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Style Guide: Soul Jazz

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Style Guide: Soul Jazz

I hope you have enjoyed working through this lesson as much as I have enjoyed putting it together. We have only scratched the surface of soul-jazz comping and improvising, but I truly hope that this material has inspired you to get a bit more “soul” in your jazz playing!

Suggested Discography

Pat Martino – El Hombre
Recorded in 1967, this is Pat Martino’s first album as a leader. It’s hard to believe Pat was only 22 at the time. It also features Trudy Pitts, a highly underrated Hammond B-3 organist from Philadelphia. This is soul jazz at its finest. Highlights include “A Blues for Mickey-O” and “Just Friends.”

Pat Martino – Live at Yoshi’s
A live record showcasing Pat Martino’s beautiful lines, exciting repetitive motifs, funky organ double-stop licks, and incomparable technique, the album also features organ phenom Joey DeFrancesco. Highlights include “Oleo,” “All Blues,” and “Mac Tough.”

Lou Donaldson with George Benson – Alligator Bogaloo
This funk-laden record was recorded in 1967 for Blue Note, and features a young George Benson on guitar as well as Lonnie Smith on Organ. Alligator Bogaloo showcases some incredible riffing from Benson, especially on “Alligator Bogaloo” and “The Thang.” If you want to learn how to apply the blues scale in your jazz improvisations this is a great place to start. Lou Donaldson also plays some killer bop lines throughout this record.

Wes Montgomery Trio – A Dynamic New Sound
Recorded in 1959, A Dynamic New Sound features Melvin Rhyne on organ and Wes Montgomery at his finest. This record is filled with numerous examples of not only Wes’ superb single-note soloing, but also his masterful use of octaves and block chords as part of his improvisations. Highlights include “Jingles” and Wes’ beautiful rendition of the classic ballad “Too Late Now.”

Wes Montgomery – Boss Guitar
Boss Guitar, recorded in 1963, is another fine demonstration of Montgomery’s skill in the soul-jazz genre. Highlights include “Besame Mucho” and “Fried Pies.” In the latter, dig Wes’ skillful chord work in the melody.

Grant Green – Grant’s First Stand
Grant’s First Stand, Green’s 1961 Blue Note debut, features the guitar/organ tandem of Grant Green and “Baby Face” Willette. This record exemplifies Green’s unique blend of swinging bebop licks and mesmerizing soul-jazz concepts. Throughout the album Green makes use of guide-tone voicings and “turns” discussed in our lesson. Highlights include “Miss Ann’s Tempo” and “Lullaby of the Leaves.”

Lou Donaldson with Grant Green – Here ’Tis
Saxophonist Lou Donaldson “discovered” guitarist Grant Green and was responsible for Green’s position as house guitarist for Blue Note Records in the early 1960s. Here ’Tis, recorded in 1961, is another fine example of Green’s fusion of bebop and soul jazz. Highlights include “A Foggy Day” and “Cool Blues.”

George Benson - The George Benson Cookbook
The title says it all! Benson is “cooking” throughout this recording, featuring Lonnie Smith on the organ. This is a “desert island” type of record, so do yourself a favor and check it out. Highlights? The entire album ... Benson tears it up throughout.

George Benson – The New Boss Guitar of George Benson with the Brother Jack McDuff Quartet
Recorded in 1964, The New Boss Guitar of George Benson is his debut as a leader. This recording showcases Benson, only 21 at the time, paired with organ legend Jack McDuff, and Benson is on fire throughout. The New Boss Guitar showcases his burning single-note runs, adroit chord work, and blues drenched soul-jazz riffs. Highlights include “Will You Still Be Mine?” and “Rock-A-Bye.”

The Incredible Jimmy Smith with Kenny Burrell – Back at the Chicken Shack
Arguably one of the most popular soul jazz recordings of all time, Back at the Chicken Shack pairs two legends of the guitar and organ, Kenny Burrell and Jimmy Smith. Burrell and Smith are also joined by soul jazz saxophone legend Stanley Turrentine. This record contains all of the grease of a good home-cooked Southern meal, and the title track typifies the soul-jazz genre. The album features some of the finest solos ever recorded by Burrell, and Burrell’s comping on “Back at the Chicken Shack” is superb. Highlights include “Back at the Chicken Shack” and “Messy Bessie.”

Peter Bernstein Trio – Live at Smoke (DVD)
Peter Bernstein is a member of the new school of soul-jazz guitarists and this video is a must have any soul jazz enthusiast. Bernstein’s relaxed, swinging style exemplifies a guitarist who has digested all of the soul-jazz language set forth by Green, Montgomery, Burrell, and Benson. Live at Smoke also features the dazzling organ work of Larry Goldings. Highlights include “Jive Coffee,” “Puttin’ on the Ritz,” and “Bobblehead.”

Click here to check out songs from these albums on our Spotify playlist!


Shawn Purcell is a jazz guitarist in the Washington D.C. area, and is a member of the United States Naval Academy Band. For more information, go to shawnpurcell.com.
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