Get inside this jazz standard with a handful of useful concepts.
• Learn how to apply secondary pentatonics.
• Create lines that imply alternate harmonies.
• Understand the basics of Brazilian rhythm guitar.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.