Blues Lines in Jazz I

Blues lines are a great way of getting the soul back into your playing, especially if you have been wood-shedding on scale-patterns, arpeggios or similar, sometimes mechanical, building blocks of improvisation. Or shall we say vocabulary?

To stick with the analogy of jazz as a language, with dialects and slang, blues becomes important again when facing those mechanical aspects of bebop or improv per se, since it is one of the traditions that jazz evolved out of. Blues is very much part of many a listener’s background, trained or not, and, therefore, a good way to connect to any type of ear.

I love listening to a blazing bebop solo by George Benson knowing that this is exactly his approach: He will put a funky touch on any flurry of bebop runs and patterns by resolving to or contrasting those with a light-fingered blues double-stop as the one that follows:

Example 1

Here’s another little blues thing from the same solo:

Example 2

This is preceded by a cool II-V-I phrase and, in combination, looks like this:

Example 3
Example 3 continued

Below are a few more fun lines in various keys. The first one illustrated here in the key of G:

Example 4

Another one in G-blues; try this one first by using only down strokes:

Example 5

Back to F-blues:

Example 6

This same one can be looped with a great effect:

Example 7
Example 7 continued

Here’s is another way of looping this idea:

Example 8

I can only recommend that you learn your favorites (or all of these) in all positions of any key. It is a tough but really rewarding habit to get into. Check out how this works on the previous example:

Example 9

Make sure to be using alternate picking on all these examples. The phrasing and swing feel will be much more controllable this way! Also, try the two looping versions in all those positions as well; some positions are harder than others but a great way of evening out your skills all over the fretboard.

Well, on we go with the fingerings in all the positions:

Example 10
Example 11
Example 12

In the next installment of this series on “Blues lines in Jazz” we will focus on the background on these lines. It will enable us to come up with our own renditions and understand new lines quicker and more profoundly.