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May 2014
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Forgotten Heroes: Hank Garland

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Forgotten Heroes: Hank Garland

Hallmarks of Garland's Style
By Jason Shadrick

Even though Hank Garland made his name by playing on classic country sessions, he was a jazz musician through and through. Released in 1961, his breakthrough album Jazz Winds from a New Direction featured some of the best young jazz talent around. This recording showed off Garland’s formidable jazz chops, his ability to arrange jazz standards into something new, and his indelible sense of swing.

In Fig. 1, you can see a passage similar to what Garland played on the changes to the bridge of “All the Things You Are.” While a 17-year-old Gary Burton played the melody on vibes, Garland comes in with a swinging eight-measure passage that combines drop-2 chords, clusters, and triads. The bridge’s harmony is classic jazz-standard material with the first four measures outlining a ii–V–I progression in G major, and the second four measures moving that progression to the key of E major.


Typical of jazz harmony, the chords are extended with such alterations as the D7b9 cluster played in the second measure. Here, Garland took the chord’s most essential notes (the 3 and b7) and then added the b9 in the middle of the voicing. The rub between the Eb and F# creates a tension-filled voicing that connects nicely with the root-position Am7 in the previous measure. Notice how the C is carried over, while the top two notes of Am7 (G and E) descend by a half-step to F# and Eb. This is a textbook example of voice-leading in a jazz context.

In the third measure, there is a descending melodic motif that connects all the chords. It begins with the A at the top of the Gmaj9 chord and connects diatonically through the G6 chord in the fourth measure. At the end of the third measure, Garland plays a root-position Bm triad to illustrate the G major tonality. Since Bm is the relative minor of G, all the notes in the triad are diatonic and work to give the chord that Gmaj7 sound. Next time you see a vamp in G, try playing Bm triads all around the neck. It will sound hip and open up the fretboard to some new comping ideas.

Basing chords off of guide tones is a technique used extensively by Barney Kessel and Barry Galbraith, two big influences on Garland. In measure six, Garland voices a B9 chord by starting with the 3 and b7, and then stacking the root and 9 on top. Since the bass player is covering the root, in this case B, you can leave it out and still keep the harmonic integrity intact. The Emaj9 in the next measure and the final C7#5 both use guide tones as a foundation for the chord voicings.

Garland’s single-note improvisations combined a bebop vocabulary with a driving rhythmic intensity that reminds me of early Tal Farlow recordings. The example shown in Fig. 2 is quintessential Garland—a long, flowing stream of eighth-notes combined with interesting note choices and reckless abandon. The example begins with a descending scalar line that goes through F Dorian (F–G–Ab–Bb–C–Db–Eb) and lands on Fm7’s 9 (G) on the downbeat. There are times where Garland seems to hit “wrong” notes, but considering the tempo and the strength of his sense of swing, they go by without too much hassle. For instance, in the second measure of this example, he lands on a D natural that clashes with Bbm7’s b3 (Db).


Bebop sensibilities come into play in the third measure over the Eb7 chord when Garland descends chromatically from the root (on beat 1) down to the %7 and then skips to the #5. He gets a lot of mileage out of hitting the extensions (#5, 11, and 9) before moving onto the 11 on the Abmaj7 chord in the next measure. Finally, Garland ends the phrase with some textbook voice-leading, moving from the b7 (Gb) against the Abmaj7 to the 3 of the Dbmaj7 (F). Approaching a chord tone by a half-step—especially at points in the harmonic rhythm where the chord changes—is a common technique that makes single-note lines flow more easily.

At his heart, Hank Garland was a jazz guitarist of the highest caliber. Few guitarists of his generation were able to successfully live in the two (seemingly) unrelated worlds of country music sessions and after-hours jazz clubs. A great document of Hank’s jazz chops is Move! The Guitar Artistry of Hank Garland that covers all of his Columbia Records sessions in 1959 and 1960. Included is the entire Jazz Winds album in addition to Velvet Guitar and The Unforgettable Guitar of Hank Garland.


Search YouTube for “Hank Garland - Sugarfoot Rag” to see Garland playing his signature tune.

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