Are you ready to inject some “soul” into your jazz playing? “Soul jazz” is a sub-genre of jazz that became prominent in the late 1950s with the arrival of the Hammond B-3 organ. Jazz clubs were beginning to install “in-house” organs, and such artists as Jimmy Smith created a new ensemble—the organ trio—to perform in these venues. This ensemble generally consisted of organ, guitar, and drums, but also included a horn player or two on occasion. Because of the more groove-oriented sound and styling of this “new” ensemble, which placed a high emphasis on slower tempo shuffles and the 12-bar blues progression, the soul jazz genre was born and rose to popularity during the ’50s and ’60s. In this Style Guide, we’re going to examine concepts to help put you on the path to playing some righteous soul jazz!

We will focus on comping concepts—guide tone voicings, the “Charleston” rhythm, and four-note block chord voicings. We’ll also examine such improvisational devices as three-note repetitive patterns, organ-like double-stop licks, Grant Green-style “turns,” and octave/block chord call-and-response.

I’ve compiled a sample list of guitarist and organist teams I associate with the soul-jazz genre. In no particular order, these are classic groups that are sure to inspire you to further explore soul jazz.

  • Grant Green with organists “Baby Face” Willette and Larry Young
  • George Benson with organists Jack McDuff and Dr. Lonnie Smith
  • Kenny Burrell with organist Jimmy Smith
  • Pat Martino with organists Jack McDuff and Trudy Pitts
  • Wes Montgomery with organist Melvin Rhyne
  • Peter Bernstein with organists Larry Goldings and Melvin Rhyne