Learn how to balance jazz and blues playing with an exclusive lesson from this fabulous jazzer!
In this penultimate instalment of our four-part video series, Dario Cortese talks to Nigel about his approach to balancing jazz and blues playing.
Welcome to the third part in our series of video lessons with jazz guitarist Nigel Price. In the first two instalments we looked at Nigel’s approach to chord melody and single-line playing. We’ve tried to highlight the thinking behind it in order to provide readers with a systematic approach to those areas. This month we’ll be looking at how Nigel approaches playing over a major jazz-blues.
Without getting into too much detail, it might be worth pointing out that the jazzblues structure has a few differences from a standard Albert King type of blues. Firstly, the ‘traditional’ blues is often in a guitar friendly key such as A or E, whereas the jazz blues is more likely to be in Bb or F. This is due to the prevalence of horns in jazz; for trumpet or sax players it’s a lot easier to play in Bb than it is in A (and pianists often prefer it too).
Another difference is in some of the chords used. In fact a jazz-blues, although heavily based on standard I-IV-V format, has the addition of a few chords. This allows jazz musicians to use their V-I lines that are such an important part of this style. Nigel’s approach offers a very good balance between blues and jazz phrasing. He demonstrates great control over both styles but for the purpose of this article let’s focus on a couple of elements that make this solo ‘jazz’.
To start, Nigel plays the majority of his solo using swing quavers (eighth notes). This is an important jazz heritage and comes straight from Charlie Parker. What’s important to notice is how the quavers are articulated. In fact, when we analyse them we realise that Nigel often uses a legato (hammer-ons, pull-offs or slides) to connect two quavers. This happens mostly on off-beats – an off-beat quaver is played legato onto an on-beat quaver. This is not a technical choice but it’s done to create a certain kind of shape and flow to the phrases. Check out bars 9, 14/15, 16, 17, 20-22, and then again in the double-time feel section from bars 33-35. We often find this exact same style of phrasing with any great jazz musician.
Another element of Nigel’s playing that refers back to the jazz tradition is the note choice. This can be seen for instance in the use of superimposed arpeggios. Superimposing arpeggios means adding them to phrases to bring out specific chordal extensions. For instance, playing an Em7 (E-G-B-D) arpeggio over a Cmaj7 chord (C-E-G-B) brings out a Cmaj9 (C-E-G-B-D) sound. This allows Nigel to use a simple arpeggio (R-3-5-7) to create a much more sophisticated harmony, as you’ll see and hear in bars 9, 14, 15, 33, 34, 45.
When these two elements are combined with simpler, more straightforward minor Pentatonic phrasing we end up with the best of two worlds – which so many people love to hear. Join me again next month for the final part of Nigel’s masterclass series.
Nigel approaches this style with a very good balaNce betweeN blues aNd jazz phrasiNg.
Nigel Price: formidable UK jazz guitarist