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 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

The Lost Charlie Christian Website FOUND

When I first started focusing on Swing guitar, one of the most useful sites I found was Greg Hansen's Charlie Christian Site: Legend of the Jazz Guitar. Aside from the discographies, trivia, photos and other biographical information, it also had a small primer on Charlie's playing style as well as many transcriptions. The transcription pages were particularly helpful because they had the solos in notation and tab, and a link to a real audio file of the solo. Given that it was in real audio format, that should give you an idea of when the site was created.

Well, a couple of years ago the site vanished. It just wasn't there anymore. This was particularly frustrating because some of the tunes were not transcibed anywhere else, and where they were transcribed, the approach to fingering was very different. I'd forget a small piece of a solo that I'd learned a while back, and not be able to just double check it. It was a bummer. I then read on the Charlie Christian Yahoo Group that Greg Hansen had taken the site down, and wasn't planning to put it back up anytime soon. Damn.

Well, I stumbled across this a couple days ago:

It's Greg Hansen's Website in the form of a PDF E-book. Awesome: One click, and now I've got it saved forever. Done.

Leapin' Lester: the Bad Plus transcribes Lester Young

When working on my electric single-note playing, I've been really focusing on Charlie Christian for over a year now. I've been learning some of his solos, but even more so I've been trying to internalize his phrasing - to get in his headspace. To do that, it's useful to see where a person comes from.

Charlie Christian was a huge Lester Young fan. It clearly shaped both his phrasing and compositional approach to soloing. What better way to get inside Charlie's head than to learn some of Lester's solos.

Lester's most lauded and analyzed solo is his two choruses on "Lady Be Good" from 1936, recorded with a Basie small group credited as Jones-Smith Inc. The solo became almost a jazz etude - something that musicians learned as a part of their education.

A couple years ago, I took a lesson with Howard Alden at jazz festival we were both playing at, and that solo came up. Howard has transcribed and forgotten more tunes and solos than anybody, but he said he'll always know Lester's choruses on "Lady Be Good."

On gig with my big band a couple years ago, we had to play an extended version of the song "Lady Be Good" for a dance contest. Dan Barrett was playing with us, along with our regular lead trombone, Dan Weinstein. I signaled to have either one of them take a chorus, and they both stood up and played both choruses of Lester's 1936 solo in unison.

I'm going to be honest here and say that I have never been particularly good at transcribing, mostly because I don't have the patience. I found Lester's 1936 solo in Gunther Schuller's "The Swing Era" along with a full analysis of the solo.

I was planing to post the transcription when I stumbled upon a blog called Do the Math. Do the math is the product of Ethan Iverson, pianist of the Bad Plus - darlings of the modern jazz scene for their blend of jazz tradition and indie rock ethos. Clearly, the thoroughly modern music of the Bad Plus is not the reason I bring this up on the swing guitar blog.

Last year, for the Lester Young Centenial, Ethan wrote a suite of posts about Lester. Two of the post are particularly amazing. The first I noticed, is a tribute to the 1936 "Lady" solo. But even more than transcribing the solo, Ethan also transcribes 16 other "Lady" solos for comparison - two from Coleman Hawkins, one from Chu Berry, two choruses from Herschel Evans, a couple from Charlie Parker, and the rest from Lester himself.

The second post I want to highlight, is a Lester listening session / interview with Lee Konitz. Ethan and Lee listen to 18 Lester Young solos - ALL WITH TRANSCRIPTIONS and commentary! Amazing. Personally, I can't wait to learn Lester's chorus on "Jumpin' at the Woodside" from 1938.

Once I work out some of the fingerings, I'll post some transcriptions with tab.

Charlie Christian - All Star Jump

I've generally not been one to do my own transcriptions. For one, I find transcribing very, very difficult. And two, I'd generally rather spend what little patience I have for transcribing on taking down arrangements for one of my bands. But the other night, I found myself really driven to figure out Charlie Christian's solo on "All Star Jump," recorded January 16, 1941.

"All Star Jump" is one of my favorite recordings, both from a musician and a dancer's perspective.  The Metronome All Star Band of 1941 featured no less than Charlie Christian, Benny Goodman, Count Basie, Cootie Williams, Harry James, Ziggy Elman, Tommy Dorsey, Benny Carter, Coleman Hawkins and Buddy Rich. It's one of my favorite versions of "One O'Clock Jump", albeit with a slightly different shout riff. It's filled with fantastic solos, and unlike many "all star" sessions where the players seem to have no chemistry, the band really jumps. "All Star Jump" is something I almost always play when I DJ, and I've transcribed the arrangement for the Jonathan Stout Orchestra. (The other tune recorded on that session was "Bugle Call Rag", using the Fletcher Henderson arrangement made famous by Benny Goodman. The All Stars' version is easily the tightest and most ferocious recording of that arrangement. But CC doesn't get a solo.)

That CC solo, though, is something I'd never seen transcribed (although maybe it was on Garry Hansen's now defunct site), but I could generally sing it back from memory. I was able to get the first three bars without trouble, but I'd started it around the 9th fret. I couldn't get the next couple bars to lay right on the fretboard. In a moment of frustration, I went to check Leo Valdez's Site to see if maybe he did have one up. Instead I found myself looking at another one of his transcriptions and the playing notes he provided. He mentioned that he had a different outlook on how to finger CC's playing versus more common transcirptions. While some of his fingering just seem implausible, many do lay better.

With than in mind, I tried playing the "All Star Jump" solo in the 4th-6th position, and using some of Charlie's classic shapes in that position, and the next couple bars clicked. So, since I figured I should write it out to keep for myself, I though I'd share.

Have fun - maybe when I have some time, I'll write some notes and analysis. But for now:

Charlie Christian - "All Star Jump" (pdf)

All Star Jump - Metronome All Stars (excerpt) by campusfive

Approaching Minor Keys, pt.1

I've had many friends who have begun trying to play swing guitar after coming from a rock/pop background, not a modern jazz one. "Minor Swing" is a popular tune to start with, but many players without a jazz background can't figure out how to approach soloing over the chords.
Specifically, it's the minor pentatonic scale that is the backbone on much rock and blues that doesn't fit. The main culprit of this is the 7th scale degree (in Am, the G note) - it just doesn't fit over swing or early jazz minor songs. And there's good reason: the V7 chord.

Going back at least as far as Bach, classical music did not use the standard v chord of a mino key (key Am: A-B-C-D-E-F-G; a V chord based on this scale would be an E minor7: E-G-B-D). In classical music a V chord is always a DOMINANT 7 chord (in Am, an E7 chord: E-G#-B-D). There is pavlovian response to hearing the G# note it that chord, which demands that it be resolved to the A note.
With the G# note being so important, makes sense that the minor pentatonic scale doesn't fit with it's G natural note.

In classical and in early jazz and swing, they don't use the minor pentatonic scale, or the "natural" minor scale - which is just the normal notes of the key (in Am: A B C D E F G). Instead, they both use a minor scale with a raised 7th (in Am, a G# note). There are two minor scales that contain a raised 7th that are used extensively in early jazz and swing, the harmonic minor and the jazz minor.

The harmonic minor scale dates back to at least Bach, and has a particularly "European" sound (at least to my ears). It is a natural minor scale with a raised 7th (in Am: A B C D E F G#).
The jazz minor is comparatively younger, and has a more "American" sound (again to my ears). It is a natural minor scale with both a raised 7th, and a raised 6th (in Am: A B C D E F# G#).

By "American" and "European", I'm really getting at the distinction between the gypsy-influenced hot jazz of Django, and the less classical sounding playing of American swing musicians, like say, Charlie Christian. Charlie was more likely play more raised 6ths and feature them as an important note in his phrasing. Django was at least equally as likely to play either a regular or raised 6th, and perhaps more likely to play the regular 6th. American pre-bebop jazz harmony often voiced a minor i chord as a im6, which contains the raised 6th. But it should be noted that even if there is a raised 6th in the harmony, the soloist can also use the regular 6th, as Django did, even though it technically shouldn't fit.

In all harmony, some notes are "functional" in the sense that they are guide tones important to voice leading and chordal movement. Other notes are not, and there for they can be approached less strictly. The 7th scale degree is clearly a functional note, whereas the 6th scale degree is not. That's why you can often play either 6th with no problem, but that natural 7th just doesn't sound right.

Even modern jazzbos have a hard time approaching pre-bop minor key tunes. When Miles Davis released "Kind of Blue" in 1959, he ushered in a new era of modal jazz, specifically based on the Dorian mode, with "So What", being the chief example.

The Dorian mode is a natural minor scale with a raised 6th (like the jazz minor), but NOT the raised 7th (in Am: A B C D E F# G).. The sound of the Dorian mode is based on a minor7 chord as the tonic, and there for the regular 7th scale degree fits. Many modern jazzbos have forgotten the older-style sound of pre-bop, and just ignorantly play Dorian over everything. I avoid musicians like that like the plague.

As a early jazz/swing style musician, one should learn both the harmonic minor and jazz mimor scales like the back of one's hand. Part 2 will feature some musical examples.

Here are the scales in question with the i and V chords built on those scales.