When learning jazz guitar, the blues is an essential topic that any guitarist should tackle. But, how do you move beyond the standard 12-bar form? One of the tunes that gets called at jam sessions and is blues related (but not 12-bar), is Watermelon Man.
Watermelon Man, a song written by Herbie Hancock who was just 22 at the time, was first released in 1962 on the album Takin’ Off. It was later re-arranged by Hancock for the album Head Hunters (1973). The song was written with commercial intent, but wasn’t a real hit until it was covered in a Latin pop version by Mongo Santamaria (a Cuban percussionist who wrote the jazz standard Afro Blue).
Here are those 3 versions of Watermelon Man next to each other. The first video is Herbie Hancock’s original version, the second is Mongo Santamaria’s cover version and the third video is the Head Hunters version. Fun fact: the intro of the Head Hunters version is percussionist Bill Summers blowing into a beer bottle.
Because this song is a jam session standard, it’s a must-know tune for any jazz guitarist.
To help you learn this 16-bar blues, this lesson shows you the chords, chord melody, and a single-note solo. Have fun with these studies, memorize them, and extract the chords, licks, and concepts to use in your own playing.
Watermelon Man Chords
To begin, here are the piano riff and chords to learn over Watermelon Man.
These chords and riff are based on the recording, adapted to fit the fretboard.
Make sure to work this riff until it’s fully comfortable, as it’s the foundation for the chord melody you learn in the next section.
Watermelon Man Chord Melody
You now mix the chords you just learned with the melody to Watermelon Man to explore a chord melody.
Because the chord riff is so unique, you play the melody and then the riff and move back and forth until the C7-Bb7 section, where you harmonize the melody.
If you are still struggling with the chords, make sure to review them before tackling the chord melody. As well, you can learn the single-note melody on it’s own first, then come back and work this chord melody when you’re ready.
Listen & Play
Watermelon Man Solo
The last study is a single-note solo based on licks from Wes Montgomery’s catalogue.
The main concepts are labeled in the solo, and they are:
- Minor Blues Scale
- Major Blues Scale
- Bebop Scale
- Diatonic 3rds
- 7b13 Scale (5th Mode Melodic Minor)
Besides these concepts, notice how the first four bars ends on a chord tone (the 3rd), that’s not in the minor blues scale. Also, the second phrase ends on a chord tone that’s not in the major blues scale (the b7).
This is an important soloing approach when using blues scales in your lines, and it’s something to take out of this solo and add to your own lines.