The Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary
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  1. #1

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    I have a chance to audition for a big band. Completely new experience.

    I understand the 2 and 3 note voicing thing and have been digging in to the Jazz at the Lincoln Centre videos by James Chirillo.



    Other than that I am walking in cold.

    Listening to James cutting percussive sound, it sounds like I should use both pick ups on my 175 rather than they thick warm neck pickup, roll off the bass of the amp and the volume of the guitar so it has less sustain and a woodier sound?

    I am trying to get some charts in advance.

    Any tips?

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    The Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary
     
  3. #2

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    You may find that you have rhythm charts which just indicate a four-to-the-bar ‘chug’, without the accents/off-beats that the horns play. Be prepared to play those accents in order to maximise the ensemble feel. Lots of listening is the trick.

    Pay close attention to any dynamics marked on your chart. Big bands often get extremely loud and lose their finesse as a result. When something is marked as p (soft), make sure it’s played softly.

    If you’re doing a fast tempo piece, don’t be tempted to tap your foot. It will fatigue before you realise and you’ll lose tempo. Beware the big band situation of 20 players all tapping their feet – in a slightly different rhythm.

    I hope you enjoy it. I’ve been doing big band work for 20 years now. It’s great fun and there’s so much you can learn in that setting.

  4. #3

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    Quote Originally Posted by gggomez
    I have a chance to audition for a big band. Completely new experience.

    I understand the 2 and 3 note voicing thing and have been digging in to the Jazz at the Lincoln Centre videos by James Chirillo.



    Other than that I am walking in cold.

    Listening to James cutting percussive sound, it sounds like I should use both pick ups on my 175 rather than they thick warm neck pickup, roll off the bass of the amp and the volume of the guitar so it has less sustain and a woodier sound?

    I am trying to get some charts in advance.

    Any tips?
    Depends a lot on what sort of big band... Old school Basie style is more about the acoustic thunk 4 beats to the bar. Something like the modern incarnation of the Mingus big band may put you playing more melodic roles. Latin, fusion, all require a different sound. I've played in a band that did it all.


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  5. #4

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    Are you auditioning with the full band, or in a smaller setting, or just playing solo?

  6. #5

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    There's a zen practice where you sit in a chair and try and focus on your entire self sitting in a chair, breathing in and out, feeling your entire presence. Then mentally try and zoom out, as though the center of your focal point is no long inside your body or mind, but instead move up to the top corner of the room. Try and be completely aware of the entire room with your body sitting within it, in a chair, breathing. Can you hold onto that? Can you move between that and the first center of focus? Now try and zoom out further... maybe to the street outside your home. Can you see the entire house, with the room in it, with your body sitting in the the chair? Now zoom out further, to see your neighborhood, or the city, or the country, or the planet, or the universe, etc. If you can hold onto the next step... try and move between them.

    Playing in a large ensemble or a big band is a lot like that. You've got to be willing and able to focus on lots of different things... and allow the music to move between them. Sometimes, you're just a tiny little voice amongst a lot of other tiny little voices all being used simultaneously. Other times, the band will shrink down to a trio or a quartet or a duo and you've gotta be able to shift how you're hearing and connecting to the music then. So the role of the guitarist changes as the music changes. The best big bands have smokin hot small groups hiding inside them...

    Other than that... just have fun and try not to stress too much. The looser you can stay, the more swinging your playing will be... which will help drive the entire band's sound.

  7. #6

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    Quote Originally Posted by jordanklemons
    Other times, the band will shrink down to a trio or a quartet or a duo and you've gotta be able to shift how you're hearing and connecting to the music then. So the role of the guitarist changes as the music changes.
    That's a very good point, and is a big part of the fun. A good arranger will exploit the possibilities, often in just one song, of the many various combinations within the band.

  8. #7

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    Definitely a good point about shifting contexts. Unless the band is strictly a period ensemble the roles, especially in the rhythm section can shift a lot.
    When I've had big band auditions before it's been reading single note lines, comping in various styles, soloing, or there was one audition where the directive was just to "play something" (that ended up being a fun group).



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  9. #8

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    Is Ellington Basie in style.
    The try out is in a stripped down format.

    Yeah good tips, getting me excited.

    I have seen 2 big bands in my life, both top shelf:

    In the 80's Philip Morris Superband (with Herb Ellis on guitar), I still have the LP. From memory Harry Sweets Edison stole the show:



    and a couple of years ago Jazz at Lincoln Centre hosting Rosenwinkel (unfortunately the video has been taken down of Kurt) and McBride:


  10. #9

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    Quote Originally Posted by gggomez
    Is Ellington Basie in style.
    The try out is in a stripped down format.
    Cool, that should be fun. If I had to choose the single most important thing to demonstrate to the bandleader, it would be that you can play well as part of an ensemble. Do your part, leave space (or at least modify your volume) where appropriate and listen lots. Keep super steady time. If they specifically ask to check out your killer soloing chops, then let ‘em have it. Otherwise, as cliche as it seems, it will be your skill as a team player that could get you the gig. Once you’re there, then sooner or later there will be ample opportunity to knock their socks off with some solos.

    Do you know what the full line-up of instruments is in this band?

  11. #10

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    If the charts for your band are as terrible as the ones for mine were, you'll run into situations where the guitar parts are ridiculously overdetermined. When a new chord is flying at you for every quarter note at 230, it's pretty hard to keep your brain from exploding. In those situations, I've found that just hitting the first and last chords of the measure (often just the first) will do the trick 90% of the time.

    Also, when (not if) you get lost, keep counting, listen for the next section, and keep your right hand hitting strings. As long as there is a "chonk chonk chonk chonk" going on, you should be able to fake it for a few bars.

  12. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jehu
    If the charts for your band are as terrible as the ones for mine were, you'll run into situations where the guitar parts are ridiculously overdetermined.
    This is unfortunately true. Not all arrangers are guitar-savvy. And while specific chord-voicings are not often written in big band guitar charts, when they are, they are sometimes unplayable because they’ve been worked out on piano. No easy answer to this other than to try your best to pick out the essential tones and zero in on them, even if you don’t play everything in the chord. Easier said than done when you’re sight-reading a super-fast chart.

  13. #12

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    When in doubt on fast changes, the root/7/3 triad is your best friend as a placeholder.

    I also found that at times it was more comfortable to do the faster 4 to a bar stuff strumming up on 1&3 with downstrokes on 2&4. Makes for a natural backbeat emphasis along with an easier and more even pace for the right hand while the left hand worries about flipping through changes.

    I was in a mostly Ellington tribute band for a while and had to play off piano or bass charts 95% of the time since most of them had no guitar part originally. Lots of "making do"

    Also, if you get the gig, you should convince them to do "Solo Flight." Guitar players deserve the big band spotlight too!!


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  14. #13

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    Two reasons the Freddie Green 4-to-the-bar approach worked for Mr. Green:
    a) His pianist made a career from staying out of his way.
    b) That band helped invent old-school swing music based on four-on-the-floor so that's what that particular book was about.

    As to "b" whole lotta big bands, and a metric crapload of charts, are not about 4-to-the-bar guitar. In those settings 4x guitar risks stepping on the drummer and bassist.

    As to "a" many big-band pianists failed to learn Basies's Lesson.
    . Job number one for a big-band guitarist is to work with the pianist to stay out of each others' way. Sometimes that means letting the pianist play for a while as you practice using your chair.
    . Job number two for a big-band guitarist is to stay out of the way of the horn arrangement.
    . Job number three for a big-band guitarist is to swing like crazy.
    . Job number four is to read fly-snot.

    But when it's fun it's uniquely fun. Good luck -- go get 'em!

  15. #14

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    You have the audition yet?

  16. #15

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    Love playing in a big band, it is so much fun. Three note voicings are practical big band guitar swing. Acquire a copy of the book : Three note voicings and beyond by Randy Vincent. Ballads are different animals. In ballads you can play more entire chords. I do record all of the songs during rehersals so I can practice at home with the band as often as I like.
    If the sheet music tells you four different chords in a bar, it is not allways necessary to play them all. Just play the right ones.

    Unless you are supposed to play the solo once in a while, it is most important to listen to the others in the band, guitar has only a support rythm role in a big band.
    Enjoy your audition !!

  17. #16

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    This is great


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  18. #17

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    First and foremost, swing guitar is a thing unto itself. And nobody details it better than forum member Jonathan Stout. Check out his blog for tons of advice on gear, technique, and inspiration by less well remembered masters. Go back about a year to his post about the use of 6th chords in swing vs. 7th chords in bop and post bop. Jonathan Stout and his Campus Five, featuring Hilary Alexander - Swing Guitar Blog

    Also, of utmost importance, TURN YOUR AMP DOWN! If you're doing 4 to the floor (and if it's swing, you should) then you want to be as close to acoustic as possible. A carved vintage cannon like an Epiphone Emperor is built for this, and Jonathan is right an electric arch top will sustain differently. But you can get close if you use as little amplification as possible. When I play this feel, in big band or a swing combo, I go from 7-8 volume on my guitar for solos to as low as 3 when playing rhythm.

    Four to the floor will work fine with a busy pianist, after all it worked for Barney and Herb Ellis when playing with Oscar Peterson . The bigger thing you have to be aware of is not clashing with a bop drummer. Otherwise you'll be playing a cross purposes (loose vs. tight swing).

    Finally, I disagree on not tapping your feet. For the record, Bobby Broom agrees with me: I?ve Got Rhythm ? Keeping Time and the Metronome : Bobby Broom To avoid foot spasms that resemble a seizure, I'd recommend tapping (or whatever physical counting act you choose) on only 2 and 4. Butch Warren drilled this into my head and it really locks in the groove.

  19. #18

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    Wow that Jonathan Stout website is a treasure trove.

    Thanks ingeneri for the tips.

  20. #19

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  21. #20

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    I had a crack and will be back.

    I learnt:

    - my 175 and Princeton sound fully sick
    - no one really cares what the guitar is doing, what it sounds like etc as long as it fits or if they can't hear it that is just as good
    - there should be more amateur big bands such a great community spirit
    - when the band cranks up it almost sounds as good as my 175 and Princeton
    - great for learning inversions (to make the changes efficient) and hearing the extensions, Guitar Chart had lots of 6ths 9ths, even a Bb 6/9(add E) which sounded really nice

    We did:

    Strike up the Band - Gershwin, this was super cool
    Sunny - hard to follow the Chart, it even had a H7#5
    Cry Me A River (Bubbley version was not a fan but when the band cranked it up it did sound sweet)

  22. #21

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    Quote Originally Posted by gggomez
    Sunny - hard to follow the Chart, it even had a H7#5
    Sounds like it went well - congratulations.

    The H chord may possibly be a B7#5. I think this manner of writing B chords came from Germany, but I don't know its full origin. Others here will be more knowledgeable about this. But I have encountered the occasional H chord and it's always turned out to be B.

  23. #22

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    Quote Originally Posted by jovialspoon
    Sounds like it went well - congratulations.

    The H chord may possibly be a B7#5. I think this manner of writing B chords came from Germany, but I don't know its full origin. Others here will be more knowledgeable about this. But I have encountered the occasional H chord and it's always turned out to be B.
    In German, H is Bnat and B is Bb! I remember reading once that JS Bach worked his name (BACH = Bb A C Bnat) into a piece.

    <googles/> BACH motif:


  24. #23

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    Legend says that German Monks misread the squared off b as an h or because the b was poorly written and the bottom line was forgotten. Anyway, the concept of the h was spread through the main form of written Music at the time and the Germans adapted it.

  25. #24

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    In German, not only in Germany, B natural is called H. What is Bb in English is B in German.

    Some people adopt the English nomenclature. For some reasons all of them are guitar players.


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