Jazz Blues Comping
“So John, could I get you to play something?” “What the hell, I don’t know – I don’t think so Rick, all this talking makes you … The more you talk the less you can play.”
from Rick Beato’s interview with John Scofield
John starts to comp for a Jazz Blues in Bb after having been asked:
“What’s the best thing for somebody to practice who wants to learn how to play changes?”
Making a point about “Learning the tune, really learn the tune …”. It’s about holding a groove, knowing and understanding the basic chord progressions, overall form, and the underlying music theory. Aka: resolution tendencies, extended tonality:”jazz harmony”.
Working with this combination of knowing and perceiving enables
- to work out ideas in a specific style
- to come up with musical ideas in the moment, in context.
Studying the actual relationships of the harmony of the underlying key is a pathway to not only know the ingredients, e.g. 12 bar form, IV ‘quick change’ in bar 2 – that’s a first step – but how they relate and why specific choices make a chord progression sound more bluesy, or jazzy.
Sounds great! Now, how to go about it?
Even if you already decided to never play a (jazz) blues or remotely in the style of, either by yourself, with others or in concert – it might be difficult to find a more practical musical form to learn about the inner workings of harmony in popular music.
Jazz, Rock and Pop Music are directly derived from earlier Folk and Blues practices, find the building blocks of these styles in the harmonic variations of the Jazz Blues form. Additionally, it shows more complex (re)harmonizations and has that hip Major-Minor mixology happening as well. That which is at the core of most of those hauntingly beautiful compositions and improvisations.
The Jazz Blues variation at hand is in the key of Bb Major – yet, the chords of John’s comping add all the “missing”, “out of key” notes. This adds tensions [spicier sounds: 7#9, 7alt.], additional leading tones [Bb7 or Eb7 instead of Bb∆ or Eb∆ as I / IV chords] and special momentum via secondary dominants.
Twelve tone (Jazz) Blues?
I didn’t initially hear that this was actually the case, and this certainly isn’t the musical “message”, intended or audible. Just an interesting side aspect of what the chord diagrams show:
- what the chords are made up of, by mixing tonic, subdominant and dominant notes.
- tonal relationships and resolution tendencies from one harmony to the next.
- a different perspective on how music theory translates, in this case to that 6 string interface.
This is a practical tool for analysis, learning, and internalizing – slowly.
- Listen to how a chord note sounds in context, create a sonic imprint of this effect.
- Identify which scale degree it constitutes, how it relates in context.
- Perceive its function within the harmony – part of a triad, tension, extended tonality?
- Listen to how changing the note affects the overall sound of a given harmony.
All numbers relate to scale degrees. The 7th degree turns things around in a tonal context, thus the tilted square.
- Sonic blue = Tonic notes
- Burgundy Mist = Subdominant
- Shoreline Gold = Dominant.
Black dots for triads, dots with colors for 7th (of the chord), tensions (e.g. b9, 13, #11), and ‘out of key’ notes.
Simply put, the more colors and shapes there are, the more complex is the sound: from consonant to more dissonant. The arrows show resolution tendencies and / or options for suspended sounds and tensions.
The last four chords aren’t notated yet – can you figure out how these relate?