This is the first jazz song that many bluegrassers learn to jam on. It's in the key of G, has 5 chords, and an easy melody. Sometimes I wonder, am I playing too bluegrass for jazz? Is it too jazz for bluegrass? Whatever. I will proudly take my bluegrass roots into the world of swing. It's not that I don't try for a pure swing sound, it's just at the end of the day, you have to play what comes into your head and your hands.
My neighbor moved here from Italy in 1945, just after the war. She speaks English perfectly--in a beautiful Italian accent. That's all the permission I need to play this swinging version of Gershwin's most famous bluegrass tune.
Here's a familiar fiddle-tune with a new twist: I've played "Blackbery Blossom" in one form or another since I was 13 years old. I got the idea to try it in 7/8 time after talking with a student about odd time signatures.
The secret to counting in 7 is to group the notes. This song is grouped 4 + 3. Each measure is counted like this:
1 an 2 an 1 2 3, 1 an 2 an 1 2 3
or two big beats and three quick beats:
1 2 1 2 3, 1 2 1 2 3
In this version, the A section is in 7/8, and the B section is in 4/4. The second time through, one A section is in 4/4, and the next is in 7/8. Have a listen!
Top Secret Guitar Tip!
If you are learning to improvise in a genre (blues, old-time rock n roll, southern rock, metal, bluegrass, jazz, gypsy jazz, swing, bebop, country), learning a couple licks is the secret to sounding like you belong. You don't just have to endlessly explore and hope that you'll find something that sounds bluesy. Learn a lick. Play it in a song.
Licks are like regional vocabulary. If you visit the south, you might just find yourself saying "Y'all." It makes you sound like you're from there. If you go to Boston, you might start saying "pak the cah."
Licks are the same way. If you play a Tony Rice lick, for those two measures, you sound like Tony Rice. If you play a Stevie Ray Vaughn lick, you are a blues master for a few seconds. Who else? Maybe Van Halen? B.B. King? David Grier? Clapton? John Mayer? Charlie Parker? Chuck Berry? Brad Paisley? Their licks are the gateway to their style.
What style are you learning? Blues? Learn a B.B. King lick, and play it in every song until people tell you to stop (then keep playing it)! Jazz? Learn a cool Charlie Parker riff on guitar, and find a place to use it. Bluegrass? How about a Doc Watson lick?
Licks are always associated with chords. G licks go with a G chord. C licks go with C chords. Some licks go with more than one chord. If you know a lick over a G chord, and the song you're playing has a G chord in it, try throwing it in.
You'll have more to learn but you'll sound like you belong. Remember there is no ONE answer to the question, "How do you improvise." This is just one step in the journey.
Dean Magraw is a Minneapolis-based guitar monster! I had on CD of him and Peter Ostrushko, and was so happy to finally see him play on YouTube. Enjoy!
Video Link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ORMsYWJ6fLI
Here's a video that has made the rounds on my Facebook feed this week. Molly Tuttle is on of the top guitarists on the bluegrass scene today. She is the IBMA 2017 Bluegrass Guitarist of the Year. I love the combination fearlessness and sweetness in her playing. This video is one in a series of videos that analyze the physical movements of guitar players.
Here's two of the best bluegrass guitarists around playing a fun song called "Horseshoe Bend." Thanks to John for the title!
Click here for the video.
Here is a favorite of mine from when I was younger. Here is the order of solos on Bela Fleck's driving bluegrass roadhouse, "Whitewater."
Bela Fleck -- Melody of the tune
Sam Bush -- Mando solo highly based on the melody
Tony Rice -- What the heck?!?
Bela Fleck -- re-establishes the melody with a couple twists
Jerry Douglas -- a very melody-based solo, gets a little looser towards the end
Stuart Duncan -- creates a new melody on the fiddle in the A section, before playing a syncopated series of double stops over the B section
Bela Fleck -- finishes with the melody, then Sam, Jerry, and Stuart join in doubling the B section.
Here's my question: Why does Tony's solo work?
Tony's solo is bluesy, driving and rhythmic. There is no melody of the song in it at all. He does use a couple techniques though, starting with long bluesy single-note runs at the front end of the solo, and later juxtaposing that with series of syncopated double and triple stops. He starts low, then goes higher. It has a quiet intensity to it. Mostly though, its expertly-placed blues licks.
My feeling, is that Tony's solo works because its the opposite of Bela and Sam's. Bela establishes a clear melody, Sam backs it up, and by the time Tony plays, the listener is ready for something a little different. Then Bela comes back in, and reclaims the melody of the song. I wonder if Tony had stuck closer to the melody, would Bela have instinctively stepped farther out on his second solo? To those who say Tony never sticks to the melody, listen to his Church Street Blues album. There, he plays solo, and has to play the melody, because he's the only one there to do it.
It feels like YouTube has been around forever, but really, we've only been obsessed with this technology for a little over 10 years. Before YouTube, I had never seen someone slap a guitar like Andy McKee, and had definitely never seen any Gypsy Jazz guitarists. I fell in love with this video of Joscho Stephan playing "Bossa Dorado."
The way my mind works, I knew I could never learn this note for note. However, I watched it so much, and also learned a couple gypsy jazz licks from one of his instructional videos. Then I did what I knew I could do: put those licks in a bluegrass song! This version of "El Cumbanchero" has some of the licks I took from Joscho's video.
Incidently, this was performed at Kaufman Kamp in 2012. If you're learning an acoustic instrument, it is a great time! Click here for more details.
February 5, 2018
I don't do any looping effects in my own playing. I've tried it, and found it to be something that I don't enjoy. Translate: it was hard, and I wasn't very good at it!
Here is Phil Keaggy, absolutely tearing up the guitar, and proving why he's been considered among the finest guitarists on the planet for 40 years. Wow!
Link: Phil Keaggy, "Salvation Army Band"
WHAT IS YOUR STYLE?I heard a famous musician say, "Your style is based on your limitations." Others might say it's based on your influences. I believe every musician has something different to offer, and can express him or herself uniquely on their instrument. Here's some ideas on what you might add to your style:
I found that I love chords, love syncopation, love dynamics, variation, and clever things. These are the things I wanted to be able to play, and somehow, over the years, maybe I developed a way of playing that is somewhat unique. My favorite players have changed over the years: Tony Rice, Stevie Ray Vaughan, David Grier, Wes Montgomery when I was young. Later, I came to appreciate ragtime guitarists, flamenco players, and Jazz pianists.
Play, and keep playing! You'll keep getting better all the time if you keep playing music.
“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find. Keep on knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives. Everyone who seeks, finds. And to everyone who knocks, the door will be opened."