Beyond Blues: What Would Jimmy Raney Do?
A deep look into how a master combined hard bop with soulful swing.
• Understand how the great Jimmy Raney would phrase over different parts of a jazz-blues progression.
• Learn how to use arpeggios to imply altered chords.
• Develop a stronger sense of swing.
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Several years ago, in the Evolution of the Jazz Combo course at Indiana University, Professor David Baker played a record by clarinetist Buddy DeFranco. Although I had no idea who Buddy DeFranco was, the guitar player on this record left a deep and lasting impression on me. I owe Prof. Baker for introducing me to the playing of the late Jimmy Raney.
Early in my study of jazz, I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to interact with Raney at the Bellarmine College jazz guitar clinic in Louisville, Kentucky. His teaching was not so analytical with regard to theory, he was beyond that. His approach was more about creating melody and how to develop it. Raney was in the process of writing a book at the time, and he was very generous with photocopied handouts that were excerpts of the work in progress. I will never forget sitting beside him playing chord changes as he demonstrated the lines from the handouts. Having accompanied Raney is something I will always consider one of the more surreal moments of my life.
Raney played with a bold melodic drive. He took chances and exhibited an amazing technical mastery of the guitar and keenly instinctive musicianship. His phrasing was varied, and it never failed to surprise the listener. He’d brilliantly contrast very short, concise statements with long daring lines that used chromatic materials and rhythmic variation. The 1957 album 2 Guitars was a collaborative effort with Kenny Burrell and included a blues tune entitled “Blue Duke.” Raney’s solo on the track has so many great elements—some of his trademarks—that are worthy of study. In this lesson, I’ll break down a few excerpts from it.
I don’t know exactly how Raney would have played some of these excerpts, but I have studied them closely and tried to make them as playable as possible. Without a doubt he would have played them with much greater ease than many of us. These examples are positioned where familiar chord voicings would be located, and this should help make them transferrable to other songs and keys. They have a lot to offer.
The relaxed opening phrase (Ex. 1) can be played in 1st position, and it feels comfortable because it fits nicely around the blues scale framework. If you listen carefully at a drastically slowed tempo, it sounds as if the first and second notes are played with a slur. This would require an open B starting note followed by a hammer-on, but I doubt he played it that way. Transposing this lick up the neck would certainly accommodate the slur via sliding into position from one fret below on the 2nd string. Keeping the phrase in first position helps us understand his note choices, relative to the F7 chord, and allows for an easily transposed line.
My guess is that Raney played Ex. 2 starting on the 3rd string in 2nd position, moving down the neck to finish in 1st position. When you see a video of him playing—as with so many great guitarists—he does not seem bound by position or scale shapes.
The short phrase connecting each measure requires sweep picking, and it features a superimposed ascending Fm7 arpeggio (F–Ab–C–Eb) and a descending Bb7 arpeggio (Bb–D–F–Ab), respectively. The C–C#–D melodic motif connecting these arpeggios is an effective way to define the Bb7 sound, with chromatic motion up to the 3 of the chord. Raney addressed this concept at the Bellarmine clinic, and there are countless examples of this device in the language used by all jazz players. The grace note leading to the Ab, which begins the descending Bb7 arpeggio can best be accomplished sliding either the third or fourth finger (player’s choice) up a fret.
This line can also be easily moved to the 5th position (Ex. 3), where it remains very playable and incorporates the same sweeping technique. In this position, notice the chromatic passage can use a slide with the second finger to the 7th fret D. This move makes it easy to shift positions to play the descending Bb7 arpeggio.
Ex. 4 features a line that is very reminiscent of Charlie Parker. Interestingly, at a very slow tempo, you can hear Raney slide off of the blue note, B, to a ghosted Bb which is barely audible and not included in the transcription.
A challenging series of 16th-notes, Ex. 5 uses some common language relative to the underlying harmony. The F# lower neighboring tone is a frequently used device. Notice the TAB here incorporates a slide that can best be accomplished by playing the starting note, G, with the second finger, the subsequent F# with the first finger, which slides up a fret back to G to establish 5th position.
The D–D#–E figure revisits chromatic motion up to the 3 of the target chord, C7. To accommodate this passage, I chose to reach back with the first finger to the D#, and then slide it up to the E at the 5th fret. Over the C7 chord, Raney used a pair of descending minor 7 arpeggios, Dm7 (D–F–A–C) and Dbm7 (here, spelled enharmonically as Db–E–Ab–B, as opposed to Db–Fb–Ab–Cb) to resolve to F. This is something Raney would do with great effect to create a bold melodic path to a perfect resolution.
Raney wasn’t afraid of crafting complicated phrases over a blues, as seen in Ex. 6, which incorporates intriguing note choices and odd-number rhythmic groupings. He spoke about creating rhythmic variation using groups of three and five in a series of eighth- or 16th-notes. Beat 4 of measure one begins with a group of seven—remember, this is in the accents—which seems to displace the line’s subsequent accents while changing the melodic material just enough to make the phrase even more compelling. The line includes numerous altered extensions and chromatic pitches.
Raney liked the broken arpeggio illustrated in the final measure. I picked this up at the Bellarmine clinic, as well. This particluar example is essentially a Gm9 arpeggio (G–Bb–D–F–A) that skips around a bit before resolving to the root.
Over a turnaround, Raney would play something like Ex. 7. More important than the melodic analysis of the altered tones against the chords is the sense of direction and the way they set up the ending.