Like me, you probably transitioned from playing some sort of Blues or Rock into playing Jazz, and often one of the first things that you “get” when listening to Jazz and that makes you explore the genre more is Jazz Blues. For getting that sort of crossover sound then I think this solo is the best there is, the perfect storm, and I never hear people talk about it which I find super weird. It is the perfect mix of Bebop lines and Blues Licks and it is much more dynamic than most Jazz, but I’ll explain that along the way.
I was talking about this with one of the students in the Roadmap course the other day, and that made me think of this solo which really nails what Jazz Blues as a sound is and it is an Amazing solo! Certainly one of my favorite Jazz guitar solos of all time, and probably my favorite Joe Pass solo. It is a great song to demonstrate what is Blues and What is Jazz because it has clear elements from both and Joe Pass mixes that up and uses it in an amazing and creative way while also demonstrating just how incredible his range is with the music both in tempo, technique, sound, and harmony. Some of it is about the notes, but there is a LOT more going on.
There is a lot of real blues in this, with minor pentatonic stuff already from the rubato intro:
This is really all Blues scale stuff and using that sound. But he goes into some bop lines quite fast afterwards. Side note: I think the first part he is playing with his fingers and not with a pick, it is a little bit like you can hear the finger mute the string before it sounds which is different from playing with a pick, with a pick it is faster, almost instant.
Joe’s Blues & The Album
The song is off the “Intercontinental” album from 1970 which has Joe playing in a trio with drummer Kenny Clare and bass player Eberhard Weber.
Weber, is for me, much more associated with modern ECM stuff, so to hear him in this setting playing on an album of mostly standards is a bit funny, but he plays great on it! I have talked about how this is one of my favorite Joe Pass albums, if not just my favorite album. As far as I can tell, they didn’t rehearse anything and just spend a day in the studio with Joe calling tunes, which makes this album even more mind-blowing.
B-roll: Viking guitar teacher – “Learn Joe Pass” “go practice” + tape with Joe’s Blues
I was introduced to this song as homework, which was sort of scary. My teacher copied a tape of it and told me to go learn it. At the time I hadn’t really been listening to Joe Pass that much, I had been checking out Wes, Ulf Wakenius, Scofield, and Pat Martino, not so much a choice on my part, it was just what people told me to listen to, since this was before the internet, so I couldn’t google it
This solo was really different from the other Jazz Blues things I had heard.
Most of the time when I had heard Jazz Blues then it was a LOT faster and a lot denser, more 8th note based, like Parker playing Au Privave.
And at those tempos then the solos are much more bebop lines and most of the time the emphasis is really on the Jazz side of things with phrases weaving through the changes.
That is not how Joe’s blues works though, there’s a lot more space in there.
The Sound – Archtop and Polytone?
But first, let’s talk a little bit about the sound, I think Joe’s sound on this album is a great traditional Jazz guitar sound. I always imagined that he used his ES175 into a polytone on this album, but I don’t know if it was that guitar and what amp was there, though it does have a polytone vibe to me, it could just as easily be fender tube amp or a music man. I am not even sure if Polytone amps existed in 1970?
There is also quite a bit of reverb on the guitar, and, to me, that sounds like a plate reverb, not an amp spring reverb, which you may already know that I don’t really like. As far as I know, most Polytones don’t have a reverb, so it is likely that it was a plate reverb given that it was recorded in 1970 before digital reverbs.
I am curious what you think he used, and you can hear it all quite clearly in the intro before the rhythm section comes in. Let me know if you have a suggestion, or maybe you know what he used.
Leave a comment to let me know!
Jazz Guitar Has NO Dynamics
Jazz guitar as an instrument actually suffers a bit from not having a very wide dynamic range, compared to drums or a trumpet. In this song, then the rhythm section is really playing as if they are in your living room, so the bass is really loud in the mix, and the drums playing only brushes is really just supplying a clear groove for Joe Pass to lock in with and float over, and because the drums are very soft then Joe Pass has an easier time using the dynamics of the guitar to the full extent.
I don’t know if you have thought about that, but traditionally, Jazz guitar trios were often softer than bands with horns, and you can tell that they often are still a bit more in the chamber ensemble corner when they play. Like if you listen to Julian Lage trio, or Gilad Hekselman
Both, modern guitarists, who really embrace this and are very good at using dynamics and colors in their playing, while also being really different.
If you listen to Julian Lage on Nocturne then you can probably hear that if the band was louder then his soft call-response would just disappear, or have to be so loud that it wouldn’t come across as comping the melody.
And that is also how the rhythm section works behind Joe Pass giving him room to really get the contrast out between loud and soft and using chords and single-note lines. Let’s look at some of those types of phrases he is using, and how that is as much about rhythm.
Mixing Up Blues and Bebop
Most Jazz solos will stick to the subdivision of the groove, which is usually 8th notes, but for a slow blues like this that really is more like a ballad then you can do a LOT more and Joe Pass almost uses all the options!
He has phrases that are using 8th notes as this part from the beginning:
But since Blues is more fluid on top of the groove he also uses that in some of the phrases mixing 16th notes and triplets into it, more open but also sort of going for the Blues feel.
And then a few beats later he plays double time phrases:
And we didn’t even get to the IV chord in bar 5 yet!
Another really nice harmonic trick that he uses a few times is to turn the Am7 in bar 9 into an A7, and then us notes from the G blues scale to make it sort of an altered sound and then stick to the blues sound on the D7 that follows.
That is really giving you an A7 with a b9 and a #9 when he uses C and Bb over the A7 it is like a phrase you can hear in two ways at the same time.
Another nice variation with the rhythm is where he uses straight 8th notes on top of the swing groove
Harmonizing Blues Licks
Of course, there are also some really great phrases, harmonizing melodies, and mixing chords with single-note lines.
A great example is this really simple 3-note Blues phrase that is harmonized on a G7:
and then repeated on a C7
First using G7 and Ab7 chords and then the same notes but now using C7 and Db7 chords and he is using some of the same chords and a G pedal note for this simple but very effective part of the solo
Another guitarist with incredibly strong melodic ideas who is a a master of using chords in his solos is Wes Montgomery. If you want to know more about his playing, then check out this video that talks about both his singl note lines and his chord solos.
3 Reasons Wes Montgomery Is Amazing And Worth Checking Out
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