Thursday, April 14, 2011


North Wales International Jazz Society Guitar Weekend, Wrexham, Wales

I had a really interesting time at the Wrexham jazz guitar weekend. The main attraction for me was the opportunity to learn from the ace british jazz guitar legend, John Etheridge. The first evening consisted of getting up and knocking out a standard with John and the fab Bill Coleman on double bass. I got up for ‘All The Things You Are’ and did a pretty decent job of it I think. He got us trading fours, which almost caught me out, but I just about got away with it.

The next morning we looked at approaches to chord melody playing, something I don’t do a whole lot of, but keep meaning to have a better look at. John suggested starting with the melody, and then adding the chord root notes. Next it’s a case of adding some chord fragments on the third and fourth strings where you can , but the melody and bass come first.

We then looked at the Joe Pass method. John mentioned that it’s very much a harmonic as opposed to melodic or rhythmic system. Joe Pass didn’t think in terms of scales at all, the system generally being all about chord substitutions, the tones from the chords, and passing notes as the basis for comping and improvising. John suggested that with bebop playing generally, it’s all about chord tones and passing notes, not scales.

On Sunday John talked about some of the improvisation techniques used by players such as John Scofield and Pat Metheny. One scalar approach favoured by himself and Scofield is the use of the half-whole diminished scale on static V7 chords, giving a strong sense of tension. Its sound is not dissimilar to the altered scale, but the natural fifth in the half-whole diminished works well on a static V7, as the flat fifth in the altered scale wants the V7 chord to resolve to its I.

He then talked about the use of primary triads built on harmonised scales. This approach is particularly useful in modal vamp situations such as on ‘So What’, where triads can be used to add interest to comping as well as in the improvising. He then explained the use of fourth or ‘quartal’ voiced suspended chords, and scales harmonised in fourths such as used on Miles’ ‘In a Silent Way’. He said that as long as you have a note from the relevant pentatonic scale on the top of a voicing, you can play pretty much any suspended chord voiced in fourths below, and the harmony will take it. This approach works well with modal vamps too.

To finish up, John summarised his practice approach to new scales and harmony:

  • Get all the notes of the scale all over the neck
  • Play the scales over a looped groove, such as using the Line 6 delay pedal or the iRealBook.
  • Work out the harmonised triad chords
  • Only when the above is mastered, bring in and practice non-scale passing notes
  • Then put a sequence of chords together in a loop and run the scales together in the same area of the fingerboard
Having attended these schools a few times a number of years ago, I was fairly familiar with the material Trefor Owen covered. Having said that, the information on the use of the whole tone scale on V7 chords was something I was aware of, but hadn’t gotten around to looking at. Trefor also took us through some approaches to improvising on the changes to ‘Autumn Leaves’ and ‘One Note Samba’ type sequences.

At lunchtime each day there was a well organised jam in the bar which I had fun at, playing with Giles Barratt, backed by Bill Coleman and a drummer I have to confess I didn’t get the name of. On the Saturday there was a concert with John, Trefor, Andy Hulme, Bill Coleman, violin player Don May and the drummer. John’s playing was great, especially on his loop backed solo performance.

So that was about it. A great weekend and a few more tricks up my sleeve.

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