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Go to the profile of Sam Blakelock
Sam Blakelock
Reflections of a New Zealand jazz guitarist living in NYC.
Oct 20, 2015
What was Joe Pass Approach to Solo Jazz Guitar?

This article is a part of my graduate assignment at the Aaron Copland School of


In Part 1 of this series, you explored Joe Pass journey from child prodigy to drug
addict, to cleaned up jazz superstar. In Part 2 we explore Joes approach to the
art of solo jazz guitar.
How To Play Joe Pass Style Chords Video

In my opinion, the best way to learn about music is by doing rather than reading.
Spend some time exploring the video and use the TAB and notation below to help
internalise Joes innovative approach to jazz guitar.
Now lets explore Joe Pass approach to solo jazz guitar form a biographical and
educational standpoint.
The Idea for Solo Guitar

Jazz promotor Norman Granz asked Joe to play Solo Guitar at a concert. Joe didnt
know what would happen and was very nervous as he had never performed solo before.
In his characteristic humble style Joe said

it was kind of an accident, you know. Nobody got mad or threw anything, so I
continued to do it (Genius of Joe Pass, 2001, DVD)

If you take Joes humble word for it, his innovative approach to solo guitar
happened almost by chance. On the other hand, if you explore Joes history it is
easy to find out where his ability stems from.
The Beginning

Growing up on New Jersey, Joes father used to call him down to play for his
friends when they were drinking wine and playing cards at the age of 14. Joe had to
play little Italian songs or tunes from the radio. Not scales or exercises. His
father would say fill it up! Play! Joe would have to connect phrases of the melody
with improvised lines.

Now if we fast forward to 1973, Joe records his solo guitar Album Virtuoso. Lee
Underwood wrote in Downbeat

Virtuoso startled everybody: one man, one guitar, complex tunes, and a
display of technique that raised the short hair on the back of the neck. (Genius
of Jazz Guitar, 2001, Liner Notes)

Virtuoso (well named in my opinion) set the jazz world on fire and stands as the
solo jazz guitar album of all time.

After Virtuoso Joe went on to record with the whos who of jazz, with an
impressive output of recordings, videos performances (YouTube him to see what I
mean) and even instructional videos.
Solo Jazz Guitar Tips From Joe Pass

In the DVD An Evening With Joe Pass1994' Joe gives a clinic where he describes
his approach to solo jazz guitar. To save you watching the whole thing, I
summarised his advice below.
Play the melody up high.
You dont need a chord for every note.
Dont need to over reharmonize.
Add different alterations or colors to chord (rather than heavy
Have strong voice movements between chords.
You need to have motion and movement in chords.
Dont play fills that dont go anywhere.
You dont have to play bass, chord, melody all the time, dip in and out between
all three.
Keep it easy for yourself.

I recommend you watch the whole clinic to really soak up his approach.
Joe Pass; The Educator

Joes legacy lives on through the clinics and videos he made. To me, this sets Joe
above all other guitaristshe was not only a master guitarist but he shared his
knowledge and helped develop and nurture the jazz tradition. What follows is a
collection of tips and quotes of Joes I found in his clinics and videos.
Make Mistakes

I have never made anything without a glitch or a mistake in it. That is my

trademark. An Evening With Joe Pass1994

The II V I: Just Play the V

Joe didnt know about II V I chords or modes, his students told him about the
concept. Joe heard it first and played it. If he had to think about it Joe says,
forget the II. You dont need it. Dont think it as two separate chords. Its the V
that counts. An Evening With Joe Pass1994
Learning a Jazz Standard: Keep it Simple

Learn it really simplejust the core harmony. Dont complicate the chords. You
hear the alterations and play them but you think simply. For example Joe thinks of
the first chords to Stella by Starlight as:

|A7 | F7 | Bb7 Eb Ebm |

Compare those basic chords to a typical leadsheet and youll get what Joe was
talking about: think simple, remove the II, hear the rest. An Evening With Joe
Thinking While Playing: Dont Do It

You cant think and play. If you think about what you are playing, the playing
does, becomes stilted. You have to just focus on the music, I feel, concentrate on
the music, focus on what you are playing, and let the playing come out. Genius of
Jazz Guitar, 2001, Video interview

(music) is like a language. You have a whole collection of musical ideas and
thoughts that you have accumulated through your musical history plus all the
musical history of the whole world and its all in your subconscious, and you draw
upon it when you play. Genius of Jazz Guitar, 2001, Video interview.

Top 7 Joe Pass Jazz Guitar Licks

To wrap up, here are a bunch of easy Joe Pass inspired licks to add to your
repertoire. Enjoy!
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Go to the profile of Sam Blakelock
Sam Blakelock

Reflections of a New Zealand jazz guitarist living in NYC.

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