Soul jazz is based heavily on the 12-bar blues progression, but this progression deviates slightly from the traditional I–IV–V blues we all know and love. The main difference is the addition of the IIm7–V7–I7 progression. This progression occurs a whopping four times—in measures 4, 8, 10, and 12—in this jazz version of the 12-bar blues. Because of this added harmonic complexity, it is incredibly important to gain familiarity with ideas that work over this crucial progression.
Fig. 4, Fig. 5, and Fig. 6 consist of a simple idea that makes use of 7th-chord arpeggios over the progression. These examples cover the three key centers you’ll encounter in the blues progression. This idea, initially codified during the bebop era, can be heard in a vast amount of recorded jazz solos and is not specific to the guitar.
Once you gain some technical fluency with these licks, it’s time to incorporate them over the entire blues progression. This can prove to be a bit tricky at first, but once you get a handle on the idea it will become second nature in no time. When playing through Fig. 7, it is helpful to think of the two-measure licks in Figures 4, 5, and 6 as two separate licks. Fig. 7 takes the second measure of the lick in Fig. 4 and breaks it up so you have something to play over each chord that isn’t a part of the IIm–V7–I7 progression. Gaining technical proficiency with this idea will help take your playing to the next level.
Now that your IIm–V7–I7 language is gaining momentum, let’s switch gears and look at some repetitive patterns. Playing a repetitive motif can generate excitement during an improvised solo, and the recurring nature of these phrases offer other rhythm section members an opportunity to react. Pat Martino and George Benson are masters of this technique.
Fig. 8 is one such repetitive pattern. As you will see, I have placed the pattern in four different areas on the guitar neck. The fourth example also changes the shape and includes a different articulation of the phrase. I have included some suggested articulations (hammer-ons/pull-offs/slides), but these are only suggestions. It’s an important part of the process to find your own ways to articulate repetitive patterns.
Before moving on, check out Pat Martino improvising on “A Blues for Mickey-O” from his classic album, El Hombre. You will hear a lot of the improvisational material we are about to discuss.
Also, be sure to check out the video of Pat Martino on “All Blues” from Live at Yoshi’s. This solo is a textbook example of these types of repetitive patterns.
Experiment with each of the four repetitive pattern variations in Fig. 8. Each variation could be played over an entire chorus of blues.