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Herb Ellis Licks

Herb Ellis was born in 1921 in Texas. He attended the North Texas State University where he majored in bass (they didn't have a guitar program). His classmates included Jimmy Giuffre and Gene Roland. His guitar playing is bebop based and his biggest influence is Charlie Christian.





Not being able to pay the college funds, he quit school and started touring with the Casa Loma Band in 1943 and after that the Jimmy Dorsey band. He played with Jimmy Dorsey until 1947 when he formed The Soft Winds with Lou Carter and John Frigo. When they broke up in 1952 he joined the Oscar Peterson Trio, the band that brought fame to Herb Ellis. Oscar Peterson had a special liking for playing up tempo.

After Oscar Peterson he recorded some albums as a leader, worked as a studio musician on the West Coast and did sessions with a lot of people, including Charlie Byrd.

In the 70s Herb Ellis recorded two albums with Joe Pass, Two for the Road and Jazz/Concord. He also toured with The Great Guitars (the other two guitars being Charlie Byrd and Barney Kessel).

Herb Ellis now lives in Arkansas and runs a publishing/production/education company called Herb Ellis Music. He wrote Herb a great book about jazz guitar playing: All The Shapes You Are


Recommended listening: Nothing But the Blues

Herb Ellis Licks 1

The first bar of this lick begins with a Cm7 arpeggio started on the b3. From the 3rd bar starts a chromatic chord movement to the Bb13. The 7th measure is in the Bb Mixolydian scale, going to Bb Lydian Dominant on the 3rd beat.


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Herb Ellis Guitar Lick 1

Herb Ellis Licks 2

A big component of Herb’s soloing ideas is the blues and bluesy lines. In this lick, you’ll be using the b3 blue note (Eb) mixed with the root and 3rd of the key (C) to create a typical Herb Ellis blues type line. Try sliding and/or hammering on the Eb to E each time in order to give this lick that added slipperiness that is characteristic of jazz-blues playing.


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Herb Ellis Guitar Lick 4

Herb Ellis Licks 3

This lick is a simple, yet effective, repetitive-note line that works over a short minor ii-V-I chord progression. Since the notes are simplistic in this lick, the key to playing it effectively is really nailing the time and swing feel. To help bring the swing feel out of this line, try accenting the chromatic notes that occur after the repeated notes in the first bar. This will help create a sense of tension and release that is found in much of Herb’s soloing ideas.


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Herb Ellis Guitar Lick 5

Herb Ellis Licks 4

4) In this lick you’ll find the #4 used over C7 (F#) to create a turning and twisting type sound to the start of this line. From there, the lick runs typically Herb scale patterns until it finishes with a 2-note chord, the 3rd and 7th of the underlying C7 chord. Though not incredibly fancy, it’s a great-sounding line that you can bring to your dominant 7th jazz guitar vocabulary.


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Herb Ellis Guitar Lick 2

Herb Ellis Licks 5

Here, you will find a characteristic Herb Ellis lick where you are applying the Lydian Dominant sound to a C7 chord. The Lydian Dominant scale, the 4th mode of Melodic Minor, brings a 7#11 color to the underlying harmony, and here is a great example of how to address that #11 tension in a musical and proper fashion.


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Herb Ellis Guitar Lick 3


There are few players who solo as smooth and bluesy as Herb Ellis, and who also have a high level of Bebop vocabulary as well. If you are looking to expand your vocabulary, then Herb is a great place to start.





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