D-Mocracy: Fingerstyle Blues in Dropped-D Tuning

Having presented a chorus of the blues in A recently (The Ninth Degree), I thought I'd offer up a chorus with some of my favorite fingerstyle blues moves for dropped-D tuning. "D-Mocracy" is a twelve-bar alternating-thumb blues combining basic open-position licks with some up-the-neck, string-crossing moves for both the D7 (at the end of line 1) and G7 (in bars 6 and 10). There's also a cool inversion move for the G7 in bar 5 and a quick V-to-I move at the end of bar 6. Check out the tab below, and the audio as well, to get the whole picture.

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Statuesque

Uncategorized Oct 22, 2018

It's raining like crazy in Austin today, and rumor was they intended to open the floodgates at Mansfield Dam, above Town Lake, which is what everyone here calls the not-really-a-lake formed by damming the Colorado River as it winds through town. Actually, its official name is Lady Bird Lake, because – get this – while Lady Bird Johnson was still alive she refused to allow the city to rename the lake after her. So naturally, after she passed away they did so anyway, simultaneously honoring Ms. Johnson and completely disrepecting her stated wishes in equal measure. At any rate, there is also a statue of Stevie Ray Vaughan perched along one of the trails that circumnavigates the lake, and I heard today first that the water was up to Stevie's waist, and next, that some wag had taken the time to put a life vest on the statue. Turns out the whole up-to-his-waist thing never happened; they decided not to open the floodgates upriver after all, but according to the...

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The Blues And The Implausible Truth

Uncategorized Oct 12, 2018

I've quoted this Mike Bloomfield bit before, but it captures so much about learning to play guitar it's worth repeating. Bloomfield, recounting his early days, said, "I was learning to play, you know, for a few years, and then suddenly, when I was about 18, I got good." I don't think anybody picks up the guitar hoping to suck at it; we're all trying to get good. But of course, if we care at all about music we tend to be ferocious critics of our own playing, so it's a little like a dog chasing hubcaps: we wouldn't know what to do if we got there, but because of the setup, that's a pretty unlikely scenario from the get-go.

When I was in school, planning my senior thesis recital concert with my advisor, we had this conversation about who I was going to ask to play the charts I was writing. He suggested I get this guy John to play trumpet. "No way," I said, "I can't ask him. He's, like, the best jazz musician on campus." Which is when the real lesson began. "Listen," said my advisor,...

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Grant Green I-VI-ii

hard bop blues licks Oct 05, 2018

You can hear Grant Green play something like this on "Blues For Juanita" from his 1962 Blue Note LP The Latin Bit. As far as I can tell, as the one non-Latin groove from the day's recording, "Blues For Juanita" was left off the original release but seems to have been included in every subsequent reissue along with a couple of other tracks from later in the year.

This lick takes place over bars 7 and 8 of a twelve-bar jazz blues in Bb, and I've indicated what tonality Green is playing out of (above the tab) and what scale steps he's playing relative to that tonality (above the notation). As you can see from all of that, he sticks pretty close to the harmonies at hand, with the G7 altered lick falling neatly into measure 8 – making it particularly easy for you to lift and appropriate this move for your own use elsewhere.

More importantly, check out how easy it is to slip from this particular position of the Bb scale into the G7 sound, and from there into some C minor moves, all...

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The Doonesbury–Horace Silver Connection

Uncategorized Sep 28, 2018

When I was in school, my friend Victoria had a theory that everyone's sense of humor could be traced back to a single essential influence. In her case, it was Monty Python, and specifically, I think, John Cleese's shambling, not-really-apologetic way of apologizing for things that were in the process of going terribly wrong. Mine, she theorized, was probably based on my endless re-reading of Doonesbury, which may very well be true.

More recently – today, in fact – I was talking, as I so often and endlessly do, with my friend Bret about musical influences. In particular, we were trying to sort out how we've arrived at our respective approaches to improvising, which in some ways are very different. And in so doing, I realized my entire point of view really rests on four things:

1) The blues. Specifically, '50s B.B. King, '60s Buddy Guy, Mike Bloomfield, Duane Allman, and doses of Gatemouth Brown and Albert Collins. Unless I'm forgetting something, probably no more than...

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Kenny Burrell I-VI-ii Doubletime

hard bop blues licks Sep 21, 2018

At some point about a year ago, I got really annoyed that I knew almost nothing about Coleman Hawkins except how large he loomed in the history of jazz and how important he was to the development of the tenor saxophone. So I went off hunting down recordings and, like a well-intentioned dachshund in a park full of squirrels, was quickly distracted by an album of late-period Hawkins led by Kenny Burrell on guitar. Are you kidding me? And there, on the album Bluesy Burrell – a redundancy if ever there was one – was the slow blues "It's Getting Dark," with the badass double-time turnaround move I've included below. As usual, I've included in parentheses, below the assumed chord progression, the chords the rhythm section is outlining, as well as the scales Burrell is clearly choosing from and how his notes relate to the underlying harmony.

This lick falls over bars 7 and 8 of the twelve-bar form, taking you from just after the return from the IV chord around the...

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The 9th Degree: Fingerstyle Blues in A

What fingerstyle blues sensibilities I possess are more than somewhat the result of two formative sources from my teenage years, Richard Saslow's book The Art of Ragtime Guitar and Stefan Grossman and John Renbourn's second duet record, Under The Volcano. More to the point, Saslow's "Bloozinay" and Grossman and Renbourn's version of "Mississippi Blues" were how I learned to think about playing blues in the key of A, even though I've since forgotten most of Saslow's three beautiful choruses and I didn't learn "Mississippi Blues" properly for more than twenty years, and even now it's a sometimes still a stumble to play it just so.

I learned about 9th chords and the sound of D7/F# from Grossman and Renbourn, and about walking bass lines and chord subsitutions from Saslow. The idea of a scripted three-chorus blues also inspired my own "Weekhawken or Bust" from my record Plays Blues, Ballads and a Pop Song (and which I teach on my Truefire New School Fingerstyle Guitar course....

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Stanley Turrentine I-VI-II

hard bop blues licks Sep 07, 2018

More Stanley Turrentine! The G7 altered part of this lick does not sit quite so obviously on the guitar but with a little doing it can start to make sense.

Generally speaking, it's pretty clear what Turrentine is thinking over each chord, but in some spots, there's a bit of overlap as to what that could be. I've put the most literal possibility above the notation: here's what the notes we're playing are, relative to exactly what the harmony is at the moment.

Beneath the notation, in italics, I've put what the notes could be, considering where we're going or where we've been. So in the first measure of the lick, yeah, that's Bb major stuff, but it could be G7 altered stuff, anticipating the change to G7 by a couple of beats. In the third measure of the lick, over the C minor, those last four notes of the measure are still C minor stuff but they could be an anticipation of the Bb chord we're about to resolve to, and so be heard as a Bb-sounding pickup into the next bar.

The lick...

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Red Holloway I-VI-II

hard bop blues licks Aug 31, 2018

This week, a lick inspired by the work of tenor saxophonist Red Holloway. Just like I got hip to Jimmy Forrest's badass command of the changes by hearing him on Jack McDuff's The Honeydripper – an album I picked up because it featured Grant Green – I mostly became aware of Red Holloway through his playing on another Jack McDuff recording, which I also got into because of the guitar player involved, George Benson. Benson's early work with McDuff has been reissued on George Benson & Jack McDuff and, along with his playing on a couple of Lou Donaldson LPs a year or two later, is some of my favorite straightahead Jazz George.

It seems more than coincidental that both Forrest and Holloway worked with McDuff. Together with Percy France, the saxophonist on Jimmy Smith's Home Cookin', they constitute a kind of triumvirate of funky tenor perfection: three musicians who effortlessly erase the line between raw, gutbucket r&b blowing and a murderous fluency with the...

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Stanley Turrentine I-IV

hard bop blues licks Aug 24, 2018

Stanley Turrentine played plenty of blues on plenty of albums, especially in the first part of his career on Blue Note. For maximum exposure to the twelve-bar form it's hard to beat his 1962 Release That's Where It's At, featuring Les McCann (of later "Compared To What" fame) on piano. Turrentine's solo on McCann's mid-tempo "Pia" includes a I-IV move similar to the one below. Like the Tina Brooks lick, this example also plays off of the idea of creating a ii-V approach to the IV chord, but in this case, you just play the root and b7 of the the "V" (Bb) before resolving to the IV, or Eb.

As before, I've indicated the various chord tones relative to the imagined substitute chords implied by the solo. Click on the playlist below to hear fast and slow demonstrations of this move:

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