Joe Pass Chords – Essential Lines and Concepts

Joe Pass is often considered as the greatest jazz guitarist who ever lived. The ability to play in solo, duo, and ensembles with ease, as well as move between single notes, bass lines, and chords, made him a true virtuoso. When studying his playing, one concept that is essential to spend time on is Joe Pass’ chord concepts.

By studying classic Joe Pass chords and chord phrases, as well as breaking down the concepts behind those lines, you will begin to bring a Joe Pass vibe to your own jazz harmony.

In this lesson, you’ll break down 5 classic Joe Pass chord licks, analyze the concepts behind those licks, and learn how you can take these lines and concepts into your own comping and chord soloing.

How to Practice Joe Pass Chords

As well as learning the Joe Pass chord licks below, you will want to take them further in order to get the most out of your studies with this material.

To help you dig deep into these lines and the concepts behind them, here are six ways that you can practice Joe Pass chords:

• Learn the lines in the given key.
• Move the lines to other keys.
• Apply the lines to your comping/chord soloing over standards.
• Work the lines at various tempos.
• Apply the concepts behind each line to your playing.
• Write your own lines using the concepts of each example.


Joe Pass Chords 1

This first Joe Pass chord line features a classic walk-up phrase over a ii V I chord progression in F major.

The chords walk up both diatonic and chromatic shapes, creating interest and movement in the line over the common chord progression.

Check out the following chords:

• Bbmaj7 is used as a rootless Gm9 chord
• Bdim7 is used as a passing chord between Bbmaj7 and C7
• Em11b5 is used as a rootless C13 chord
• Gdim7 is used as a rootless C7b9 chord


As you work through these chord lines, take any concept or sub that you like, such as playing Bbmaj7 over Gm7, and expand upon that chord concept.


Listen & Play Along



Joe Pass Chords 2

In this next chord phrase, you’ll see diatonic chords used for each change in the progression. A typical Joe Pass bassline and rhythm are used to create interest.

The line uses chromatic notes to connect the chord you’re on, to the next chord in the progression in a typical Joe Pass fashion.

You can see an example of this with the C# connecting the Fmaj7 to D7alt chord in the first bar of the line.

The 8th-quarter-8th rhythm for each chord is something you’ll find in Joe’s playing, especially his solo guitar output.


Listen & Play Along



Joe Pass Chords 3

In this chord phrase, you’ll use a very typical concept that Joe uses to outline minor ii V I chord progressions.

The first chord is Dm7b5, and Joe plays Dm7b5 for that chord change.

Then, over G7alt, you move the Dm7b5 chord up a minor 3rd to Fm7b5.

When doing so, you get the following intervals:


Fm7b5 ChordFAbBEb
Fm7b5 Over G7altFAbBEb


From there you move down to Ebmaj7 over Cm7, creating a rootless Cm9 chord in the process.

If this concept is a bit over your head for now, no worries, learn the phrase and practice applying it to your comping and chord-soloing.

If you’re able to grasp the concept with confidence, practice applying it to your comping and chord soloing over jazz standards.


Listen & Play Along



Joe Pass Chords 4

Another common Joe Pass rhythm is the triplet, with the bass notes on the first and last note of the triplet and the chord placed on the middle beat.

You can see an example of this over a descending ending in F major below.

Though you might not use this progression very often, you can take the concept out of this line and apply it to your playing, especially when ending a tune.

After you’ve learned the example, take any tune you’re working on and play each chord with the triplet bass-chord-bass rhythm to apply this concept to other musical situations.


Listen & Play Along



Joe Pass Chords 5

This final Joe Pass chord example is a more advanced ii V I phrase in C major.

Take your time with this line, as it will pose some technical challenges.

Notice the rising chords in the first two beats, followed by the repeated chords to finish out the line.

Playing a chord twice, such as from the second half of bar 1 to the second half of bar 2, is characteristic of Joe’s playing and something you can take into your own comping and chord soloing ideas.


Listen & Play Along



Do you have questions or feedback? Let us know by leaving a comment below…


The Easy Guide to Jazz Guitar Chords

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33 thoughts on “Joe Pass Chords – Essential Lines and Concepts”

  1. John

    I’ve been following you for years. Best site on the internet for jazz. Thanks for the knowledge.

  2. Dona

    My teacher turned me onto this site. He’s uh lets say “very picky” when it comes to other lessons and transcriptions. This is by far the most generous and best jazz guitar site online.Just wanted to say thanks for all of these free wonderful lessons.

    1. Dirk Laukens

      Hi Dona, that’s a nice compliment, thanks!

  3. Jim Caudill

    I was working in a guitar booth at the NAMM show in Anaheim in ’92 (’93?), across from the D’Aquisto booth. Joe and Jimmy D. were great friends, and as Joe came down the aisle to Jimmy’s booth, heard me playing all by my lonesome. He sat down, grabbed a guitar, and we played Stompin’ At The Savoy! Well, he played and I shook, would be more accurate. He said, “sounds good, man”. He could have embarrassed me at any minute, but he was only interested in the music. It was obvious his health was failing by then. What a memory!

  4. JUAN

    excelente., gracias por tanta ayuda Juan

  5. Paul JM

    Great lesson, Dirk. Thank you again. Though I have to admit, some of the 4 fret stretches (e.g. Em11b5) are a little tough for me!

  6. danilo angulo

    Muy interesante este material que me han enviado. Muy util para el estudio. Estoy Agradecido.

  7. Paul

    I think I wrote “he can’t play well any more” and I meant to sy I csn’t

  8. Paul

    He’s great — but can’t play well any more so I can’t do it

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