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Jazz Tricks: How to Play "Blue Bossa"

Get inside this jazz standard with a handful of useful concepts.

Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Intermediate
Lesson Overview:
• Learn how to apply secondary pentatonics.
• Create lines that imply alternate harmonies.
• Understand the basics of Brazilian rhythm guitar.

Click here to download a printable PDF of this lesson's notation.

“Blue Bossa” is one of those tunes every jazz lover is going to play, so it’s good to have a few ideas and concepts under your belt to get through the tune convincingly. To prepare you for the next time this jazz standard is called at a jam session, let’s explore a single-note solo and a comping etude. We’ll start with the solo, which contains ideas to help jump-start your own improvisations.

Click here for Ex. 1

Minor-Third Movement
In measure five, check out the line that outlines the Dm7(b5) chord in an angular, broken kind of way. In the next measure, the same line shifts up a minor third to accommodate the altered G7 chord. That’s a trick you can use almost any time. Play a phrase over the IIm chord and then repeat it a minor third higher for the altered dominant chord.

Melodic Minor Instead of Dorian
In the seventh measure, play a C melodic minor (C–D–Eb–F–G–A–B) instead of the traditional Dorian (C–D–Eb–F–G–A–Bb) mode. The natural 7 (B) adds an intriguing melodic color.

Triad Power
In measure 15, we briefly harness the power of triad pairs. Basically, think in terms of two triads instead of a full scale. Over the Cm7 chord, choose two triads from the melodic minor scale, G augmented (G–B–D#), which we’re spelling enharmonically as G–B–Eb) and F major (F–A–C). Simply put, over a minor vamp you can combine triads built off the IV and V of the melodic minor scale. The dual-triad concept is very effective over longer vamps, but it also works nicely in a brief context like this one.

Create Some Tension
In the second measure of the second chorus, imply a secondary dominant chord (C7 alt) to lead into the Fm7. Here, we outline the chord tones of a C7 chord, but also add a b9 (Db) into the mix. You can pretty much use this concept to set up any chord, and it sounds cool over modal vamps.

Sliding Pentatonics
For the IIm-V7-I in Db, we’ll use a secondary pentatonic scale. Normally, over a minor chord (Ebm7), you’d play a minor pentatonic scale based on the root. But here we’ll play a minor pentatonic scale based on the 5 (Bb). In this case, that’s Bb minor pentatonic (Bb–Db–Eb–F–Ab). Slide up a half-step to B minor pentatonic (B–D–E–F#–A) for the Ab7, the V. Finally, slide up yet another fret to use C minor pentatonic (C–Eb–F–G–Bb) for the I chord (Dbmaj7).

Here’s an easy rule to remember: Start on the minor pentatonic scale based on the 5 of the IIm chord and then ascend in half-steps as the chords progress.

Click here for Ex. 2

Get Rhythm
We start the comping etude with a typical Cm9 voicing, but what’s most important is the quintessential Brazilian rhythm we’re employing. You should memorize this two-measure pattern and use it often.

Quartal Connections
Kick off the second chorus with a series of quartal voicings. In a quartal voicing, each note in the chord is a fourth away, rather than a third. Quartal voicings work great in modal vamps, but can also stand in for typical third-based chords used in standard jazz progressions.

Major and Minor Shifts
For the next section, we borrow a few voicings from the melodic minor scale. Although the Dm9(b5) chord is a bit unusual, it caught my ear and serves as a template for the next two voicings. When you move the shape up a minor third, you get a nice sound for the G7(#9#5). Then when you move that up a major third you get a Cm9(maj7). All this from simply sliding the shape up the neck!

Hit the Road
This turnaround features the classic “Hit the Road Jack” chord movement. But instead of a Dm7 for the IIm chord, we use a tritone substitution—Ab13. Finally, the G7#5 chord creates the perfect amount of tension before we finish with a Cm6.