Join Pete Callard as he examines the greatest licks from the giants of jazz guitar. This month, the jazzier side of bluesman Robben Ford...
of those; the jazz being where the harmonic hipness comes from, and the blues being so strongly about feeling. I liked the English style, but I was more drawn to Mike Bloomfield and BB King; and sax players John Coltrane and Wayne shorter, Archie shepp (my all time hero); ornette Coleman, Pharoah sanders…
“i didn’t learn note for note; it was listening and then applying. one of the essential things was listening to saxophone players, not guitar players. If you listen to another instrument it doesn’t automatically apply to yours, so you have to make an effort to make things work on the guitar. Consequently you’re not gonna sound like a sax player, but you’re not gonna sound like other guitar players either, so there’s a greater opportunity to develop a style.
“there’s more harmonic adventure in jazz, and the demands are greater on an instrumentalist, so to develop you need a challenge. For me playing only blues was limited, but the blues as a foundation is essential.
“My style is very blues and pentatonic and I use the other stuff largely as passing tones to get from one chord to the next. it’s years of doing it by ear and knowing what scale there is over any given chord. i never learned a bunch of licks. I kept my music simple pentatonic and blues oriented, just played and played and pushed myself. I would use the pentatonic to make melodies, and play with how much you can get out of five notes - if your life depends on it, what will happen?
“What’s really important is who you listen to. so again, i listen to saxophone players and Miles Davis’s trumpet so there’s more of a tendency to play in a melodic way; they have to breathe so their phrases are more broken up; not like guitar players who don’t have to breathe so they can play all day. it’s like language; everybody speaks with inflection, so you bring that into your playing.
“It’s important to embrace your handicaps cause that too will help you develop quicker. There are certain things that you can do and certain things that you can’t. Everybody has their strengths and weaknesses so it helps if you let your body tell you what you do best.”
Ford’s soloing style is Pentatonic based, but he likes to hint at the changes and throw in the occasional harmonic curve ball, all coupled to sublime touch, tone and phrasing - an enviable combination that places him among the world’s most revered players.
Although primarily favouring the blues these days, in the late 70s and early 80s Ford
For me playing only blues guitar was limited, but the blues as a foundation to me is essential. Robben Ford
had one foot squarely in the fusion camp, evinced in his debut solo release The Inside Story and tenures with The Yellowjackets and Miles Davis. As such, I thought it would be interesting to focus on this overlooked area of his playing. so we’ve got seven examples in all - alongside great harmonic ideas, remember it’s the phrasing and articulation that are key to what makes them such storming lines.
That’s it from me for the Jazz column, although I’ll hopefully be returning to GT’s hallowed pages from time to time. thanks to everyone who’s followed these columns over the years - it’s been a privilege to write about jazz for all this time, and i hope they’ve proved illuminating, instructive, inspiring and perhaps, occasionally, even entertaining!
Robben Ford: melding blues and jazz