I play once through the Miles Davis tune, “All Blues,” in the video below. “Kind of Blue,” being one of my favorite albums I often find my fingers trying to emulate it’s sounds. Thanks to the archives at Mel Bay some of my favorite album’s signature sounds have become tactile. A small dose of music theory is in my video details on my youtube channel. This video is a strong boost for any mandolins wishing to go where the grass is blue and beyond.
Chord charts of modal jazz songs are often simple, while the actual comping can be as intricate as one makes it. “All Blues,” has a moderate tempo and begins with 4 bars of G7. Here is my opportunity to emulate the tasteful piano playing of Bill Evans. Evans claimed to have avoided playing the tonic during the recording session. I call this style “sparse chord comping.”
Bill Evans musical genius knew no bounds, in that at any given time he knew the predetermined boundaries. Call it the “less is more,” approach or the, “law of reversed effort.” Established musical rules are heeded, themes are developed, and boundaries are pushed without them toppling over. His playing speaks for itself. For the musician, the understanding of modes can be one of the keys to unlocking this seductive style of playing.
Modes will be explained in full detail at a later date, for it is a lesson in and of it’s own. The basic theory is in playing through the major scale beginning on different scale degrees. If you were to play a C major scale starting on the 2nd scale degree, (D), up to D in the next octave, you are playing in the Dorian mode. If your fingers know the major scale through two octaves, your fingers also know the seven modes.
If I were to examine my lead playing over bars of G7 in, “All Blues,” I might tend to pick notes in G mixolydian, (Same notes as C major scale.) Or a Fmaj scale. For the dissonant, gypsy sound I love I might play something that fits into a C harmonic minor scale. Keep in mind…More important than following scale names is following one’s ear.
For the C7 passage I might use a four-finger closed position (FFCP) of the Bb major scale. Starting with my second finger on the G-string 3rd fret. The options are almost endless once you master your FFCP’s.
The FFCP method has helped my playing tremendously. It seems that visual learners like myself benefit instantly from viewing, then playing the FFCP’s! Horn keys like Eb and Bb no longer give me any trouble. Transposing solos is a cake walk. F and Bb, are now my favorite keys to solo in.
“Getting into Jazz Mandolin.” and Jazzmando.com are resources that have made mandolin playing much more enjoyable for me. They will do the same for you… and oh yeah, you will sound all the better as well.
Questions, comments encouraged.
More info on jazz, theory, modes, and fun to come. Remember, if it sounds good to you, someone else will like it too.