Allan Holdsworth is a jazz-rock guitarist known for his peerless technique and his unique approach to harmony. Believe It, a mid-1970s jazz-rock album by the New Tony Williams Lifetime, and None Too Soon, a more straight-ahead jazz album by Holdsworth, are both essential listening.
- Pat Metheny is known for his small-group work as well as his work with the Pat Metheny Group. The debut album, Bright Size Life, is recommended and features electric bassist Jaco Pastorius.