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The Lowly Jazz Rhythm Guitarist



Boy am I turning into the grumpy old man I despised in my youth.

And the award for best supporting musician in a jazz band goes to.....

Yeah they don't give out awards like that. In a jazz combo setting The Bassist explores creative basslines improvising over the chord progression. The drummer explores creative approaches to drumming, The Keyboard Player explores creative harmonies and fills, The melodist embellishes the melody in evocative ways, The soloist is free to play whatever they want within the contextual framework and sometimes contextually out of the frame work...

The rhythm guitarist holds down the fort.

On the one hand the guitarist represents the foundation from which all the other musicians draw from. You'd think we'd be proud of our indirect band leader position. Very very few guitarists love jazz rhythm guitar to forsake all other opportunities. Those that do actually enjoy the all the time boring rhythm are generally only fully appreciated by fellow band mates.

Here's a funny story. Charlie Christian sucked as a rhythm guitarist. Charlie Christian the guy most famous for bringing electric guitar to jazz and recognized as the first jazz guitar soloist legend who by sheer value of his performances and songwriting with Benny Goodman. Sucked, He sucked bad. Why did he suck? He concentrated all of his efforts on mimicking jazz saxaphone lines instead of studying rhythm guitar. At first meeting Benny Goodman hated his performance. His bandmates hated CC's performance. Up until that point in history ALL Jazz Guitarists were rhythm guitarists first. If you couldn't belt out solid 4/4 rhythms you were useless in the field of jazz. Fortunately with much pleading on the part of Charlie Christian and other notable jazz musicians CC got another chance at an audition.

This time instead of playing backing chords Charlie Christian had a chance to solo with Benny Goodman. It was a once in a once ever event that a guitarist in a band was not required to hold down the rhythm section. An even that has not been repeated to this day in the annals of jazz.

In short you may call yourself a jazz guitarist but the world will not view you as one unless you devote time and effort to studying jazz rhythm guitar. Study means

1. Learning the Chord shapes.

2. Applying Jazz guitar Rhythm to those chords.

3. Learning jazz standards in a Jazz Rhythm Guitar approach.

You may or may not ever play those standards in public. But if you do approach a jazz combo or jazz musician and want to sit in with them you will need to be able to play jazz standards as a jazz rhythm guitars would do. Getting a feel for jazz guitar means getting your feet wet. Every jazz guitarist (including Charlie Christian who still had to build his rhythm chops after joining Benny Goodman) walks this path. Even those who have branched out to different forms of jazz like Al Dimeola or Alan Holdsworth.

Playing Jazz Rhythm guitar is not the end of the world. Some people who come to it early or late in life actually enjoy it and make the most of the experience. Others can actually make lifelong well paid careers in the field. For better or worse jazz guitar starts with Jazz Rhythm Guitar and the best time to start your jazz journey is today.

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