** As featured in issue 42 **
Hi, and welcome to the first lesson of my new column, 'The Art of Jazz Soloing'. As you may have figured out from the title, this column is going to be devoted to the skill of soloing over typical Jazz progressions, and will be based on traditional Jazz playing rather than Fusion, think Tal Farlow more than Frank Gambale! It's aimed at people that have been playing for a while and know their way around the neck fairly well, pentatonic, major scale and their modes will hopefully be well under your fingers. You may be an all-out Rock player but find you have got stuck in a rut with your current improvising ideas and are looking for some new concepts, or you may have dabbled in a bit of Jazz but now really want to get stuck in, either way this column will develop your Jazz vocabulary and help you understand how to solo convincingly in the style.
I feel one thing I need to address early on is the skill and importance of listening. I quite often get asked “how can I play Jazz?” My response is always, “what Jazz do you listen to, who are your favourite players?” which is quite often met with a blank stare and a mutter of “I don’t really listen to Jazz...” This is always the first stumbling block, if you don’t listen to the style you wish to play you will never truly be able to play it. You may learn all the tools, but will never quite get it right stylistically. It would be like learning a load of French words but not know how to use them in context or with the correct expression. Your ears are your biggest friend. If you are coming from a Rock background and that style came easy to you, it will partly be down to the fact that it was so well ingrained into you, the chords, melodies all sound familiar and natural because you were bought up listening to it.
The Jazz guys that we hold in such high regard today, Coltrane, Parker, Davis etc. were all bought up on the popular music of the time which was Jazz, so that style was internal to them, they just took it to the next level. Jazz is a wide subject and there are many different styles out there, it’s important to find one that you like. You may prefer the more modern bop sound to trad Jazz for example, just find something that you really dig (that's a Jazz word...) and then find as many players that played that style and listen to all of them.
In this first lesson we are going to look at the four main chord types that you will come across in most Jazz standards, and their accompanying arpeggios. Aside from the “How do I play Jazz” question, another common one is “Do I have to play a new scale/arpeggio over every chord?”. Well, no is the short answer, you can block many progressions into keys, the first 4 might be in A, then the next 3 in G etc. This method works great and we will go into it in more detail in future lessons. However, it doesn’t really outline the “Changes” (a Jazz word for chords.). Therefore, the long answer is yes, you need to be able to do that too. The answer isn’t that long, but the practice that's required to get it down, unfortunately is. With a great Jazz solo you should be able to take away all the backing and still hear the changes going by just from what the soloist is outlining. Let’s recap on what an arpeggio is, and how the chords are constructed that we will be looking at.
An Arpeggio is simply the notes in a chord. A Cmajor7 chord is constructed from the 1,3,5,7 of a C Major scale and therefore contains the notes C,E,G,B. If you play these notes one after the other you are playing a C Major 7 Arpeggio. Note: simply raking through the strings whilst holding down a C Major 7 chord does not equal an arpeggio, as the shape may not contain all the notes, or they may be in a different order. Here are the four main chord types and their intervallic construction:
Major 7 – 1,3,5,7
Dominant 7 – 1,3,5,b7 (b=flat)
Minor 7 – 1,b3,5,b7
Minor 7b5 – 1,b3,b5,b7
There are many other chord types that crop up in Jazz, but get these under your fingers and they will give you lots of mileage. It's important to memorise the construction of each chord and not get the names mixed up. Many players get confused between Major 7 and Dominant 7, as you can see a Dominant 7th chord contains a flat 7 interval. Here is how you may see them written down on paper, examples in C.
Major 7 = Cmaj7 – Cma7 – a triangle is also used to mean Major 7
Dominant 7 = C7 – Cdom7
Minor 7 = Cmin7 – Cmi7 – Cm7 – C-7
Minor 7b5 = Cmin7b5 – Cmi7b5 – Cm7b5 – C-7b5 – a small o with a line through it can also be used meaning Half Diminished which is what this chord is.
I recommend that you get a REAL BOOK (C instrument version). There are many versions out there and almost any one will do to begin with. These books contain typical Jazz Standards and you will see these chords crop up in pretty much every tune. In the video and transcription I go through how to play each arpeggio plus the chord in 5 different areas of the fretboard. If this is new to you, then yes that is a lot of work, but trust me it comes with a lot of reward. Get stuck in, take one or two at a time and try to commit them to memory, then try using them in a musical way immediately. Also make sure you can play them in any key.
Next time we will start looking at Major II V I Progressions.