The term jazz guitar refers to several aspects of the guitar as it is used in jazz and jazz fusion music. The term may refer to a type of guitar or to the variety of jazz playing styles (e.g. chords, melodies, and improvised solo lines) performed by guitarists in different jazz genres. These jazz guitar styles were developed by decades of influential jazz guitarists. The guitar has a long history in jazz music, both as an ensemble instrument performing chordal accompaniment, and as a solo instrument.

In jazz ensembles of the 1920s, the banjo was the standard stringed, chord-playing rhythm instrument. Even as late as the early 1930s sophisticated jazz orchestras such as Duke Ellington's still used a banjo. In the late 1930s, guitar began being used in jazz ensembles to provide rhythmic chordal accompaniment, and by the 1940s, some guitarists began also playing a solo role. In the 1950s, jazz guitar became an important small combo instrument, a role that was continued in the 1960s and 1970s-era organ trios. In the 1970s and 1980s, a new language for jazz guitar was developed by the merging of jazz and rock styles in jazz fusion.

Type of guitarEdit

While jazz can be played on any type of guitar, from an acoustic instrument to a solid-bodied electric guitar such as a Fender Stratocaster, the archtop guitar has become known as the prototypical "jazz guitar." Archtop guitars are steel string acoustic guitars with a big soundbox, violin-style "F" holes, a "floating bridge" and magnetic or piezoelectric pickups. Early makers of jazz guitars included Gibson, Epiphone, and Stromberg.

The earliest guitars used in jazz were acoustic guitars. While acoustic guitars are still sometimes used in jazz (mainly in smooth jazz), since the 1940s, most jazz guitarists perform with the amplified electric guitar. In the 1990s, there was a resurgence of interest among jazz guitarists in traditional archtop-style jazz guitars. Sitka wood, European spruce, and Englelmann spruce are often used in for the resonant tops of archtop and flattop guitars. As well, some guitar builders use Adirondack Spruce (Red Spruce), Western Red Cedar. Archtop and flattop guitars often have Curley Maple or Quilted Maple backs.

Mass-produced archtop guitars are made by several different manufacturers. As well, there are also a smaller number of handmade archtop and flattop guitars. New Orleans guitar maker Jimmy Foster makes handmade archtop guitars, each of which takes ”...about six months of work to complete, from the selection of maples, spruces and exotic woods to the hand-rubbed lacquer finish. Each guitar is carefully built, tuned and tested to deliver the most consistent sounds, with none of the dreaded dead spots that can be found in mass-produced guitars or other handmade guitars that are not as meticulously crafted.”


Playing stylesEdit

Jazz guitar playing styles include "comping" with jazz chord voicings (and in some cases when not accompanied by a bassist, walking basslines) and "blowing" (improvising) over jazz chord progressions with jazz-style phrasing and ornaments.

Comping: When jazz guitarists play chords underneath a song's melody or another musician's solo improvisations, it is called "comping", a contraction of "accompanying". Jazz guitarists use their knowledge of jazz theory and harmony to create jazz chord "voicings," which are usually rootless and which emphasize the 3rd and 7th notes of the chord.

Jazz guitarists need to learn about a range of different chords, including Major 7th, Major 6th, minor 7th, dominant 7th, diminished, half-diminished, and augmented chords. As well, they need to learn about chord transformations (e.g., altered chords, such as "alt dominant chords), chord substitutions, and re-harmonization techniques. Some jazz guitarists use their knowledge of jazz scales and chords to provide a walking bass-style accompaniment.

Jazz guitarists learn to perform these chords over the range of different chord progressions used in jazz, such as the II-V-I progression, the jazz-style blues progression, the minor jazz-style blues form, the "rhythm changes" progression, and the variety of chord progressions used in jazz ballads, and jazz standards. Many guitarists also learn to use the chord types used in 1970s-era jazz-latin, jazz-funk, and jazz-rock fusion music.

Improvising: When jazz guitar players improvise, they use the scales, modes, and arpeggios associated with the chords in a tune's chord progression. Jazz guitarists have to learn how to use scales (whole tone scale, chromatic scale, etc.) to solo over chord progressions. Jazz guitar improvising is not merely the recitation of jazz scales and rapid arpeggios. Jazz guitarists need to learn to use these basic building blocks of scales and arpeggio patterns and integrate them into balanced rhythmic and melodic phrases that make up a cohesive solo.

Jazz guitarists often try to imbue their melodic phrasing with the sense of natural breathing and legato phrasing used by horn players such as saxophone players. As well, a jazz guitarists' solo improvisations have to have a rhythmic drive and "timefeel" that creates a sense of "swing" and "groove." The most experienced jazz guitarists learn to play with different "timefeels" such as playing "ahead of the beat" or "behind the beat," to create or release tension.

Another aspect of the jazz guitar style is the use of stylistically appropriate ornaments, such as grace notes, slides, and muted notes. Each sub-genre or era of jazz has different ornaments that are part of the style of that sub-genre or era. Jazz guitarists usually learn the appropriate ornamenting styles by listening to prominent recordings from a given style or jazz era.

Some jazz guitarists also borrow ornamentation techniques from other jazz instruments, such as Wes Montgomery's borrowing of playing melodies in parallel octaves, which is a jazz piano technique. Jazz guitarists also have to learn how to add in passing tones, use "guide tones" and chord tones from the chord progression to structure their improvisations, and create "chord solos" by adding the song's melody on top of the chord voicings.



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