On the CBC jazz show, I have actually heard a jazz song composed of water dripping into a single metal bucket located in an empty concrete room, sprinkled occasionally with ambient instrument sounds, like a bow scraping a broken drum cymbal. I kept waiting for the music to start, but the host of the programme came back on the mic to rave about whom made that little gem of a hit. It was like the audio equivalent to those super annoying "post-modern" paintings, circles and squares. Or the ones where the guy literally throws a bucket of paint at the canvas and then calls it a day. These have sold for millions of dollars and nobody can explain why. The explanation for how it makes the owner feel as he tries to redeem himself in front of his judgemental friends while they drink scotch and smoke cigars, can only be as good as a large, mishapen, steaming hot pile of exсrement set on fire at your door. As in, hilarious. What does "post-modern" even mean? The juxtaposition of the two words is enough to make me rant my face red. What is next, "post-time"?
"... It's like so modern it doesn't even have time yet..."
"Yah dude, the light coming off of the canvas is so new that you can't even see it yet, and by the time you do, it's already millions of years old... Like the stars, man..."
Ugh... Shoot me now.
Throw on some Herbie Hancock, some Bill Evans, some John Coltrane, some Miles Davis, some Lenny Breau; and now compared to that leaky-basement track, it is a totally new game. You can actually kick out the jams. For me, the best jazz is pretty light on the wanking. I like a group effort, I like melody. Sure I like chaos, but I don't need to hear all the inversions to the arpeggios you know in that key, all at once, without taking even a nanosecond to breathe. Chill out, bro. There's nothing catchy about a series of warm-up exercises. If I had wanted those, I would have googled them. The tired cliche of what you are not playing, is supposed to also apply to those times where there are no notes to be played, as well as those obligatory notes you choose not to play... That person though, the who can sit patiently at the back of the stage waiting for their moment to shine briefly, and the one who holds down the fort with nuts and bolts stuff; that is a great musician. They quietly control your note selection as you go navigate the fingerboard, and their goal is only to bring the group up to the best it can muster for those brief moments in time. Some of the best jazz-guitarists in the world, IMHO, when dropped into a group, barely play at all. I like my jazz-guitar like a black-metal connoisseur likes his bass in the final mix: unnoticeable.
That being emphatically declared, the guitar-organ-drums combo does make a pretty deadly jazz-trio. Those guys can tread water like nobody's business; no one goes anywhere except for on stage. The chord progressions can simultaneously provide melodic movement, at the same time as declaring tonal neutrality; running on a treadmill. There is definitely forward momentum, but it gets trapped by a red light for a while. Once in a blue moon however, a single jogger breaks free from the pact, but only to have the rest catch up embarrassingly at the next light.
A lot of instrumental jazz songs will have a very innocent beginning. A little tag, a melodic theme. Starting with a small idea makes it easy to pass it along. It invites people to play along with because it isn't convoluted, or full of unnecessary changes. Nobody is trying to prove anything except that a good time is about to be had by all. It wants you to play along. These songs then explode in different directions as new players enter the moment, and then it all gets tied back together through that tag Miles was so keen on at the start of it. Fade it out and you just cut the whole B-side as one twenty-two minute track.
The chords above represents a place where one could start as a small idea. All together, they have a sound and rhythm which is reminiscent of Dave Brubek's "Take Five," however it is also the kind of move that guys like Bill Evans would sneak into their jams with the left hand.
The first chord starts by a flick of the wrist. Say the two lowest notes, E and C#, with your strumming thumb; and then, strum the remaining chord with an upstroke claw using the pinky, ring, and middle fingers together. The second chord is similar, but this time say the two low strings together as a two-note chord with a single downward movement, E and A, followed by an upstroke removing the pinky and also moving the index finger bar at the fourth fret, up to the D string, allowing the low A string to become open.
The third chord is played with the thumb-and-claw together, almost ignoring the thumb (low strings), but while still pronouncing them with a rhythmic push, and holding it longer than the other chords.
The fourth chord is then raked downwards by all fingers, loosely, played like a passing chord, and setting up the thumb for the return to the beginning.
The clip below has a repeating bass line overdubbed, giving more context to the chords.
Jazzy Five - 65 BPM
A|----4-p. O 2-----------------|
Getting in to single note play, on top of the progression, pick one note to be aggressively annoying with - one could try starting at, F# - and just keep going back to it. Pair it with another note, but always hammer away a return to that one note. Play a bunch of other notes in free-time, and then finish the run by returning to that one super annoying note. Run away from the note like a tetherball, spinning it in one direction, batting it in the other. Sooner or later, one person smacks the ball a little too hard, crushing the other person in the face as it whips around the pole. Ops.
A trait of a chord progression like this is, that soloists taking turns can all choose different notes to be lead with, and they can also go off through overlapping pentatonic scales. One person's choice can also affect another's. One can always lead the group back towards home. Once you start building a game of chess however, it quickly becomes follow-the-leader, and hopefully everyone has each other's back.
About the Author:
Dealey is a Vancouver, Canada based guitarist, songwriter, recording engineer and producer. He is the author of, The Relative Nature of Chords: A Street-Smart Field Guide for Guitar. Watch for exclusive excerpts on Ultimate-Guitar! You can support his ventures through buying his music - here & here - and, by contacting via email to order a personal copy of "The Relative Nature of Chords."