If you’re in need of some inspiration to freshen up your blues phrasing or looking to add a little jazz-like colour, John Wheatcroft is back with another blues lesson which will help you broaden melodic, rhythmic and improvisational horizons. In this part John is demonstrating Major Jazz Blues.
Study 3: Major Jazz Blues
Rhythm (1st part): 3rd & 7th Voicings
If you are familiar with bebop playing, you should be well acquainted with many of the devices embedded in the following study. For all its seeming complexity, there are essentially just two moves at work here. The first is to approach any significant point in a harmonic sequence with a II-V to create a II-V-I chain. The root note for each of these resulting chords is a 4th apart; take our Fm7, Bb7 to Eb major 7 in bars 4-5 for example. The two main varieties, major or minor generally, although not always, take on the following order of II minor 7 - V dominant 7 - I major 7 for major, and II half diminished - V dominant 7 - I minor 7 for minor.
Our first section is devoted entirely to chord voicings consisting of just the 3rd and 7th degrees for each chord.
Rhythm (2nd part): ‘Parker’ Moves, II V & Tritone Substitution
The second device at work here is ‘tritone’ or ‘flat-5th’ substitution. Within our II-V-I we can substitute a dominant 7th with a root note three-tones (hence ‘tritone’) away to create a descending chromatic bass line. This is possible as the two potential dominant 7th options share the same identical 3rd and 7th degrees, although what was once the 3rd now becomes the 7th and vice versa.
You can see this at work in bar 2. It is also now possible to approach our tritone substitute V with its II, as seen in bar 10. Wes Montgomery was particularly fond of this move.
Our second rhythm part is essentially a decorated and harmonically more elaborate reworking of exactly the same sequence. Voice leading is employed to make the movement between each chord as logical and as smooth as possible.
Lead (1st part): 3rd & 7th Guide Tones
Remember, whatever we do with the chords, we can mimic with single notes. This part is intended to be a study, rather than a contextualised music piece, but nonetheless you should be able to hear the harmony shift from chord to chord in all the appropriate places, even without the backing track. For many jazz improvisers, these crucial notes form the backbone of their melodic soloing strategies and are therefore often referred to as the ‘Guide Tones’. You need not restrict yourself to blues changes, or just 3rds and 7ths for that matter. Any composition that is based on fairly frequent chord changes, and any appropriate extension is fair game for the guide tone preparation treatment.
Lead (2nd part): 3rd & 7th Consistent Straight 8ths & Targeting
Our final study is essential a contextualised and rhythmically fleshed out version of the first rhythm part. The skill here is to keep the line flowing, connecting from one set of chord tones to the next in a logical and cohesive fashion. Larry Carlton often quotes the story of his lesson with Joe Pass, where the elder maestro took approximately two minutes to assess Carlton’s comprehension and assimilation of playing through changes by asking him to play an unbroken series of 8th notes and attempt to spell out a jazz blues harmony with just notes alone, no chords and no licks, the tunes ‘inner truth, if you like! Whilst what you see before you is a written study, the ultimate goal is to achieve level this level of melodic sophistication and control when improvising. Obviously in a musical setting we can always incorporate some rests, but for the purpose of developing our musicality, technique and improvisational ability, initially aim to perform this kind of idea with perpetual motion.
Previous articles from Sophisticated Blues series