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Tal Farlow Licks

Bebop guitarist Tal Farlow didn't pick up a guitar until he was 21 and it took him only a year to play professionally. From 1949 to 1953 he played with the Red Norvo Trio, and he got famous in the jazz world of that time.





In 1953 Tal Farlow started his own band, but by 1958 he dropped of the scene. He moved to New Jersey, only played locally and made one recording as a leader in the period between 1960-1975. He stopped regularly touring in the early 1970's. He made a living (in semi-retirement as a jazz performer) as a sign-painter.

In the last ten years or so of his life he was still going here and there in the US and to Europe every summer for the occasional performance. From 1976 to 1984 he recorded 8 records for Concorde, before disappearing from the scene again.

Tal Farlow died in 1998

Recommended listening: The Swinging Guitar of Tal Farlow

II V I Licks

This first lick in the style of Tal Farlow uses a number of chromatic notes to outline the ii-V-I underlying chord changes. Tal loved to use chromatic notes in his lines, so working out phrases such as this will go a long way when working Tal’s sound into your lines and solos.

  • In bar 1, you see the G-Gb-F-E grouping which comes from the G Bebop scale, anticipating that chord by two beats before it arrives in the second bar.
  • There is a Bdim7 arpeggio in bar 2, B-D-F-Ab, outlining a G7b9 sound, leading to another set of chromatic notes from Ab to E, the 3rd of Cmaj7.


Listen & Play

Tal Farlow Lick 2



Some things to notice in this ii V I lick:

  • This phrase uses the Melodic Minor sound over Dm7, by playing an Fmaj7#5 arpeggio (F-A-C#-E) over Dm7.
  • There is a nice chromatic approach to the 3rd of G7 at the start of the second bar (A-A#-B) which uses chromaticism to lead the listener to the chord that is coming next.
  • Lastly, there is a G Altered Scale (7th mode of Melodic Minor) being used to create tension over G7 that is later resolved to the Cmaj7 chord in bar 3 of the lick.


Listen & Play

Tal Farlow Lick 4



This phrase uses a repeated rhythmic pattern, as well as plenty of chromaticism to construct a cool-sounding, Tal Farlow style line over a major key ii-V-I. Sometimes if you run chromatic notes through non-stop 8th notes, the tension from those notes can lose it’s effect. So, using rhythmic motives such as in this line can help break up your lines, putting more focus on the chromatic notes that create interest in the phrase.


Listen & Play

Tal Farlow Lick 5


Minor II V I Licks

In this short minor ii-V-i phrase, you can hear an enclosure being used around the 3rd of A7alt (Bb-C-C#), as well as the D Melodic Minor scale being hinted at with the C#-D motion in the last part of the phrase. Both of these ideas, Enclosures and Melodic Minor over tonic minor chords, were commonly used by Tal and are fun items to explore.


Listen & Play

Tal Farlow Lick 1



In this minor ii-V-i phrase, you can see:

  • An Am7 arpeggio being used to outline the A7alt chord, as the note C produces a 7#9 sound over that chord.
  • As well, there is a 3 to 9 arpeggio over the Dm7 chord, F A C E, which superimposed an Fmaj7 arpeggio over Dm7 to highlight the 9th of that chord. Arpeggios were a big part of Tal’s soloing ideas, especially shapes such as these where you use two different shapes, Am-Fmaj7, to outline the underlying chords, A7alt-Dm7.


Listen & Play

Tal Farlow Lick 3


Now that you have worked on these lines on their own, practice applying them to your soloing when playing over jazz progressions and standard tunes.




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