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Style Guide: Uptown Blues

Style Guide: Uptown Blues

Let’s add some rhythm to these chords. The first rhythm accompaniment pattern we’ll look at is referred to as “four to the bar,” shown in Fig. 9. Keep the quarter-note pulse throughout the progression while emphasizing beats 2 and 4. This feel is common to swing and jazz. Freddie Green was a master at this feel. Check out recordings of him with Count Basie.

Another common chord move is to approach your target chord from a half-step above or a half-step below, as you can see in Fig. 10.

For these next examples, think about the sound of a horn section. Horn sections are often a part of bands that have an uptown sound. With 9th and 13th voicings you can imitate the sound of a horn section; Fig. 11 and Fig. 12 present a few rhythms used to convey that sound.

Now we’ll put all of this together in Fig. 13. By utilizing multiple voicings of the 9th and 13th chords—and moving them around by either a half- or whole-step and applying various rhythms commonly found in swing and jazz music—we’re able to create a sophisticated accompaniment to the basic blues progression.

Watch the following video clip of Duke Robillard and Chris Flory. You get a chance to hear a superb solo backed by wonderful chords.

The final accompaniment strategy we’ll explore is a technique often referred to as the “sliding 9th.” If we take the 9th chords in Fig. 14 and slide the top three strings of each voicing up a whole-step, the chord becomes a 6th chord. Remember, the 6 is the same as the 13. This move is very effective in adding harmonic color to your accompaniment. Fig. 15 demonstrates this technique over the first four measures of a blues progression.

This move is effective at medium and fast tempos, however, it really comes alive over a slow blues. Check out the following clip to hear Johnny Moore utilizing this technique over the classic “Driftin’ Blues.”

Many of you are probably quite comfortable soloing over the blues with the tried-and-true blues scale, and if you’re concerned that the extended harmony we’ve introduced will force you to change your approach to soloing over the blues, have no fear because the blues scale still works. Having said that, blanketing the blues scale over the accompaniment found in Fig. 13 won’t quiet capture that uptown sound.

Players such as T-Bone, Johnny Moore (who played with Charles Brown), and Tiny Grimes had a knack for highlighting the interesting notes of the chord at the appropriate time—getting inside the chord. The blues scale doesn’t have all the notes needed to pull this off. For example, say we’re playing an uptown blues in G using the G blues scale (G–Bb–C–Db–D–F) over a G9 (G–B–D–F–A) chord. You can see in Fig. 16 that the scale doesn’t include the 3 or the 9 of the chord—two very useful sounds.

How do we solve this problem? One way is to use the major pentatonic scale. See Fig. 17 for the comparison of the scale and the chord. The major pentatonic gives us the 3 and 9, which the blues scale doesn’t. However, the major pentatonic scale does not include the b7, which is also an important tone.

So which scale should you choose? Why choose? Use both! One of the goals is to convey the sound of the chord, and by using both scales you have the tools to do this. Do both scales give you all the notes of each chord in the progression? Look at Table 2. Here I’ve spelled out the notes of each chord—up to the 13—along with the blues and major pentatonic scales for a blues in G.

Chord or Scale Notes
G13 G-B-D-F-A-E
C13 G-E-G-Bb-D-A
D13 D-F#-A-C-E-B
G Blues Scale G-Bb-C-Db-D-F
G Major Pentatonic G-A-B-D-E