This month John Wheatcroft guides us through the art of solo fin­ger­style jazz gui­tar via the beau­ti­ful style of the leg­endary Joe Pass.

Guitar Techniques - - CONTENTS -

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

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