Con­tin­u­ing his new jazz se­ries, John Wheatcroft gives a def­i­nite ‘thumbs up’to one of Bri­tain’s finest gui­tarists, the sen­sa­tion­ally‘un­ortho­dox’Jim Mullen!

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John Wheatcroft un­rav­els the unique thumb style of Scot­tish jazz leg­end, Jim Mullen.

could switch the guitar around, he de­cided to aban­don the plec­trum al­to­gether. Over time he de­vel­oped a pick­ing tech­nique based upon ex­clu­sive use of down­strokes with the thumb, as­sisted from a speed and agility per­spec­tive with an abun­dance of ham­mer-ons and pull-offs. Rather than be con­sid­ered a weak­ness, this ap­proach to pro­duc­ing the notes, cou­pled with his swing­ing phras­ing, in­tel­li­gent note se­lec­tion, en­cy­clo­pe­dic knowl­edge of jazz vo­cab­u­lary and a su­perb time-feel all add up to one of the most unique and in­stantly recog­nis­able sounds in jazz guitar to­day.

mullen’s pro­fes­sional ca­reer be­gan with Cream lyri­cist Pete Brown’s band Pi­blokto!, be­fore mov­ing on to the jazz or­gan star Brian auger’s band. while tour­ing the us as a mem­ber of Kokomo, sup­port­ing The av­er­age white Band, mullen hit it off with the sax­o­phone player Dick mor­ris­sey, lead­ing to the for­ma­tion of one the most crit­i­cally ac­claimed jazz-funk groups of the 80s: mor­ris­sey-mullen. what cre­ativ­ity they lacked in terms of band name, they more than made up for with the mu­sic, pro­duc­ing half a dozen stu­dio al­bums, along with one great live al­bum for good mea­sure.

From the group's demise in 1988, mullen has carved an im­pres­sive solo ca­reer with a healthy port­fo­lio of re­leases un­der his own name, along with col­lab­o­ra­tions with artists such as mose al­li­son, awB’s Hamish stu­art, Ge­orgie Fame, Claire martin and many more. mullen is con­sid­ered with the high­est mu­si­cal re­spect from both fel­low play­ers and mu­si­cal lovers across a wide va­ri­ety of gen­res. He has in­flu­enced gen­er­a­tions of gui­tarists that have had the good for­tune to hear him.

There are nine ex­am­ples this month, each dis­play­ing a con­cept, tech­nique or ap­proach that Jim might adopt when im­pro­vis­ing over a va­ri­ety of back­drops. it’s not es­sen­tial to use your thumb, as these ideas will work equally well with a plec­trum or fin­ger­style ap­proach.

How­ever, it’s def­i­nitely worth­while con­sid­er­ing adding at least a lit­tle thumb­based ar­tic­u­la­tion into your play­ing style, as this can add a depth and warmth that is dif­fi­cult to achieve oth­er­wise. Plus, you re­ally do gain a whole mu­si­cal di­men­sion.

i’d en­cour­age you to go and see Jim live in ac­tion, as his tone is al­ways full, clear and very loud with not the slight­est of is­sues with pro­jec­tion. Fail­ing this, check him out on YouTube, along with other great thumb-based play­ers such as wes mont­gomery, John aber­crom­bie and blues leg­end al­bert King. Pay spe­cial at­ten­tion and com­pare their re­spec­tive

I play with my thumb and my fin­ger­ing is un­ortho­dox. In fact, ev­ery­thing I do is un­ortho­dox.

Jim Mullen

dif­fer­ences and sim­i­lar­i­ties in their ap­proaches, pos­ture and gen­eral tech­nique and hear and how these va­garies im­pact upon the fi­nal sound.

lis­ten closely and you’ll also hear a fair bit of fin­ger vi­brato in Jim's style, even when blow­ing over stan­dards, so feel free in your per­sonal im­pro­vi­sa­tions to try mix­ing el­e­ments from all the styles of mu­sic that you are fa­mil­iar with. This all helps when at­tempt­ing to cre­ate a unique and recog­nis­able style, some­thing i think we can all agree that Jim has achieved with great suc­cess. ex­per­i­men­ta­tion should form a por­tion of your prac­tice time, so don’t be afraid to try out some new ideas and tech­niques each time you play.

Jim Mullen: picks bril­liant jazz with only his thumb

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