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Style Guide: Uptown Blues

Style Guide: Uptown Blues

If you look closely, you’ll find that the combination of the blues scale and major pentatonic scale does not give you every note found in every chord. The 3 of the D13 chord, F#, is not found in either scale. To convey the sound of the complete V chord (D13), you’ll need to incorporate the F# into your solos.

This discussion is not meant to complicate the issue of soloing over the blues. My hope is to shed some light on why blanketing the blues scale over the progression may not yield an uptown flavor to your solos. A great way to incorporate these sounds into your solos, without thinking about which scale will give you a specific sound at a specific time, is to play out of the chord shapes we’ve discussed thus far. The first three licks we’re going to dig into come out of the G9 chord shape we used in Fig. 17.

For example, if you want to integrate the 9 (A) into your phrases, you can try out Fig. 18.

Try the following Charlie Christian lick if you want to add the sound of the 9 and the 13 (E).

Charlie Christian may not be the first person that comes to mind when discussing the blues, but his playing influenced countless electric blues pioneers. If you want to venture into the jazzy side of the blues, spend time listening to him. Check out the following YouTube video of Christian playing “Seven Come Eleven.” It’s not a blues, but his solo is full of licks that can be used over the blues.

Fig. 20 was played by Tiny Grimes on “Tiny’s Tempo” recorded with the great saxophonist Charlie Parker. The lick begins at about 2:24 in the video below, but I have transposed it to the key of G to work over the G9 chord.

The phrase in Fig. 21 incorporates chord hits, half-step chord moves, and adds the sound of the 9 over the G13 chord. It can be used as a turnaround at the end of the blues form.

The final two licks are based out of the C9 shape in Fig. 14. Fig. 22 is a Charlie Christian lick from the “Seven Come Eleven” recording mentioned earlier and includes the 9 and 13. I transposed it to C to fit over the chord.

The final phrase (Fig. 23), literally spells out the notes of C9, starting on the 3.

We’ve covered a lot of territory in this lesson. If the theory seems a bit overwhelming, don’t worry. Take your time digesting it and find a teacher or a friend to help you out. You don’t need to know all the theory to play this material. In fact, one of the best ways to learn it is to spend time with recordings, learning licks and absorbing the feel of this style. Before long, you’ll feel as comfortable with adding 9s and 13s to your chords and solos as you do rocking out with the blues scale over a Jimmy Reed shuffle! It just takes time, but what better way to spend your time than practicing your guitar and listening to great music. Good luck!

Recommended Listening
T-Bone Walker: He’s been mentioned several times in this article already and is one of the key players in this style of blues. I’d recommend checking out The Complete Imperial Recordings: 1950-1954, it’s all great stuff. Right from the start with “Glamour Girl,” you hear his trademark licks and chord moves.

Charlie Christian: Influential to not just blues players but swing, bebop, and—by way of America’s musical family tree—rock players as well. The Genius of Electric Guitar is great. A few blues tracks to check out are “Gone With ‘What’ Wind,” and “Grand Slam.” Also worth a listen is The Immortal Charlie Christian. Here he performs with some of the founding fathers of bebop. Check out the track “Blue N’ Boogie.”

Johnny Moore: Take a listen to “Johnny’s Guitar Blues” from The Very Best of Johnny Moore’s Three Blazers. On it you’ll also hear the great pianist and band member Charles Brown. This set includes classics like “Driftin’ Blues” and “Merry Christmas Baby.”

Charlie Parker (with Tiny Grimes): I mentioned that uptown blues falls into that gray area between blues and jazz, so it’s not surprising to find jazzy blues players with bebop musicians. Here, Tiny is with alto sax player Charlie Parker on Parker’s The Savoy and Dial Master Takes. Take a listen to “Tiny’s Tempo.”

Tiny Grimes: With a title like Blues Groove, you’re sure to find some blues. Here Tiny is tearin’ it up with more jazz greats.

Duke Robillard: Duke is a contemporary player and an incredibly versatile guitarist who can lay down the blues and swing hard. He’s made many albums that showcase his ability to play the uptown blues with authority. On After Hours Swing Session, you can hear his take on “Tiny’s Tempo.” Another record worth listening to is Swing. Don’t let the title fool you—six of the 12 tracks are blues tunes.

Duke Robillard and Herb Ellis: Duke also made two recordings with the late, great jazz guitarist Herb Ellis and I recommend them both. They are Conversations in Swing Guitar, and the aptly titled More Conversations in Swing Guitar. As I stated earlier, regarding Duke’s record, Swing, don’t let the title of these collaborations throw you, there’s an awful lot of blues on these recordings as well.

Mike Cramer is an award-winning performer and educator. A stylistically versatile multi-instrumentalist, Cramer has shared the stage with or opened for B.B. King, Tommy Castro, Chris Duarte, Gordon Goodwin, John Hartford, and Steve Kaufman. Cramer co-founded All 12 Notes, LLC where he has a private lesson studio, teaching guitar, mandolin, and electric bass. His most recent CD release, Open Spaces, is a collection of original and traditional acoustic pieces. For more information, visit
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