Play Blues Like Kenny Burrell
In this lesson I will be showing how to solo over a jazz blues progression in the style of guitarists such as Kenny Burrell, Grant Green and Howard Roberts. Learning to improvise over the jazz blues progression is an essential part of learning how to play jazz guitar.
These jazz guitarists use plenty of earthy, blues based ideas in their improvisation which is something I get asked a lot about by students and something that I am quite fond of using myself. While this isn’t exactly a break down of Kenny Burrell’s guitar style, this article should help you get into his style of bluesy phrasing over a jazz blues progression.
Unlike most traditional blues players, jazz musicians tend to focus on outlining the changes. This doesn’t necessarily mean learning a ton of separate scales for each chord. Jazz guitarists often play the same blues and pentatonic scales as traditional blues players but use them in a way that outlines the harmony which I will be showing you how to do in today’s lesson.
If you’re coming to jazz from a traditional blues background and want to learn more about how the jazz blues progression is formed, check out this new article I published that explains the jazz blues progression.
The following example shows which pentatonic and blues scales can be used to outline the changes of a jazz blues progression. I have written an etude at the end of the lesson using these scales and included some chords to better your comping chops.
Jazz Blues Pentatonic and Blues Scales
Kenny Burrell Blues – The First Four Bars
The first four bars of a jazz blues progression give us four bars of a dominant 7th chord to improvise over. Besides using arpeggios and scales, a cool way in which you can solo over this part of the progression and retain a good bluesy feel is to use the major pentatonic scale which is shown below.
Bb Major Pentatonic Formula: R, 2nd, 3rd, 5th, 6th
Bb Major Pentatonic Scale Notes: Bb, C, D, F, G
Here’s a typical laid back blues based type of jazz phrase that uses the major pentatonic scale and a chromatic approach note to the third.
Jazz guitarists frequently use this scale with a chromatic note below the third of the chord and a chromatic note between the fourth and fifth degrees of the scale. The following example shows how this looks on the fretboard and how it can be used to create a phrase.
This type of chromatic movement also sounds great when used in pedal lick situations and is used frequently by guitarists such as Pat Martino and Pat Metheny.
Kenny Burrell Blues – Second Four Bars
The second set of four bars in a blues progression features 2 bars of Eb7 followed by 2 bars of Bb7. While it is perfectly acceptable to think of the Mixolydian and dominant 7th arpeggios over the Eb7 chord, you can also think of Bb sounds such as the Dorian scale and the Bb minor pentatonic. Notice how the Bb Dorian contains all the same notes as the Eb Mixolydian scale.
Thinking of the Bb minor pentatonic and blues scale means you can still use some of your favorite minor blues, like the one shown below this text. It’s worth noting that this lick is two phrases and the second phrase is the same as the first, just moved down an octave.
Repeating licks an octave higher or lower is common practice in jazz and blues music.
Kenny Burrell Blues – Last Four Bars
The best place for the jazz to happen in a 12 bar blues is in the last four bars because it features the ii-V-I progression which is a favorite device for bebop musicians.
To keep in theme with the lesson, I will be showing you how to use the blues scales to create an effective form of tension and resolution but there’s nothing wrong with using some of your favorite ii-V-I licks. Check out this link for one of my favorite licks. A great way to add some crunch to resolving dominant 7th chords is to use the blues scale from the parent key over a resolving V chord.
For example, try using some Bb blues scale licks over an F7 chord that’s resolving to a Bb. The blues scale harmony has some spicy alterations that provide an effective form of tension and release when used in this way.
The following lick is in the style of Kenny Burrell and is applied to over the ii-V-I that happens at the end of a jazz blues.
When improvising over the ii-V-I at the end of a blues progression, try to think of getting to the one chord instead of outlining the V chord. One way you can to this is to use enclosures.
To finish off this less on how to solo over a jazz blues progression I have include a full etude on the next page that uses the licks from this lesson in a musical content.
I have also thrown in some chords too to fill out the space. If you’d like to learn more about using chords with your single line improvisation, check out this article.
Kenny Burrell Jazz Blues Soloing Etude