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  1. #1

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    Hi all
    I would really like to know more about accompanying a vocalist when performing jazz standards. What to play, what not to play, (are there really any rules)? Joe Pass sounds fantastic with Ella but his guitar ideas come thick and fast and are hard to copy. Where does one start when working with a singer in this style? Any ideas are very welcome.

    guitarone

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    The Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary
     
  3. #2

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    I would try having a strong bassline/bass notes so the singer can feel more comfortable with the tonalities. And don't be afraid to stick to simple Freddie Green voicings when the singer is singing, Root-7th-3rd, or Root-3rd-7th. This will provide a nice cushion for the singer to work with, then in between phrases you can add some single note or chord riffs ala Joe Pass.

    The best way to learn this stuff is to go out and do it. Grab a local singer and jam on tunes, you'll be suprised how fast you can pick this stuff up that way.

    MW

  4. #3

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    Thanks MW
    I do find that perhaps I try to put too much into the guitar accomp parts.
    Simplifying the chord might be a better way to go. That way I can really spruce it up when soloing. Great advice thanks

    Guitarone

  5. #4

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    accompanying singers is one of my favorite things to do.

    #1, i'd say, pare down your voicings. get an idea for what he/she may want to try. then you can start "giving them suggestions" harmonically.

    #2 give the singer a good steady rhythm until you both feel comfortable going off.

    #3 be prepared to play songs in keys you haven't played them in before.

    that's my advice. i think you'll find if you work with a decent vocalist, it's a hell of a lot of fun. and sometimes, it's who you don't expect--the most professional singer i've worked with was, i kid you not, 17 years old. what an ear!

  6. #5

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    The "hipper" your voicings, the worse it can be for singers. Don't bury the melody note. Keep a steady rhythm. The moment your comping becomes noticeable, you've failed. Picture a banquet with a bunch of great food and flowers and an incredible centerpiece ... you're the table.

    In general, be careful about suggesting songs until you really, really know the singer. If the singer doesn't dig the song, but you really think it's awesome ... the singer wins and you don't do the song. Don't press the issue.

    Learn your singer's range. With a female, know where her chest and head voice ranges are; with a male, know where his falsetto begins.

  7. #6

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    You have to first and foremost listen really really closely to what the vocalist is doing phrase wise. You have to also follow their body language a lot to find out where they're putting the ends of their lines.

    I love to play solo with singers it's so much fun to do especially if the Singer not only is doing their own thing but are actually singing along with your thing, it's a great communication that can happen.

    I tend to use a lot of 4 note voicings, provide a strong bass movements (roots and fifths or walk downs) and give them the melody notes when I can put them in but never spoon feed. Be prepared to really lay down the form of the tune solidly. Don't play anything weird at harmonic cadencial points and becareful about any subs you put in. Alot of singers work shit out with a piano and thus have in their minds ear a version of the harmony that you might want to improvise with under them and they just don't know how to react to that tri-tone sub you played.

    However, I never compromise to any great length my own interests. I try and play my way and let them know that we can worth together. I love sitting with a singer and just go through tunes out of book. Much fun.

  8. #7

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    Lots of good suggestions here. I can only add that for me personally, having done probably 90% of my past gigs on solo guitar, I have to remind myself to lay back and remember what my gig is here — accompanist. When I'm solo I want the guitar to stand out. When I'm with a singer I'm trying to make her look good. I have fun in finding the art in that.

  9. #8

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    Thanks for all your responses. Some fantastic advice here that will keep me thinking for ages. More than I could ever have hoped for. You are all fountains of information. What a great site.

    guitarone

  10. #9

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    I've been racking my brains over a book title! Just came upon it ... Gerald Moore, The Unashamed Accompanist. From a classical perspective, but it provides great insight into the art. I read it at my library ... appears to be out-of-print. Short read, about 120 pages or so.

    I'm going to check it out again!

  11. #10

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    I love that title Bones. I'm going to the library.

  12. #11

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    I'm going to start playing with a vocalist in a duo setting. Any suggestions for extending the songs instrumentally. I don't want to just play another verse of chord melody; do you do a comping thing in between vocal sections???????

    Sailor

  13. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sailor
    I'm going to start playing with a vocalist in a duo setting. Any suggestions for extending the songs instrumentally. I don't want to just play another verse of chord melody; do you do a comping thing in between vocal sections???????

    Sailor
    Usually you do the comping thing during the vocal sections and then do chord-melody.

    Other soloing ideas ... walk bass lines, comp chords, chord then lines, etc.

  14. #13

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    Thanks stackabones - I thought that full chords, two to a bar might help the singer along better than comping. I also thought that the chord melody would sound like too much of the same thing during a vocal break. I only sing and play alone now so I have a lot to learn.

    Sailor

  15. #14

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    Quote Originally Posted by Sailor
    Thanks stackabones - I thought that full chords, two to a bar might help the singer along better than comping.
    That's one method of comping (playing two chords to the bar if that's what the song calls for), but you don't have to play full chords to comp.

    Typically, I don't chord-melody solo while the singer is singing (whether I'm singing or I'm backing up a singer). Sometimes it can be a nice effect to play the melody while the singer sings the melody ... but you've got to be careful when you do that -- kinda hems in the singer too much imo. Usually just better to comp, walk bass lines and things like that while the lyrics are up front. Save the chord-melody solo for the solo.

  16. #15

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    I began working with a singer a few months back - the usual repertoire, which we both love - and I feel I'm doing OK. However there was one gig I couldn't make due to family committments, so she found another guitar player - a REAL jazz guitarist - I thought my position in her guitar chair was over. I managed to turn up for their second set, and the guy's playing reinforced my fears - he was all over the place. A great player. I slunk out before they noticed me.

    However... although this guy wants to do more with her, she said she much prefers me. I said, 'Why? The guy is great'. Her reply? 'He doesn't listen. You listen'. I've kept my job.

    So, you don't need to know all the advanced stuff. KISS is the byword for accompanying. Keep it simple and listen to her breathing, phrasing, little improvs she throws in. Try to get some of that stuff into your breaks, so that you sound like the guitar version of her.

    I've just bought a Cd called '1am' by Martin Taylor and Alison Burns, doing a similar repertoire. I expected Martin to be all over the place, but it's amazing how he knows when to keep it simple. He listens.

    By the way - my first post here. Still very much a student of jazz. Looking forward to learning all the clever stuff which will lose me my job

  17. #16

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    Great response footprints - I am just starting a vocal/guitar duo and feel much the same as you. I'm definitely not all over the place but I feel the backup is smooth, somewhat simple, but pretty(musical!).

    Glad you're keeping your gig.

    Sailor

  18. #17

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    Killer post, footprints. Welcome aboard!!! Great reminder that the song is the thing and listening is key.

    Too many guitarists (and pianists for that matter) get into the duo thing and say they won't change how they play, that they won't sacrifice their sound and concept, when backing up a singer. That's probably what your sub did ... let his jazz ego try to step into the limelight (typical instrumentalist behavior btw). More instrumentalists should work with singers in order to help get their axes out of their jazzholes.

    Sounds like you're working with the singer and trying to make the song the star and not yourself. And your singer has noticed. Cool!

  19. #18

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    Great posts in this thread from everyone above. I try my best to keep it simple and as I said above make her look good, and also as Stackabones said (paraphrasing) make the song the star. I may do chord melody between her verses and if there's more then one, I try to play a different chord melody. Sometimes I don't even do that... just play the changes. On a few songs — Gershwin's "The Man I Love" comes to mind — I will play the melody along with her on verses towards the end, but when I do, I'm trying to play close attention to what she's doing and compliment it. It's a good opportunity for me to listen. My only other thought here is rhythm, rhythm, rhythm... keep it in the pocket always and you've done your job... anything else you do well is gravy.
    Last edited by Herby; 07-27-2008 at 04:28 PM.

  20. #19

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    I have spent many years playing classical versions of jazz standards ie: Duarte, Abril, Almeida etc, and I often find that it works to just play these arrangements along with the vocalist. I just leave out the melody note and sometimes I leave it in. This seems to work very well and seems to set up all sorts of syncopations with the vocalist. There are all sorts of surprises along the way! I am now trying to play a chord melody in the middle as well so as to stretch out the songs. Finding classical arrangements in the right key for the vocalist is sometimes hard, however, it is good to stretch the vocalist's range if you can't find one. And as much as I don't like them, I have found a capo a pretty handy device when approaching accompaniment like this. You can even take a Kayser off for your chord melody and replace it mid flight when returning to the vocal comp.

  21. #20

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    And regarding tone,

    Have you tried micing a nice classical guitar with a condenser mic. I think this is a great option for a female vocalists if the volumns are low. I love the sound of jazz accompainment on nylon strings.

    As an aside, there was an album that Joe Pass did that I heard maybe 35 years ago, he was accompanying a female vocalist (wasn't Ella) along with bass and drums. I loved that playing and sure wish I could find that album, can't remember the name though.

  22. #21

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    Would that be his album with Carmen Mcrae? If so there's a killer version of Satin Doll on there with one of Joe's best recorded single note solos, and she keeps using his name in the lyrics which is great.

    MW

  23. #22

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    Singers that i have worked with dont seem to like when you voice the melodynotes in the chords high. So my advice would be, keep away from the melodynotes (not always ofcourse) and focus on extentions and colors instead.

    Thanks for a great forum!

    /Johan

  24. #23

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    Quote Originally Posted by Stackabones
    I've been racking my brains over a book title! Just came upon it ... Gerald Moore, The Unashamed Accompanist. From a classical perspective, but it provides great insight into the art. I read it at my library ... appears to be out-of-print. Short read, about 120 pages or so.

    I'm going to check it out again!
    Excellent! I work in a library and have just found we have a copy!!

  25. #24

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    Quote Originally Posted by Footprints
    I've just bought a Cd called '1am' by Martin Taylor and Alison Burns, doing a similar repertoire. I expected Martin to be all over the place, but it's amazing how he knows when to keep it simple. He listens.
    I have seen Martin Taylor several times over the years, with a band, sitting in with others, solo, or backing a singer, and never failed to be impressed with his sheer musicality. Man's an underappreciated genius if you ask me. Despite being from Essex.

    By the way, over this side of the Pond, "all over the place" is not very complimentary and not an expression I would associate with Mr. Taylor. Usual "two cultures separated by a common language" stuff.

    All over the place - Idiom Definition - UsingEnglish.com

  26. #25

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    Try to find some video of "Tuck and Patti" (a husband wife duo - guitar vocal). It is the definitive(in my opinion) example of what you are all talking about. He compliments her so well and they definitely have it all together. Always a treat to listen to and a sheer joy to watch their interaction.

  27. #26

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    Comping for my wife (good vocalist) has been my favorite thing to do for many years. Most of the bands we have been in are based around her vocal talents.

    1) Be prepared to arrange the music in her "comfort zone" keys.
    2) If you will be a Duo, be prepared to provide all the introductions and sometimes just a single chord or note to help her get started in the right key center.
    3) Be sure to listen for tag endins or slowing down when she is ending the song.
    4) Remember, she is telling a story with her vocals and your job is to help her with a backgound that will not detract from her story.
    5) There is much to be learned from listening to a good singer. Listening to the phrasing used by a good singer can help you with your phrasing when playing lead.
    6) Remember you will be providing the bass line as well as voicing the chords to highlight her approach to the song.
    7) Most important - she is the featured attraction and your job is to make her sound great!

    wiz

  28. #27

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    I just went to YouTube to look up "Tuck and Patti". What a goldmine!!!!!
    Check it out!

  29. #28

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    Yeah, Tuck Andress is an amazing guitarist, his solo stuff is fun too.

  30. #29

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    Hi.. '
    I'm new on this forum, but was interested to see this topic.

    Instructors guitarist Roni Ben-Hur (www.ronibenhur.com), and instructor vocalist Amy London (www.amylondonsings.com) will actually be doing a weeklong workshop on this topic in August 2010!

    If anyone wants info, here's the link: www.SambaMeetsJazz.com
    Alice

  31. #30

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    Hi

    I am just starting to work with a female vocalist. (First real post to the forum - some great info here. Thanks to everyone who contributes!)

    Does anyone have any good links on youtube of good amateur Vocalist + gtr or vocalist + gtr / bass / dr?

    Tuck and Patti or Joe and Ella are inspiriational but I would like to watch something a bit closer to my level as well to give me something achievable to aim for.

    Andrew

  32. #31

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    HI i have started doing this, accompanying a female vocalist. ive done a few gigs now and its starting to get better. My problem is when its my turn to solo. I add in more chord melody stuff some single line things but it still seems bland or boring, like not enough... Also alot of the tunes are in different keys, which is a given with vocalist.

  33. #32

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    Lot of great advice on here. I'll add my 2 cents. I play a lot of solo gigs and am a singer/guitarist, so I'm sort of a duo in one. I think the same rules apply.

    1) Rhythm is paramount. You have to be completely in time, all the time. If you can't play through a half hour or hour of material alone with a metronome and sound good, you're going to have a really hard time handling this kind of gig.

    2) It's already been said, but KISS. Jazz pedagogy tends to push people towards adding substitutions in for everything. This is fine when you're playing with an instrumentalist, because they punch the right keys and the notes come out right. With a vocalist, anything you do that creates dissonance can really screw up their ability to hear and produce the right melody, especially a vocalist who is not used to "hip" modern jazz stuff. Even the "safe" subs like tritones can really screw things up. If you don't believe me, try singing through ATTYA putting tritone subs over all the V7 chords. Welcome to pain.

    3) I would actually go against some advice given above and tell you to not use the standard Freddie Green 3-note system at first. I would try to play 4-note voicings 90% of the time (keep the 5s or root doubling in there) and stress really strong bass cadences (2-5-1s, etc.). The reason I say this is that the 3-note chords can sound really empty, and it can be hard to hear where the melody falls as a vocalist. Same with just doing a walking bass. I'd wait until you're comfortable with each other before trying this stuff.

    4) Ok, now the fun stuff. Things to do before and after the vocalist sings:
    - work on your chord/mel intros and outros; they can really class up an act
    - vamps are fun, fill up time, and let the vocalist get the feel for a song before coming in
    - a great into is to solo over the last 8 bars of a tune (or whatever the form demands) then comp the ending strongly before coming in

    5) Stuff to do while the vocalist sings:
    - stick to a comfortable rhythmic feel or pattern and make slight alterations with chord stabs, e.g. play four quarter note chord stabs to a measure generally and then alter the rhythm around the vocalist's phrasing
    - play single line licks between the vocalist's phrasing; listen to a lot of Stan Getz on the bossa records
    - when the vocalist hits a particularly climatic melody note, double it behind her on the guitar for a moment; it produces a really nice effect

    6) Stuff to do over the solo:
    - there's nothing wrong with just restating the melody of the tune as a chord/mel at first; in fact, I'd say start by just doing that and only that
    - later add some embellishments to the melody
    - play lick fills between your own melodic phrases
    - play licks instead of the melodic phrases
    - now you are soloing

    The last bit of advice I'd give before ending this long post is, don't stress too much. Relax, be comfortable, have good groove. Pick one kind of sound and texture (e.g. four note chords played four to a bar) and just do that on every tune until you master it. You don't have to mix in 20 different styles or make each song arrangement unique - each song is already unique and beautiful. Then just add new techniques in one at a time, applying them to the songs, until you feel comfortable. Then another. Then another.

    Take the long view.

  34. #33

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    Thanks ecj...really good info in there.

  35. #34

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    Hi Guys,
    I have a new video lesson available that is on this topic, here is the trailer

    there are instructions on the YT page for getting the entire 30 minute video and a 3 page PDF.
    all the best
    Tim
    www.timlerch.com

  36. #35

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    Quote Originally Posted by Stackabones
    I've been racking my brains over a book title! Just came upon it ... Gerald Moore, The Unashamed Accompanist. From a classical perspective, but it provides great insight into the art. I read it at my library ... appears to be out-of-print. Short read, about 120 pages or so.

    I'm going to check it out again!
    A good read - and very stroppy in parts. Moore's advice includes: 'First of all sit down and find out what is in the singer's mind. If he or she has one...' Ouch!

  37. #36

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    Welcome, it's always great to find a new post in an 11 year old thread.

  38. #37

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    Quote Originally Posted by cosmic gumbo
    Welcome, it's always great to find a new post in an 11 year old thread.
    Ha,ha,ha...you are a funny guy gumbo.

    But here's my take on the subject.

    IMHO perfect match voice and guitar and Ed Bickert is my guru for the time being.