While the art of soul-jazz improvisation is the main focus of today’s lesson, it is also important to have a good base of comping ideas in your musical bag. Fig. 1 takes simple two-note guide-tone voicings (harmonic structures built using only the 3rds and 7ths of each chord), and incorporates the Charleston rhythm. The latter is a fundamental rhythm all jazz musicians should master. This rhythm is played on the downbeat of beat 1 and the “and” of beat 2. This is an especially useful comping pattern in soul jazz, and was employed extensively by guitarist Grant Green (check out “Miss Ann’s Tempo” on Grant’s First Stand). Be sure to listen and play along with the recorded example to get the sound and feel in your ear! This comping style is not specific to the 12-bar blues, and can be used on any and all of your favorite jazz tunes.
Fig. 2 builds on the guide-tone voicings in Fig. 1. However, we’re now adding a new rhythm to the mix. Playing the same comping rhythm over and over can become boring for musicians and the audience, so I encourage you to continue adding new rhythms through experimentation, and, most importantly, by listening to the jazz-guitar masters I listed previously.
We are now going to revert back to the Charleston comping rhythm, but in Fig. 3 we are going to employ four-note block chord voicings. Specifically, we are going to use “drop 2” voicing structures. While guitarist Grant Green had a penchant for using the guide tone voicings of Fig. 1, guitarists such as Pat Martino and George Benson used larger voicings to generate a fuller sound when comping behind an organist. These voicings are useful in soul jazz, but again, can be used in any jazz style. The voicings in Fig. 3 allow you to use the 3rds and 7ths of the chords, while also achieving 7th-chord alterations, such as b9, #9, and b13.
Now that we have some comping ideas under our belts, it’s time to turn up the heat and get ideas that are sure to add some soul to your own improvisations!