In Progress

Dedicated to Pre-Bebop Jazz Guitar

Disclaimer: All of the opinions expressed herein are solely those of Jonathan Stout, 
and NOT the Campus Five or Hilary Alexander

Tuesday
Dec042012

Rhythmic Variation vs. the Four-Beat Ideal (tales of Careless Loving)

In August I got an email from a reader, and I quickly cranked out an article sort-of answering his question. Last weekend I played a gig (with my friends, the Careless Lovers that really gave me a better perspective on this issue. With that perspective, I wanted to take another crack at the subject and start over from scratch. 

YoungWoo Joh, from Orlando, FL recently sent me an email asking me about the interaction of rhythm guitar and piano. Specifically, he was wondering how not having a piano would, could or should change what he does as a rhythm guitarist in his band (the instrumentation of which is clarinet/sax, trombone, guitar, bass, washboard and vocals). Here's his original question:

 "I had originally just been chunking through the changes (a la 4/4 rhythm guitar), but I've come to feel that lacking both a piano and third horn makes it feel like something is missing. In response to this, I've made my (guitar) playing a little more rhythmically creative, though always going back to the 4/4 as the basic rhythm. In addition to that, I've slowly been working up my chordal vocabulary (inversions and extensions) in order to imply movement and for the occasional fill.

The thing is that all of this is sort of being done experimentally, and I was hoping you could give me a little more insight on what else I could be doing on guitar to help fill out the sound." 

Swing = Four-Beat

The four-beat pulse is the primary mission of the rhythm guitarist in Swing-era jazz. I've argued in the past that the firm foundations of that pulse in the rhythm section are what makes syncopation in the rest of the band really POP and stand out in relief. Thus, serving the beat is paramount. 

I find that stray 8th notes and additional shuffling tends to muddy the four-beat pulse. Therefore, I try to avoid them as much as possible. In my own playing, I am almost always in a Swing-Era band with a full rhythm section of guitar, bass, piano and drums. In such settings, I find there rarely to be much excuse or justification for messing with the pulse. Most often, when I would see someone adding rhythmic variation it seemed to be due to a lack of knowledge or understanding or experience in the genre. Excessive shuffling 8th notes often seem hack-y to me.  

To be fair, I do occasionally add 8th notes just as a product of natural movement, and I don't think it is possible or advisable to literally only play quarter notes. But that quarter note pulse is still the goal.

Careless Loving

Getting out of my standard 4-piece rhythm section was very illustrative on this subject. I was subbing on guitar our good friends from Seattle, the Careless Lovers, whose instrumentation is very similar to YoungWoo's situation: trombone, trumpet, guitar, bass, and drums. Because there's no piano or second guitar, there is no second chordal instrument to comment while the other holds down the rhythm, and there's nothing but a bass line beneath a guitar solo. It's a more challenging role compared to simply playing 4-to-the-bar rhythm. Also worth mentioning, the first night of the gig we played as a quartet, sans drums, and then adding drums the next two nights. 

While I had been very idealistic about eschewing any rhythmic variation, the gig gave me a good practical appreciation for the value of doing more than just 4-to-the-bar. I found myself naturally adding little accents here and there the first night, but I felt even more free the next two nights. I rarely changed my basic rhythm pattern from 4-to-the-bar, I did accents here and there. Even more so, I found myself playing melodic figures to fill holes or answer back to the horns. I usually just threw in a single-note figure, although I would use Reuss-style block-chord figures as well. 

A good example would be the pauses in the melody of first 8 bars of "Blue Turning Grey Over You" (here played by Louis Armstrong). Bars 4 and 8 are pretty empty, leaving a nice big whole ripe for filling. I found myself waiting for the pauses and filing it with a triplet run on the bass strings. 

One of the reasons I felt so free to play answer phrases, which necessarily requires to stop playing rhythm for that moment, was that the other members of the rhythm section were filling out the beat so well. Brett Nakashima's bass playing so solidly set the pulse that I was able to branch out. It was even more true when drummer Hal Smith was added in. Because Brett and Hal covered the beat so firmly and unambiguously, I was able to throw in single-note answer figure without the rhythm breaking down. If your rhythm section isn't supporting you enough, you won't be able to do as much. 

Of course, discretion is the better part of valor, and that means there's a practical limit to how much you can add without completely abandoning one's role as a rhythm guitarist. Like swiss cheese, if you make too many holes, the whole thing will fall apart. 

The O.G. - Eddie Lang

What I realized later is that I was just subconsciously doing my best Eddie Lang impersonation. I'll be the first to admit that while I really steep myself in Swing-era music and playing, my knowledge of pre-swing jazz is not nearly as encyclopedic. Of course I've listened to all of the important recordings and players, but I'm just not nearly as steeped in it (For example, I know exactly who is each Goodman sextet session or when the important sidemen joined or left the old testament Basie band, I can't say the same about Bix or Trumbauer.) 

I've listened to the Lang/Kress duets, the Lang/Lonnie Johnson duets, and the Lang/Venuti duets, but I've not really listened (consciously, at least) to a lot of full band recordings with Eddie Lang, especially not ones where was clearly audible. Then, I found this: "I'm Coming Virginia" from 1927 by the Frankie Trumbauer Orchestra. You can hear Eddie is all over the place - there is almost none of what we think of as 4-to-the-bar rhythm guitar.

Evolution = Specialization

As jazz evolved, it streamlined. The free-wheeling multi-horn group improvised ensembles common in pre-swing fell away, being replaced by arranged ensembles. Likewise, the rhythm section became streamlined as well. The roles of each member of the rhythm section became more and more defined, and specialized. The flourishes of Lang were mostly covered by the right hand of the piano, and as the Swing-era went on, the left hand of piano became de-emphasized and lightened as the rhythm guitar took that role. 

Back to YoungWoo

For your situation, given it's similarity in instrumentation to the Careless Lovers, you'll probably be well served by looking to Eddie Lang for inspiration. Single note figures and runs will help to comment back on the musical action. You probably shouldn't go for something as busy as Lang's playing on "…Virginia", you could easily borrow some of Lang's ideas. As far as soloing, Reuss-style block-chords will fill up the most space, but you'll probably find just adding some chords in between single note licks helpful. 

But, I would also argue the more time you spend breaking from four-to-the-bar rhythm, the less "Swing" the result. Given that you've got a washboard, I'm guessing your comfortable with a slightly more early-jazz vibe.

Alright, I hope that is somewhat more helpful than my first pass at the subject. Cheers!

Tuesday
Dec042012

Video Blog - Block-Chord solo on "Devil and the Deep Blue..."

New technology is pretty cool. My new Yeti microphone along with Garageband is making recording decent quality audio unbelievably easy. I can record backing tracks (some of which I've posted, and many more to come), and then record myself practicing over them to evaluate my playing. It wasn't until I listened back to a block-chord solo transcription I'm working on that I realized that I was cheating the timing. 

A couple years ago, I recorded a couple videos of me playing. It was stupidly hard. I recorded a couple takes on a mini-DVD camcorder, had to finalize the disc, import the video into my computer (then using windows XP), and translate the video file through a couple different formats, before finally uploading it to youtube. Ugh. I'm cringing just remebering how obnoxious it was. 

Now, I just used the webcam on my laptop, along with the improved audio form the Yeti, recorded directly into iMovie, edited the beginning and ending, added a caption, faded the video in and out, and exported a file format that was easily uploaded to youtube. Soooo much easier. The video quality isn't great by comparision, since even my phone now shoots HD video. I'm guessing that basic HD webcam is in my future.

So here's what I did with....

I've been really working on Allan Reuss/George Van Eps/Carl Kress/Dick McDonough-style block-chord soloing. I was kickstarted by the awesome playing of my new Japanese friends, Yuji Kamihigashi and Takashi Nakayama (from the Sweet Hollywaiians) whose videos I wrote about preivously. I started working on "Test Pilot" by George M. Smith, and then I found a transcription of Allan Reuss's solo on Benny Goodman's 1935 "If I Could be With You...." Then I played a gig subbing the Careless Lovers (our buddies from Seattle). Since the band has no piano or second guitar, it helps to play block-chord solos to fill out the sound. I spent about two weeks woodshedding their tunes and especially one block-chord solos on those tunes.

The video is the fruit of that labor. I'm was doing a dry run on making a video blog, so I wasn't going for perfect. I only tooks 2 passes, and this was the better take. The tune is "Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea." I recorded the playalong track when I was working on the tune for the Careless Lovers gig. (It wasn't until after I'd recorded the track that I discovered the last 4 bars of the bridge weren't quite right, but I didn't bother to record another track).

One last thing to mention: I've radically rethought my view on picks, at least for block-chord solos. I recorded this using a "medium" pick. Yeah, a standard Fender medium celluloid pick. After over 10 years of using supersized picks, it's a trip to be using something so thin, and something so readily available. I'm still digging a thicker pick for normal rhythm and single-note work, but when it comes to block-chord soloing, I think you really need a thinner pick. 

Monday
Nov262012

Strings and a Last Minute Cyber-Monday String Deal

Along with my recent set up, I've been experimenting with strings and picks. Given that my assumptions about my set up were no longer holding up, I've been applying that same reasoning to other areas of my tone and technique. The experiments are still on-going, so I'm not ready to report my findings just yet. 
As far as vendors for strings and picks, I highly recommend both www.bigcitystrings.com and www.juststrings.com - however, during the course of the experiements, I came across a new vendor for strings and picks that I've been really happy with, www.stringsandbeyond.com. Each store carries something that the others don't, and each has better and worse prices on various items. It really comes down to selecting the store the has the right match of selection and price.
That said, www.stringsandbeyond.com has an edge on shipping because they offer free shipping for orders over $35, where as the other charge a flat rate per order. Stringsandbeyond.com also has great prices on my current string favorites (see below), and to top it off, they are offering a cyber monday deal (for at least the next couple hours) of a flat 15% off with the offer code "save15."

Picks

I had been using Wegen picks for most of the last 10 years, but I've been using smaller and smaller picks over the course of the last year, and might stop using them all together. However, nothing beats them for acoustic volume and fullness. Plus, I think they round out the sometimes thin sound of a Selmer-style guitar
Wegen Picks
I've started to lean toward using the JP Fast Turtle, faux-shell guitar picks. I keep both a 2.5mm and 1.2mm on my keychain at the moment, albeit ones with a significant bevel and point-ier profile that I added using nail files. I'd love to re-try the Red Bear New Tortis picks again, but they are significantly more expensive, and www.stringsandbeyond.com has these for cheaper than most places.
John Pearse Picks

Strings

Martin SP's have been my goto acoustic string for several years now, and 80/20's specifically. I learned from Whit Smith about avoiding Phosophor Bronze strings which, to my ears, have an artificial brightness that seems shrill. It shouldn't be a surprise that Phosophor Bronze are a more recent development, and that 80/20 are closer in composition to what strings would have been used "back in the day." I picked up a couple sets of the new coated Lifespan strings, and I haven't decided if they last longer enough to offset the higher cost. However, it's worth noting that www.stringsandbeyond.com has the best price on them that I've found.
Martin SP 80/20
Martin SP Lifespan 80/20
Argentines are the gold stardard for gyspy jazz strings, and for good reason. They aren't perfect, and sometimes they can have quality problems, but nothing else really sounds like an argentine string. 
Savarez Argentines
For electric strings, it can be difficult finding strings gauged for jazz playing without using flatwound strings. I can confirm that roundwound strings were used on electric guitars until the 1950's when flatwounds were introduced. (see below) I've been using D'Addario's for a long time, generally with the standard nickel alloy, but I recently have been experiementing with a their pure nickel string, which would be more like strings used "back in the day." I've gone back and forth with them yet, but many of the makes of "vintage" pure nickel strings don't offer a 13 guage set, so D'Addario is one of your only options. 
D'Addario EJ22
D'Addario EPN22

 

On Flatwounds

I recently spoke with legendary studio guitarist "Telecaster" Bob Bain. Beside being a one of the most recorded guitarists in history, one of Bob's first job was playing guitar in Freddie Slack's band in the early 40's. He was friends with many important swing guitars, including Allan Reuss and Les Paul. We only spoke for a couple minutes on the phone, but he invited me to drop by his house to chat some more soon. 

Anyway, he confirmed that early electric guitar players used roundwound nickel strings, and that flatwounds did not come on the scene until the 1950's. He alluded to the role of one George Barnes in popularizing them - Bob called him"this guitar player from Chicago, George Barnes." I think he was surprised to hear that I knew exactly who George Barnes was. 

Here's an article all about Bob from Vintage Guitar Magazine: http://www.vintageguitar.com/2810/bob-bain/

Friday
Oct262012

New - Play-a-long Tracks

While playing with other people is by far the best possible way to practice and improve, it can be hard to do all of your practice in public or at least with other people listening. Play-a-long tracks, whether in the Music-Minus-One or Jamey Abersold variety, are limited in their effectiveness because there is no give-and-take. Still, they can be helpful when woodshedding a new tune or trying to get your head around some changes.

But, the biggest problem with the current commercially available options, Abersold, etc. is the rhythm section playing. There is nothing even remotely resembling a pre-bebop swing rhythm section anywhere. Personally, I find it very difficult to achieve the sounds I'm going for in when playing along with a band that is rhythmically and harmonically incompatible.  

Eventually, I think I will probably record and release a proper album of play-a-long tracks with the Campus Five's rhythm section, but for now, how about some guitar-only rhythm tracks to practice with?

I've used the tracks at nuagesdeswing.free.fr for years, but I find the "Le Pompe" feel they have makes me play much more Django-y, and while I do enjoying playing that way, I have a hard time expressing more "american" ideas when playing over such a backing. 

A word of advice on using play-a-long tracks, i find it helpful to play the melody of the song before diving into soloing over the changes. Often times the melody helps make sense of any interesting changes, and can lend insight to possible melodies and voice-leading, rather than mechanically running through the changes. I've provided three choruses on each track so you'll have space to play the melody before having two whole choruses to develop ideas over. 

Here are four tunes: All of Me, Limehouse Blues, Rosetta, and Tea for Two:

All of me - playalong by campusfive

Limehouse Blues - playalong by campusfive

  Rosetta - playalong by campusfive

Tea for Two - playalong by campusfive

And just for the heck of it, here are a couple takes of me playing over the tracks. FYI, all of these were recorded with my new Blue Yeti microphone - I specifically got it to facilitate recording stuff for the blog, examples, lessons, etc. The guitar is my Eastman AR805 with Martin SP 80/20 strings and a 2.5mm Wegen Pick. 

All of me - playalong with lead by campusfive

Limehouse Blues - playalong with lead by campusfive

Rosetta - playalong and lead by campusfive

Monday
Oct222012

More on String Installation

Here's a bit more on proper string installation, geared toward archtop guitars. 

http://www.frets.com/FretsPages/Musician/Guitar/Setup/Archtop/ArchtopString/atstring01.html

Tuesday
Oct162012

String Theory - Installing Strings the Right Way

After my recent experience with getting my guitar set up properly, I noticed the strings were installed a bit differently than I've been doing for years. I also noticed that once I changed the strings myself, the tuning stability really suffered. I'd been using the method that I learned that I recalled learning out of Dan Erlewine's Book, "The Guitar Player Repair Guide, 2nd Edition (1990)."

Well, I'm guessing I read it wrong, or perhaps 17 years additional experience added some nuances to the process. The "Guitar Player Repair Guide, 3rd Edition (2007)" has been available and comes with a DVD. 

I found this video excerpt on youtube, and I believe it's a snippet from the DVD, and it covers string installation on acoustic guitars. The first couple minutes are spent on the bridge end of a flattop, which is fascinating, but not particularly relevant to archtop players. Skip ahead to 2:56, where he tackles the headstock end of things. 

Dave at Westwood Music used a locking tie for all the strings, even the low E, but otherwise it's the same method. I had basically been using the method in the video, but not adding any slack, so there was far too little string to wrap around the post. As I recall, the 2nd Edition cautions against wrapping too much string around the post, and I just took that too far. 

It's gonna take me a couple string changes to figure out the perfect amount of slack for perfect amount of wraps around the post. Once I restrung with this in mind, the tuning stability improved, and will likely improve more as perfect my technique. 

Monday
Oct012012

Some more recorded practice

Here's some more of this weekend's recorded practicing session, this time on "Honeysuckle Rose."

Honeysuckle Jam by campusfive

Again on my Washburn Franken-150, and my tiny 1936 Gibson EH-150 amp.

Monday
Oct012012

George Barnes - I Can't Believe that You're in Love with Me

George Barnes was a badass. There's no two ways about it.

George Barnes was probably the first two record an electric (spanish, non-hawaian) guitar solo in March 1938 with Big Bill Broonzy. He's one side of the session, "It's a Low Down Dirty Shame". It's amazing to hear how fully formed his playing and tone is. 

George wasn't just a hot soloist, he was also a bandleader - and one with a healthy dose of wackiness in his soul. His Octet sessions, pictured below, had a cartoon-like, almost Raymond Scott, compositional vibe. 

For those Octet sessions, here's a great track of "I Can't Believe that You're in Love with Me."

Saturday
Sep292012

More Info about those Awesome Japanese Guitar Players

Saturday
Sep292012

And one more....

And here's one more from this afternoon's practice session: "Six Appeal" (aka "My Daddy Rocks Me").

Another tune we play regularly with the Campus Five, but not one I typically approach so recklessly. What the hell, it's just practice, right?

Six Appeal - guitar jam by campusfive Six Appeal - guitar jam by campusfive

Saturday
Sep292012

TK's Monthly Motivation Inspires

I was browsing around the internet this morning, and dropped by T.K. Smith's Website. For those unaware, T.K. Smith one of the Western/Jazz guitar players anywhere. He's somebody who's references go from Charlie Christian, George Barnes and Barney Kessel to guys like Jimmy Bryant, Roy Lanham, and Junior Bernard. His blog is a fantastic reference point for all things in the vintage guitar world. 

One of his regular features is the "Monthly Motivation" where he post a clip or video that is just awesome. Specifically I happened upon this post, about a medley from live radio broadcast featuring Barnel Kessel, Irving Ashby, Arv Garrison and Les Paul. Well that was a jumping off point, as I started listening to a whole stack of favorite electric guitarists, going from George Barnes, early Les Paul, and Mary Osbourne, finishing off with Charlie Christian. 

(Funny thing is that I spent the whole morning before this working on some acoustic chord-melody playing, specifically George M. Smith's "Test Pilot" from the "Masters of the Plectrum Guitar" book, because I was so inspired by my new friends Yuji Kamihigashi and Takashi Nakayama - who I just posted about - and their video of the tune. )

Anyway, I quickly recorded some basic chunky, 4 beat rhythm tracks to play over, and then plugged my Franken-ES 150 into my 1936 EH-150, which I never get to play live, because it's so small and fragile. 

So the first track is take on rhythm changes, "Moppin' and Boppin'" which is a Fats Waller tune the Campus five regularly plays. It's a rhythm change in F, although the bridge goes (D7 ---- Gm --- G7 --- Db7 / C7). Since I rarely get to play more than a chorus since we're a swing dance band, so I tried to approach each chorus like I was starting from scratch. 

"Moppin' and Boppin'"

  Moppin' and Boppin' - guitar jam by campusfive Rose Room - guitar jam by campusfive

Next up, the old chestnut, "Rose Room." Similarly 

"Rose Room"

Rose Room - guitar jam by campusfive

 

Thursday
Sep272012

Four Archtop Guitars (video)

Here's a great video that really isolates the variable to hear the differences in construction technique and body size between four guitars. 

I really love how there's absolutely no variation in the sound samples other than the guitars themselves. Now if we could just do this with a stack of different vintage and modern archtops, we'd really have something!

Tuesday
Sep252012

What a difference a Set-Up makes

I've always been bullish on action. I mean, since I started playing acoustic archtops, I've believe that pretty high action was necessary to drive the top of the guitar, so that the maximum acoustic volume can be reached. I've had pretty high action for the last 10 years or so, as a result, and even put on extra heavy high E and B strings to try to make those strings even louder. I'd dealt with set up guys before, and many of them had been clueless the needs of an acoustic archtop - one particularly respected place in Los Angeles told me they did all of Lee Ritenour's guitars, and they could "put .011's on and make the action super low." Of course, it's not suprising to see guys with no appreciation or understanding for our style of playing and guitars.

Well, I had an epiphany the other day that really set me straight. I was at Westwood Music, here in Los Angeles, and picked up a 16" non-cutaway archtop made by a Nashville Luthier named Welker. While the guitar was pretty darn good, what really blew me away was how effortlessly it played and spoke. The intonation was spot on from nut to bridge and it required very little effort to make the guitar just sing. I asked the sales guy on the floor who set up the guitar, and he replied "I did." I of course asked if he would be able to set up my guitar if I brought it in, and he said he'd be happy to take a look, and that turn around time would be a couple of days tops. 

Well, this was right before Camp Hollywood, and our 6 night 10th Anniversary run, so I didn't take the guitar in until about the three weeks ago.

When I finally brought the guitar in, I saw the same guy who was stoked to see my Eastman 605. He took a look at it and formulated a perscription. But then he said, "lemme get Dave to take a look at it." My first reaction was "Who the hell is Dave? Screw Dave. You set up that Welker - do the same to my guitar." Of course I didn't say that out loud, but the guy explained that Dave was the guy that showed him everything he knows, so he wanted a second opinion. Dave was really nice, and he basically echoed the other guys perscription, though he would take it one notch further. They asked if I had a couple minutes and they could do it right then - of course I took them up on it. I figured they had that nice Welker still, so I could play while I waited.

When the guitar returned not 20 minutes later, I was stunned. The guitar with the beefy action that I'd been wrestling (and mostly winning) for almost 8 years now played like a dream. The intonation, which had always been a bit compromised with my hybrid guage string set, was now spot on. The action was signifcantly lowered, although it was still high enough to get plenty of volume out of the guitar and not buzz when I dug into the guitar.

But, to be fair it wasn't as loud. And that bummed me out for a second - but then I realized the truth. My previous action was past the point of diminishing returns. I was so high that sustain was compromised, and they led to guitar that was harder to play and less impactful, even if it was technically louder. With such high action, the strings would die the second I released the strings even slightly. So, the guys at Westwood Music found that sweet spot where volume/sustain/playability/intonation all meet perfectly. My guitar has been so inspirining to play because of the set up, that I've been playing more guitar lately than I have in 10 years. Having the intonation be so spot on has inspired me to work more on chord-melody and Allan Reuss-style solos. 

There were precursors to my epiphany, and I should've caught them then. Whenever I visit Old Towne Pickin' Parlor outside of Denver, Kit's archtops are always imacculately set up. He was very proud of his in-house luthier, but there was never time to have him work on my guitar while I was traveling for the gig. Also, last visit to Seattle, Dave Brown, our go-to bassist in town, lent me a reconditioned Epiphone Triumph that had been worked on a set up by www.archtop.com. That guitar was similarly inspiring to play, and I took the opportunity several times to play things on that guitar that I would have generally switched to my electric to play. Still, I didn't realize what I was missing until now. 

I would highly recommend both www.archtop.com and Old Towne Pickin' Parlor to set up your guitar like an acoustic archtop should be set up. And if you're in Los Angeles, you must go to Westwood Music and ask for "Dave" - he knows his stuff!

Tuesday
Sep252012

"Chicken a la Swing" ala Japanese

Here's a pretty impressive video I found of some Japanese dudes KILLING IT on a Dick McDonough/Carl Kress number, while appearently playing some beautiful Japanese-made archtops. Really clean work - too bad there's not much to find about the players or the guitars. Still, DAMN. Nice work, boys.
Sunday
Aug122012

Reader Mail: The Four-Beat Ideal vs. Rhythmic Variation (Part 1)

[in the interests of actually putting content up more often, rather than being so precious about it, I've split this up into two articles, and I'm gonna have to add the example clips soon, rather than waiting for them to be ready before I post this.]

YoungWoo Joh, from Orlando, FL recently sent me an email asking me about the interaction of rhythm guitar and piano. Specifically, he was wondering how not having a piano would, could or should change what he does as a rhythm guitarist in his band (the instrumentation of which is clarinet/sax, trombone, guitar, bass, washboard and vocals). He writes: 

 "I had originally just been chunking through the changes (a la 4/4 rhythm guitar), but I've come to feel that lacking both a piano and third horn makes it feel like something is missing. In response to this, I've made my (guitar) playing a little more rhythmically creative, though always going back to the 4/4 as the basic rhythm. In addition to that, I've slowly been working up my chordal vocabulary (inversions and extensions) in order to imply movement and for the occasional fill.

The thing is that all of this is sort of being done experimentally, and I was hoping you could give me a little more insight on what else I could be doing on guitar to help fill out the sound." 

Let's see if any of this helps….

 

The Four-Beat Idea vs. Musical Reality

The four-beat pulse of Swing is an essential and defining characteristic, differentiating it from earlier and later forms of jazz. Rhythm guitar is one the three instruments in a band that is (generally) solely devoted to this pulse (along with the string bass, and and the bass drum). I've argued in the past that the firm foundation of that pulse, is what makes syncopation in swing music really POP and stand out. So serving that goal is the primary mission.
That being said, the reality is that no rhythm guitarist is without occasional rhythm variation. Whether added 8th note shuffles here and there, or more specific rhythmic figures (either in concert with figures in the band, or in contrast to them), these are all part of playing musically, rather than technically or mechanically. 
In the gypsy-jazz tradition, for example, the standard comping pattern, "le pompe" has 8th note shuffles by default ("a-short, LONG, a-short, LONG" or "a-one, TWO, a-three, FOUR"). Moreover, Django himself often played very distinctive rhythm counterpoint to what's going on in the band. [example "World is Waiting for the Sunrise" 1949]
In the American tradition, playing so boldly was much less common. But guitarists like Al Casey in Fats Waller's band can be heard playing accents and variations. [EXAMPLE]

Just because you can, does that mean you should?

If we take service to the four-beat pulse as our prime directive, then generally it is wise to concentrate on that pulse, and eschew additional accents. 
That said, I think rhythmic accents and variations in service of being musical are important and welcome, so long as they do not distract or detract from the beat. The problem comes when there is too much variation, or when variations and accents just aren't musical. The key factors are the number and kind of instruments in the band, and the rhythmic figures being played elsewhere. 
The more instruments there are in the band, the less room there is for rhythmic variation. For example, in the American Swing-Rhythm Guitar tradition, you find a consistent emphasis on the straight four beat rhythm than the gypsy-jazz tradition. Generally the american rhythm guitarists of note were found in bigger bands, not quartets and quintets. 
But even in smaller groups, american rhythm guitarists had much less rhythmic variation than in the gypsy jazz tradition. But of course, in the american tradition it was pretty uncommon to see more than one guitarist in the band. Django almost always had at least one, but often two rhythm guitar players in his bands beside himself. I would argue that Django was free to comp so wildly because the beat was being so firmly established by the other guitarist(s). 
So with more instruments in the band there is less room for rhythm variation, though in a small group, having multiple guitar players can free up one to add accents without the same fear of losing the beat. 

Coming up next...

So in part 2, I'll pick up with hitting musical accent figures with the band, and talk about interacting with YoungWoo's particular instrumentation in the next installment. 

 

Friday
Feb032012

Barney Kessel on "Jammin' the Blues" (1944)

"Jammin' the Blues" means a lot to me, personally. It brings together Lindy Hop and a unique focus on the musicians who create the music. It was one of the first selections picked to be in the Campus Five's repitoire, and it has closed almost every Campus Five for the last ten years. Some of my proudest and most special moments on stage have been while playing this song. Suffice it to say, I love this film and song.

Shot by famed Life Magazine Photographer Gjon Mili, "Jammin' the Blues" is notable for its inventive look and visual effects, and it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Short Subject. 

But of course, as pretty and striking as it is, "Jammin'" is about the music. It starts off with a jammed slow blues, and segues into a vocal on "On the Sunny Side of the Street." Both are beautiful. However, once the drum solo begins, it gets real. [Side note: Big Sid Catlett is shown playing the first part of the movie, and then he ever so smoothly trades the kit over to Jo Jones - but the audio was recorded seperately first, and so the audio is actually of Jo then trading to Sid] The heavyweights on the session are amazing: Lester Young, Illinois Jacquet (looking downright possessed!), Sweets Edison, Barney Kessel, and of course Jo and Sid. 

Barney Kessel was one of the first to pick up on Charlie Christian's revolutionary approach to electric guitar. His early 40's playing is fantastic, though his bop-influenced stuff later on is what everyone else seems to focus on. Kessel has a couple good solos recorded during his stint with Artie Shaw's big band and small group, the Grammercy Five. "Hop Skip and Jump" and "Bedford Drive" are two Shaw tunes with Kessel solos. 

For a white kid from Oklahoma, it's notable that Barney was included among the all-stars in "Jammin'", especially considering they were all-black. Given the backwards-ass racial climate of the times, Barney was only shown in shadow, and apparently his hands were stained with grape juice for the shoot, so he'd look darker. 

I've been half-heartedly trying to learn Barney's "Jammin'" solo for more than 10 years now. I say "half-heartedly" because I just never sat down to do it right - meaning with something to slow down the audio, and something to notate what I figure out. Well, 10 years got shortened to about 60 minutes tonight, and I finally got it. Since notating the solo was part of what helped me transcribe it (and hear it played back so I could check my work), I figure I could just as easily share it here. 

Barney Kessel's solo on "Jammin' the Blues" (1944) - PDF

Here's the tab version:

Barney Kessel's solo on "Jammin' the Blues" (1944) - TAB - PDF

Here's the video - the solo starts at 1:17:

Wednesday
Oct052011

Rhythm Guitar Book Review

Here are some reviews from my perspective on the books currently available on Swing Rhythm Guitar, aka Freddie Green-style. 
For now, this is the best book on the subject. Johnson does a fantastic job of organizing the book, beginning first with a short chart of basic chords and exercises with those chords. A rhythm player could easily stick with those basic chords and be a fully functional rhythm player. The rest of the book deals with inversions and voice leading. Much of it deals with drop 2 and drop 3 chords, which are related but not needed for Swing Rhythm Guitar. This is the book that I learned my chords from, and it does a wonderful job a teaching 3-note, Freddie Green-style chords. 
Time-feel, however, gets short shrift. The book only spends two sparse pages on the rhythmic aspect of rhythm guitar, and when it does cover rhythm it does so in a distinctly modern way. It urges playing a “boom-chick-boom-chick” pattern, and mimicking the “chick” of high hats on beats 2 and 4. The sound samples included are of a straight-ahead rhythm section, with legato walking bass and bass drum-less, ride cymbal-based drumming. As an added touch, the electric Super 400 shown on the cover is an unintentional (I hope) harbinger of the book’s overtly post-bop point of view.
Still, until there is something better, this is easily the instructional book on the subject. 
It took me a while to get my head around this “book.” Really, it’s just 3 page pamphlet with a DVD.  I was pretty annoyed when I started watching because it really has little to do with Swing Rhythm Guitar, and only uses Rhythm guitar as an example to teach harmony and comping ideas. It’s laughably modern, and electric guitar is used throughout. 
That being said, I think it’s very basic level approach to voice leading and theory may be helpful to some. The way Christiansen walks through how chords are built, and the way inversions lay out. This video is strictly for someone just starting out, and who may be unfamiliar with chord construction or theory.
Ranger Doug is the real deal, no question. Rather than being a “method book”, Doug simply presents a bunch of tunes and just shows you how he would play them. Several of the tunes are shown with several levels of complexity, so you can start simply, but also see how to make things more interesting. But, because there is no textual explanation of voice leading or substitutions, you can only learn by example. For some this will be sufficient, but if you are like me, you might find it helpful to have some of the reasoning explained. 
 
On the rhythm and time-feel part of the equation, Doug is brief but right on. He talks mostly about right hand technique, and describes the feel properly. I was shocked to read the phrase “chunk-chunk-chunk-chunk” on the page, because I swear I came up with that before I got his book in 2010. He also explains a bit about how and why three note chords are used. Doug describes himself rather humbly, and that humbleness explains the brevity of the time-feel sections, as well as the lack of explanation about the harmonies and substitutions. But, at least what he does say and show is right on.

 

Saturday
Sep242011

3 note chords - another justifcation

I'm very skeptical when I see youtube videos of people purporting to be lessons on swing rhythm guitar. Most of them are complete crap, and you can usually tell by the pick ups on their guitars - I mean because they have pick ups. 

Anyway, I found this clip which gave another reasoning behind the use of three note chords: smooth voice leading. Judging from that 30's-40's Epiphone Emperor, I'm guessing he might have a some idea of what's going on that most of the youtube lessons out there. 

Mr. Clark correctly begins by passing much of the credit for the three-note chord system, usually called Freddie Green-style, to George Van Eps. Allan Reuss studied with George before taking George's spot in the Goodman band, and it was Allan Reuss who gave Freddie Green lessons. But his main point is that 6-string barre chords don't really resolve well from one to the next. The fact that there are a bunch of repeated notes makes for odd leaps and unresolved tensions. 

While I still feel that the main justification for the three note chord tradition is that the timbre of the three note chord cuts through the band better, sonically, it is clear that you can much more effectively voice lead with the three note chords. Here's the video:

Monday
Jul052010

Lester Young - Boogie Woogie (1936)

A couple months back I posted about the "Do the Math" Blog run by the Bad Plus' Ethan Iverson, who transcribed 18 different pre-1941 Lester Young solos. I've been very slowly working through some of the transcriptions, and I wanted to share some of my progress.

Here is my guitar version of Ethan's "Boogie Woogie" transcription:

Lester Young - Boogie Woogie 1936 (pdf)

This version dates to the November 9, 1936 session of of "Jones-Smith, Inc." which was the same as Lester's famous "Lady Be Good" and "Shoe Shine Boy" solos. Not bad for a day's work, right?

Here is a soundclip of the solo excepted:

And here is the solo in context:

I think two hard parts about transferring Lester to guitar are the bends and the vibrato. With a little practice it sounds pretty good. Good luck and happy woodshedding.

Monday
Jul052010

Just watch Freddie for a bit

If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a 30fps video must worth 30,000 words a second.

With that in mind, just watch Freddie Green for a bit. This the Count Basie Octet from a 1950 Television transcription playing "Basie Boogie." The horn line up a pretty modern sounding one (just listen to how laid-back they are), but the rhythm section keeps things solidly thumping away. Here's the line up: Count Basie, piano; Wardell Gray, tenor sax; Buddy DeFranco, clarinet; Clark Terry, trumpet; Freddie Green, guitar; Jimmy Lewis, bass; Gus Johnson, drums.

This video is probably one of the best for watching Freddie Green's hands working, at least in the "Old Testament" era of the Basie band. Freddie's position just behind Basie means that he's in the frame for much of the clip.

Notice how Freddie is using the "back and forth" strumming method, hitting closer to the bridge on the back-beats, except that he's pretty much staying right in the area around the end of the fretboard. Most people who use the "back and forth" method, have a much greater distinction between the two. Listen the Bass solo especially, because you can clearly hear Freddie seperate from the Bass, and you'll hear four even beats to the bar.