A fun and interesting chord progression, the tune Killer Joe is a commonly called jazz standard on both jam sessions and in gigging situations. While the tune looks easy from an initial look at the chords, especially the A sections which are only two chords, it can be tricky to keep things from becoming monotonous when playing over these changes.
Below you will find a chord study written out over the changes to Killer Joe that uses melodic comping phrases to outline the changes, but keep things interesting and prevent the tune from becoming predictable at the same time.
So, let’s dive into one of the most common Jazz Guitar Standards, “Killer Joe!”
What’s In this Killer Joe Chord Study
As you will notice, in the chord study there is text written under many of the chords in the tune. This text is to indicate the chords used in that part of the chord study.
Here is a bit of background on each of these chord concepts that you can use to understand the underlying theoretical building blocks of the chord study. From there, you can use these concepts to build chord studies over this tune, and other tunes, of your own.
Lenny Breau Chords – These chords are inspired by the playing of the late, great Lenny Breau. They use the 3rd and 7th as the lowest two notes, or 7th and 3rd, with one color note placed on top of those notes to form the whole chord shape.
Rootless 13th Chords – Built by taking the root out of the 7th chord, and adding the 13th and most of the time the 9th, these shapes were a favourite of Joe Pass and are a great way to spice up your comping ideas.
7alt Chords – When playing over 7th chords, and you want to add a level of tension to your playing, you can add in the altered notes to your chords, b9-#9-b5-#5, which will create a sense of tension that you can then resolve to the next chord in the tune.
Drop 2 Chords – Built with the interval structure R-5-7-3, with inversions created from that root-position shape, Drop 2 chords are some of the most commonly used shapes in jazz guitar.
4th Chords – These shapes are built by stacking 4th intervals, rather than the traditional 3rd intervals, to create three and sometimes four-note shapes on the guitar.
Closed Chords – Closed shapes are built by placing all of the chords in the order that they appear, such as R-3-5-7, and are sometimes inverted from that beginning position.
Dim7 Chords – When outlining 7b9 shapes, you can play dim7 chords from the b9, 3, 5 and b7 of the 7th chord in order to build a rootless 7b9 sound in your playing.
Bluesy Drop 2 Chords – These shapes are built by adding blues and other diatonic notes on top of Drop 2 chords in order to create a bluesy sound in your comping ideas.
Killer Joe Chord Study
Here is the full chord study for you to practice. Each 8-bar phrase has been written to be a unique part of the tune as a whole, which means that you will be able to isolate each 8-bar phrase, learn it on its own, and then combine them all to form the tune as a whole.
You can use your fingers to play these chords, or a pick, or hybrid pick-fingerpicking when learning this chord study. Whatever works for you and is the most comfortable will work as long as it allows you to play the chords smoothly and accurately in the woodshed.
Killer Joe Backing Track
To help you learn this Killer Joe Jazz Guitar Chord Study in the woodshed, here is a short backing track that you can use to play along with in the practice room.
Note that the track is at a performance tempo, a bit quick when first learning the study, so work these chords with a metronome first and then move on to this track when you have the study memorized at a good tempo.
Do you have any questions about this Killer Joe Jazz Guitar Chord Study? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.