This month John Wheatcroft guides us through the art of solo fingerstyle jazz guitar via the beautiful style of the legendary Joe Pass.
John Wheatcroft explores the art of solo fingerstyle jazz guitar with a look at Joe Pass.
Joe Pass is one of the most influential guitarists of all time. While famous for his collaborations with Oscar Peterson and Ella Fitzgerald, Pass wrote the template for solo jazz guitar, and almost every player in this style since has taken a little, or a lot, from Joe’s ground-breaking style.
Joe’s pick-based playing was staggeringly fluent and articulate and his fingerstyle mastery allowed him a piano-like freedom. However, Joe truly found his voice when playing solo or in an exposed scenario, such as his legendary duets with Ella.
Pass literally had everything covered. His basslines sounded like Ron Carter, his chords like Art Tatum and his lines like Charlie Parker – all at the same time! Or was it? Pass often spoke about the ‘illusion’ of solo jazz guitar. Rather like juggling, you don’t throw or hold all the balls at once. The concept relies upon motion and implication, so that once a phase has been stated with conviction, unless something happens to disrupt this flow the listener continues to ‘hear’ and ‘feel’ that idea while you shift your attention to a different layer of the music. So, when Pass played a whole chorus in single notes, you didn’t notice that he was no longer playing the bassline.
We have nine examples, indicative of the kind of things Joe might improvise. The first eight are fingerstyle, while for Example 9 you’ll need a pick or, in Joe’s case, half a pick.
Over the years I’ve watched many of Joe’s masterclasses and spoken with guitarists fortunate enough to study with him privately. One consistent theme that he persistently drives home is to learn tunes, tunes and more tunes. While scales, patterns and exercises are immensely useful tools, at some point we need to turn all of this academic stuff into music. If you can’t embed those wonderful new licks, chords, intros, turnarounds and endings into a real-life musical scenario then Pass would question why you bothered to learn them in the first place. So why not take the ideas presented here, single-note lines, comping chords, basslines, endings and so on and place them into any of the hundreds of standards that are commonly played by jazz musicians the world over. Start with the simple things, making sure you really know the melody and the harmony. Be prepared to stick with a tune and be on the lookout for the frequently used devices, such as II-Vs and II-V-Is. These are the windows of opportunity where you can hang all the great licks you’ve learnt in these articles. With this in mind, onto the lesson… Enjoy!
I wanted to play like a horn player. I avoided all kinds of guitar clichés, but I copied charlie parker Joe Pass
Joe Pass: solo fingerstyle jazz guitar genius