Why Their Jazz Blues Solos Always Sound Better Than Yours

Jazz Blues is surprisingly simple. The Lines are a lot simpler than you might think and probably stuff you already know, you just need to learn how to get it to sound right, and that is also easier than you might think!

Let me show you some amazing examples from what are probably also your favorite Jazz artists, they all play unbelievable Jazz blues solos and also give you some ways to make your own solid Jazz blues licks.

The sound of Jazz Blues is different than the sound of Jazz, the lines are related to Bebop lines, but they are different in quite a few ways, and that is probably what I like about them. Of course, the same is true if you compare Jazz Blues to what you might consider “straight blues playing” like this

In this video, I want to take a look at what that difference is, because if you know that then you also have an easier time getting the sound right in your playing.

Is This Overlooked When It Comes To Blues?

The first aspect of Jazz Blues is actually not as much about note choice or rhythm, it is about something that is at the core of the Blues sound. Try to listen to this part of George Benson’s solo on Bille’s Bounce. Notice how he is not just weaving through the changes, he is doing something else.

The scale that he is using here is often also a bit misunderstood, calling it Dorian is, I think, a bit misleading, but I will return to that part of it later. What you probably noticed is that he is repeating phrases, and he is also playing fairly short phrases. Obviously, motivic development is a massive part of most excellent jazz musicians’ toolbox, but here it is also related to Blues since the form of a 12-bar traditional Blues is about repeating and developing a motif through the form (Blues Progression diagram with phrases) In this case, the motif is a pretty simple descending melody and Benson is also moving the motif around rhythmically a bit, which is less common with blues but it is still clearly connected to Blues.

One thing that you want to be able to do is to play short phrases and find ways to repeat them through the form.

If you start to listen to it then you will hear this all over the place in the solos of Wes Montgomery, George Benson, and Charlie Parker, in fact, you will see quite a few examples of it in this video.  Let’s look at some rhythms

Stop Playing Bebop All The Time!

Another thing that is different from more straight Jazz or Bebop is how many notes you are playing and what rhythms. Again George Benson is a great example, so I’ll start with him and then move on to Wes. Check out how this phrase sounds amazing but certainly isn’t a Bebop line:

There are several reasons that this isn’t a Bebop line, but mostly the fact that he is playing quarter notes more than 8th notes is a big part of it.

Having simpler and more grounded rhythms is in fact also a part of the Blues sound where Bebop uses more syncopated rhythms in accents in longer lines.

Like Benson, Wes can do amazing things with this, and you want to notice that both the previous 2 and this next example are really only the same notes over the Blues, which is also important to learn. You could reduce it to a scale, but that might really help you as much as you think. You can also hear some of the other things I already talked about

As you probably noticed then, Wes is also repeating a phrase and developing it, just like George Benson was in the first example.

He also relies mostly on quarter note rhythms and not a Bebop 8th note flow,

and I think sometimes people forget that if you want to be able to play phrases and rhythms like this then you need to work on that. If you only practice playing 8th note lines through changes all the time, then you won’t get there. A part of the Jazz Blues sound with both Wes and Benson examples here, and this is true for these examples but also quite common in general in the solos I have checked out, is that the phrases seem to emphasize two notes: the 6th of the key, in F major which is a D, and the Ab,  the minor 3rd.

If you look at the Wes motif then it has the D as the outer note and the Ab is the other note that stands out:

And the first example with Benson sort of does the same:

Play the 2nd Benson motif where the D is also the outer notes of the scale.

Of course, that is not going to be true for all phrases, but it comes back more often than you might think, and it can be fun to mess around with. Let’s go a bit deeper with the note choices and figure out if there is a “Jazz Blues Scale”.

Is There A Jazz Blues Scale?

You may remember that I said these first 3 examples could be seen as using the same scale. To me, they don’t immediately sound like it though, so maybe it is a bit of a stretch, but check this out:

The 2nd George Benson example is clearly using the major blues scale,

so the major pentatonic with an added minor 3rd: F G Ab A C D F

And, the 1st George Benson example uses the same note set but doesn’t really use the A (except for the pickup);

if you look at the Wes example then that is also using that note set:

“The Scale Is NOT The Answer”

So all of the examples would be covered by the Major blues scale, and that is an important building block, but something that I find myself saying more and more often to people, and which seems more and more true every time I think about it:

If I am trying to understand a phrase and learn from it then the answer is almost never a scale. It is not just a set of notes that makes something music. We are all using mostly the same notes, There are Amazing Bebop phrases – and – very Boring Heavy Metal scale sequences that use the same major scale.

But at the same time, the major blues scale is a very useful resource to explore and is probably used a lot more than you’d expect in Jazz Blues, also in some pretty creative ways when it comes to double stops which you will see later in the video.

But if there isn’t really a Blues scale then there is another way to think about it.

The Mighty Triad (and a few other tricks)

Like any style of music, there isn’t a single approach that describes everything that is possible, which is probably also better because if it was a formula like that then the music would probably be boring. Still, there are some things you can do that work really well and are used often.

Notice how Parker uses motifs, or maybe riffs is a better word for it, and also how he gets from the I to the IV chord in this example from Now’s The Time:

The motif in this example is built around an F major triad on the F7

and then he changes it to Fm when the song moves to Bb7 to spell out that chord change and still connect the phrases.

In thiscase, Parker doesn’t use the major pentatonic scale, a better description is probably that he is adding notes around an F major triad, and there are some really great and fairly famous lines of his that follow that recipe, like this one from the opening of the Now’s The Time solos.

The first part is really just an F major triad with some chromatic approach notes:

Phrasing Without Bends

But you can also go more for more of a major pentatonic phrase like this Wes line from his solo on Fried Pies, and notice how Wes is really relying on slides as a part of his phrasing, you could say that he uses those instead of bends in the phrase, and the slides are mostly targeting the major 3rd, A. Something that is very common for this sound:

In general, slides, hammer-on and pull-offs are often the preferred techniques in Jazz blues over bending, probably because people like Wes had very heavy strings and not a lot of sustain, but you can find examples of bending, they are just less common. What you want to explore is using slides and hammer-ons to get to the 3rd of the chord:

You had George Bensons pick up in the first example –

But you also have a sort of enclosure like this:


or using a hammer on like this

Without bending there are other things that Jazz guitarists get very creative with: Double Stops.

The Power of Double Stops

This first one is a great example of how Jazz Blues should not always go with the changes in the way Bebop usually does, because in this chorus from Wes’s solo, he just sticks to the same 2 bar riff, but what you want to notice besides the double-stops is also how that really creates some tension and drives the whole thing forward. And pay attention to what type of double stop this is.

This type of double stop is a sort of pedal point where the high D note is ringing through and then you have a G that is sometimes turned into a short blues phrase.

A great variation on this double stop you can hear in Wes’ solo on Fried Pies. The high D is still a pedal point but it is now becoming a part of a call-response phrase and I think this double stop is a lot less common outside Jazz:

You want to listen to this solo for how he develops phrases and connects from one phrase to the next, it is pretty amazing!

Chord Solos in Jazz Blues

Another important part of Jazz Blues is combining Jazz chords with Blues licks, which is an amazing sound, and here Joe Pass is absolutely mind-blowing. If you want to explore how he does this and also how he approaches Jazz Blues in general, then check out this video which has some of the most solid Jazz Blues you will ever hear!

This Jazz Blues Solo is Perfect And Nobody Is Talking About It

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