7 Jazz-Blues Licks You MUST Know

These jazz-blues guitar licks from David Hamburger’s 50 Jazz-Blues Licks You MUST Know which offers up some of the baddest, bopping-est, funkiest and bluesiest ways to navigate through the stylings of Jazz-Blues. With the right tools you’ll be able to get a grip on fresh melodic and harmonic approaches for chord changes and transitions. All of the licks are presented in context over a rhythm track, which you’ll later use to practice with. Hamburger first performs the example and then breaks it down for you note-by-note, technique-by-technique. With some time and practice, you’ll know how to bottle lightning from classic eras and bring it back to earth to shed fresh light on the blues.

Jazz-Blues Guitar Lick #3: Hey Kenny Baby!

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Everyone knows that the artwork on the 50s and 60s Blue Note LPs was every bit as cool as the music inside, but in lieu of the usual mood-setting Frank Wolff photography, the cover of Kenny Burrell’s Blue Lights album featured a line drawing by designer Reid Miles’ friend Andy, who was short on gigs at the time. That’d be Andy Warhol – you may be familiar with his later work?

Blue Lights was not unlike other jam session records of the period that featured minimal arrangements, a small handful of luminary soloists, and tracks that filled anywhere from a third to the entirety of an LP side. Often critically derided even at the time as mere “blowing dates” and as such virtually antithetical to the general Blue Note practice of tight, well-rehearsed arrangements of original material played by a recurring stable of musicians, Burrell nevertheless made several such records for the label, including All Night Long, All Day Long, and of course, Blue Lights Volume II.

Jazz-Blues Guitar Lick #9: Uptown Eddie

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There have been any number of piano/guitar/bass trios in jazz.

Tenor guitarist Tiny Grimes described his position in keyboard wizard Art Tatum’s group as “low man on the Tatum pole,” and Nat Cole, who found himself leading such a group inadvertently when his drummer failed to show one night, was so successful with the format that Ray Charles did his level best to imitate the sound of the Cole group on his own first recordings (and came damn close).

The Tal Farlow trio with Eddie Costa on piano and Vinnie Burke on bass turned the idea sideways by featuring Farlow’s near-continuously unspooling lines that blurred Charlies Christian and Parker into his own inventive style. But far from being a mere vehicle for the formidable guitarist, the trio placed equal emphasis on deft, imaginative arrangments of well-chosen standards and on Costa’s own unique musical personality, which included frequent use of octaves, an unusual predilection for the lower register of the keyboard and a linear sensibility that had no trouble matching Farlow’s for intensity.

My favorite of the Farlow trio records, simply titled Tal, has been reissued as part of The Complete Verve Sessions, and handful of those tunes also turn up on Tal Farlow’s Finest Hour; both include the blues “Chuckles,” which has plenty of soloing from both Costa and Farlow.

Jazz-Blues Guitar Lick #11: Dorhamitory

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I wish I could remember who it was who observed that nearly every noteworthy jazz musician has succeeded in mastering two styles of the music, but mastery of three is rare indeed. That is, someone like Benny Goodman learned to play in the New Orleans style before emerging as a leading swing clarinettist and Count Basie learned stride piano before developing his stripped-down, big band-driving approach, but while each was a major innovator, neither felt compelled to master bebop (or “modern jazz,” as its creators, Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk thought of it).

One of the most interesting aspects of the development of bebop is that, since the big bands were where up and coming musicians could find work, those bands served as inadvertent incubators for the next big developments in jazz. Like Gillespie, Kenny Dorham played for a time in the band of vibraphonist Lionel Hampton, himself an alumnus of the Benny Goodman small groups of the 1930s (Hampton’s band also included at one point or another modernists like bassist Charles Mingus, Wes Montgomery, and trumpeters Art Farmer and Gigi Gryce). Eventually, of course, the inmates took over the prison, first with the formation of Billy Eckstine’s big band, which featured musicians like Gillespie, Parker, Dexter Gordon and Miles Davis, and then with Gillespie forming his own big band; both organizations included Dorham among their ranks at one point or another.

Jazz-Blues Guitar Lick #43: Hank and I

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Boy, do I love Hank Mobley. I first got hip to him when someone played me “Uh Huh” from the 1964 album Workout. It’s one of the zillion and a half Blue Note records Grant Green played on in the 1960s, and generally considered one of Mobley’s best efforts. Which is saying something, as Mobley’s records tend to feature the cream of the Blue Note stable, musicians like Lee Morgan, Green, Wynton Kelly and Art Blakey, and the material ranges from blues-based material and other funky originals to well-chosen standards.

From a learning perspective, Mobley’s a great one to listen to, as he favors a famously “round” tone and clean, uncluttered lines, articulately delivered with an incessantly swinging feel. You can hear more of Mobley with the early ’60s Miles Davis quintet (he’s on Live at the Blackhawk and Someday My Prince Will Come), with Lee Morgan, and on his own numerous albums as a leader, including the fabulously titled “No Room For Squares” (whatever you think of John Mayer, that guy obviously listens to good music in his spare time).

Jazz-Blues Guitar Lick #46: Rakin’ With Richard

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We’ve already talked about Blue Mitchell and how hard he could swing on a shuffle groove, but he was equally badass on a straight-eighths feel. The lick here is inspired in part by some of Mitchell’s work with pianist Harold Mabern in the late 1960s.

Mabern, who is still very much alive, working and recording, made his biggest splash in that decade, playing with everyone from Sonny Rollins and Freddie Hubbard to Miles Davis and Wes Montgomery, but he has continued working away ever since, still inspired by his two heroes, Ahmad Jamal and fellow Memphian Phineas Newborn, Jr. Interestingly, Mabern describes himself as ” a blues pianist that understands the philosophy of jazz,” and takes particular pride in his capacities as an accompanist and his deep knowledge of tunes and composers in the jazz idiom. His out of print LP Rakin’ and Scrapin’ is vintage hard bop through and through, relaxed but driving. You can hear Mitchell play straight-eighth blues on the title cut, and on his own tracks “Millie” and “Hi-Heel Sneakers,”

Jazz-Blues Guitar Lick #48: Mo’ Mobley

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Back to Hank Mobley this week, and another lick that works over a 24-bar blues with a straight-eighth feel. With plenty of time on each chord of the turnaround, this lick takes the idea of the bebop dominant 7th scale to its logical conclusion, descending for a full-octave over the V chord and partway into the IV before climbing back up the scale and landing on some blues moves at the return to the I. It’s as good a metaphor as any for Mobley’s general outlook: nimble execution of the changes, shot through with blues sensibilities, and all of it cleverly folded into some kind of twist or another on the usual forms and progressions. But then, what did you expect of someone who started his recording career with Art Blakey and Horace Silver, made albums with the likes of Lee Morgan and Wynton Kelly, and released LPs with titles like “No Room For Squares” and “A Caddy For Daddy”?

While you won’t stumble across Mobley on anything as overtly downhome as an organ combo record, for a guy brainy enough to fill in for Coltrane in the Miles Davis quintet in 1961, he’s one soulful individual.

Jazz-Blues Guitar Lick #49: The Sleeper

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The great thing about a lot of straight-eighth licks is that they come out of a school of 1960s tunes that generally use a V-IV-I turnaround for the last four bars, rather than the ii-V-I turnaround more typical of swing and bebop chord progressions. That makes them a lot more practical as a source for ideas if you’re used to playing over blues or funk material that also tends to give the ii-V-I ending a miss. And a lot of times, as in this Benson-inspired lick, the moves are more modular and easier to adapt on a chord-by-chord basis to a different situation.

You could take either the lick over the D7, or the lick over the C7, and use either one any place where you have a bar of some kind of dominant chord. In fact, a good way to practice some of these moves and get them under your fingers is to take a one-bar move like the lick over the C7, and try playing it on every chord in a G blues, one lick per measure. You could even do something similar with the minor pentatonic lick at the end – it won’t work to transpose it up to D, but you could use it just as it is over the IV chord in measures 5 and 6 of a G blues, and it would make a great contrast to playing the changes on the I and V.

Dig these jazz-blues guitar licks? Download David Hamburger’s 50 Jazz-Blues Guitar Licks You MUST Know for much more including tab, notation, and jam tracks!