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