Photo by RR Jones

Alex Skolnick shares an insightful tribute to the father of modern jazz guitar.

The very first time I heard Pat Martino, I was so mesmerized that I called local Northern California radio station KJAZ (now defunct) to find out who was playing. This was long before we had Shazam and similar smartphone apps that identify music, and if you didn't get through to the station you were out of luck. Fortunately, I did and was told the cut they'd played was from an album called Desperado. I soon bought others I'd seen mentioned in guitar magazines at the time, including The Visit! and Consciousness.

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The king of jam band 6 string goes deep—in a conversation with Testament’s leader—on the ’90s jam renaissance, Jeff Buckley, Dixie Dregs, and cutting tracks for Widespread Panic's latest album, Street Dogs.

Here’s a question that comes up every once in a while during an interview: “Are there any guitarists you count as influences who might not be as familiar to our readers (or listeners) as more household names such as Van Halen, Hendrix, or Metheny?” My first answer, for quite some time now, has been the same: Jimmy Herring.

Although he isn’t the first to bridge the gap between high-energy rock soloing and jazz-inspired improvisation (the ’70s recordings of Jeff Beck as well as those of drummer Billy Cobham, featuring the late guitarist Tommy Bolin, come to mind), no one to my knowledge has taken it to the level that Jimmy has. If you’re someone who enjoys the “screaming” of rock and blues solos, but has grown tired of hearing predictable pentatonic patterns, or if you’ve ever been intrigued by modern improvisation—chromatic lines, extended triads, outside phrases—but have had to adjust your tastes to accommodate the mellifluousness of traditional jazz guitar tone, then Jimmy Herring might be, depending on your theological juxtaposition:

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What separated Jeff from the rest of the metal pack was his rhythm technique, his songwriting, and that for which he will be most remembered—his riffs.

It was L.A.'s hottest day of the year, soon to segue into one of metal's biggest nights—the Revolver Golden God Awards fifth-anniversary show—when a very sad rumor spread amongst those of us in town to attend the event. Soon it would be confirmed as true via an official statement from Slayer: Founding guitarist Jeff Hanneman—who'd suffered from a tragic necrotizing fasciitis infection that prevented him from playing with Slayer since early 2011—had passed away a few hours earlier from liver failure. The world had just lost a voice hugely influential in metal and beyond.

Jeff had a subtle sense of humor that was all his own, and though he was a bit more reserved than the rest of the Slayer camp, he viewed life as a party to be enjoyed to its fullest. Much of what Jeff’s loved ones and fans appreciated about him was his steadfast and genuine style—the fact that he didn’t stray from his own vision. In Jon Wiederhorn and Katherine Turman’s Louder Than Hell: The Definitive Oral History of Metal, Jeff is quoted, “I tried to emulate what [well-known shredders] did and really grow as a guitarist. Then I said, ‘I don’t think I’m that talented, but more important, I don’t care.’” But as legions of dedicated Slayer fans the world over would attest, Jeff’s portrayal of himself as marginally talented is completely inaccurate. A more apt description could be summed up in one word, "immense."

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While upper extensions apply to all keys and several different chord types, today we’ll be looking at those of Gm7.

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This lesson, while a play on the title of a popular Madonna song (ripped off by Lady Gaga), has a topic that is a bit less sexy sounding: the upper extensions of 7th chords. These extensions have nothing to do with either pop singer’s outlandish brassiere, nor do they in any way refer to the numerous male enhancement products available on the internet. While upper extensions apply to all keys and several different chord types, today we’ll be looking at those of Gm7.

There are several reasons why we’re choosing to focus on the Gm7 chord. First, Gm7 provides a rare intersection between jazz and hard rock. Unlike some common jazz keys such as Bb major and Eb minor, the key of G minor is one that most hard rock guitarists have come across at some point (think Deep Purple’s “Smoke On The Water” and Edgar Winter’s “Frankenstein”). It’s often used in jazz, both as the foundation of the key of G minor (vi of Bb major) or the ii of F major. Examples include the Wes Montgomery classic “Four On Six” (from The Incredible Jazz Guitar Of Wes Montgomery) and the Michael Brecker track with Pat Metheny on guitar “Nothing Personal” (from the album Michael Brecker). On my new trio album, Veritas, there is a tune which features an extended Gm7 jam and one of the examples (Fig. 11) is transcribed directly from that track. All the examples here can work well over the groove used on “The River Lethe.”

The concept of upper extensions is based on the idea that there are four primary chord tones: root, 3, 5, and 7. Beyond those lie the 9, 11, and 13 (in essence, this refers to the 2, 4, and 6 played in the next octave). The first example shown in Fig. 1 is an arpeggio consisting of the four primary chord tones of Gm7, the root, minor 3rd, 5 and minor 7th (G–Bb–D–F). Listen to how it sounds over a Gm7 chord—with only the basic chord tones, it blends in discreetly.

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Fig. 2 adds a little bit more color to the mix, leaving out the root, beginning on the third and extending to the 9: minor 3rd, 5, minor 7th, and 9 (Bb–D–F–A).

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The example shown in Fig. 3 starts on the next note (fifth) and extends to the 4 (also known as the 11): 5, minor 7th, 9, and 11.

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We continue with Fig. 4 by starting on the next note (minor 7th) and extends to the 13.

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Try playing each arpeggio from one into the next, ascending (Fig. 5) and descending (Fig. 6). Similarly all four can be played as sweep arpeggios.

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My favorite way is to accent the highest note, both ascending (Fig. 7) and descending (Fig. 8).

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Next, lets take a look at each arpeggio combined with a few other notes to form a jazzy lick. Fig. 9 takes the basic Gm7 arpeggio from Fig. 1 and turns it into a two measure jazz phrase, inserting scale notes and chromaticism. Notice how the first note of the second measure (D) is approached from a half step below. We follow that note with two chromatic notes from above, often referred to as a “double-chromatic” approach.

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Fig. 10
utilizes the arpeggio from Fig. 2. Notice how the 9 is placed before the 3 in the beginning (a common way of starting a jazz phrase). Then the arpeggio is played verbatim, followed by the root, which is approached from a chromatic note below, then a scale tone (A), leading into a descending triad, ending on the 9 for color.

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Now let’s look at the lick mentioned earlier, Fig. 11 which occurs at 1:52 on the track “The River Lethe” (from Veritas). It utilizes the same position we used in Fig. 3 (the arpeggio that starts on the fifth and ends on the eleventh). Since this works over a funky, rock groove (inspired by Jeff Beck’s ’70s instrumental work), it consists of mostly sixteenth notes. It starts just like Fig. 7, with the arpeggio played as an ascending triplet. From there it inserts scale tones in its descent, before resolving on the root. This lick emphasizes the extensions brought out by the opening arpeggio, making it more colorful than a typical minor pentatonic rock lick.

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Lastly, we have a lick that incorporates the arpeggio extension from Fig. 4. Fig. 12 begins on a triplet like the previous example, only with an additional pick up note thrown in (the scale tone below the 7). This arpeggio then descends with a couple scale tones in the mix (D and G), a touch of chromaticism (A is approached with single chromatic notes from above then below), and finally, a rough outline of the previous two arpeggios now played in tenth position. The lick ends on a colorful note, E (13) causing a slight feeling of non-resolution.

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It’s understandable that this may be a lot to take in at once. For that reason, it’s important to go slowly. These licks should be played and absorbed without too much thought. If you get bogged down, just focus on playing the lick. You can always come back to the verbal descriptions later. Music is about sound–the descriptions are there for greater understanding, but not necessary for performance. Once you’ve absorbed these examples, try incorporating them into different keys and grooves. From there, experiment with other fret positions, string groups, and octaves. I want to encourage you to, for lack of a better word, extend into other variations. Most importantly, don’t forget to have fun.

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