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Published on May 10th, 2012 | by Sam


Johnny Smith Guitar Style-Chords and Double stops

Johnny Smith is one of the unsung heroes of jazz guitar.  He was active during the 1950’s and early 1960’s before retiring to focus on family life.   Most people consider him part of the ‘cool’ movement, which is similar to a chilled out bebop.  His guitar playing is not quite in the bebop tradition though, he has his own thing going.

Johnny Smith is mostly known for his closed voicings and cluster chords and huge guitar shapes (funny how closed voicings make huge fingerings!)  He is also a virtuoso with the single line.  This article will look at some of his chord and double stop phrases.

Moonlight in Vermont-Cluster Chord

“Moonlight in Vermont” is the song most identified with Johnny Smith.  It’s from the album of the same name, which is a must listen for jazz guitarists.

The transcription here is from the opening theme of the tune.   He starts with a great C6 cluster chord with the 5th and 6th of the chord.  He follows the line down using more typical chords, but that first voicing really sets the tone for sound of that phrase.

What’s New-Thirds fill

Johnny’s take on the classic ballad is a great recording.  He begins the tune with another great cluster chord-G7b9 sliding into a C6 (actually the same voicing from Moonlight in Vermont).  This phrase can be played on the B G and D strings as well.  The tune then ii-V’s to Ab, Johnny uses a typical stacked mi9 chord (without the root).  Then a classic Johnny Smith technique, adding notes to the “F shape”-though he is using this as the top part of a Bbmi7 chord.

The second time through the melody Johnny uses another “Johnny Smith Technique”-a quick double stop line.  Notice the side stepping down a half step and then following it up the Bbmi7.

Autumn in New York

The last example is from Autumn in New York.  The melody statement is very similar to Moonlight in Vermont, using triads and cluster chords to get a very rich sounding rendition.

The fill here is another quickly played double stop lick.  He uses triads as well in this example.

Johnny Smith is an amazing guitarist.  Some might say he’s a bit old fashioned, but he definitely set some ground work for the more modern players who play closed voicings and clusters.  Try incorporating some of this stuff into your own style.  Try using triads and stacking some of your larger chords.  Keep in mind Johnny always played with a band and bassist, so many of these chords really get the full sound once you can hear the lower end that’s intended with these chords. The results can be pretty great!



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7 Responses to Johnny Smith Guitar Style-Chords and Double stops

  1. Pingback: Johnny Smith Chords - The Jazz Guitar Forum

  2. Tim says:

    Nice stuff and much appreciated. Johnny Smith is one of my favorite guitarists for many years now. Transcribing him is difficult. One of the interesting things to me is the variety of fingerings that various transcribers come up with for these chordal passages. I think you are missing the lowest voice in the chords for “Moonlight in Vermont”, if I compare the voicing with the recording. There seem to be four notes in almost every chord the way JS plays them. The first chord should have a C (5th string, 15th fret) as the lowest note, the second chord should have an A (5th string, 12th fret), etc.

    This guy seems to have it right, although his tuning is atrociously bad and it is very hard to listen to:

    As an aside, it’s hard to read and use the page with the floating palette for social media on the left side of the screen, which constantly covers part of the text and music and always stays on screen. I don’t use Facebook, Twitter or other so-called “social media” (which is just a stalking horse for companies like Google and Facebook), so perhaps having that floating palette is even more annoying to me than it might be to many others. I’m not ever going to click “like” or “+1” or tweet something, so it’s just in the way as far as I am concerned.

  3. Joe Starr says:

    Besides being one of the finest all around guitarists [pop to classical], Johnny Smith was the nicest, humblest person ever!
    I wrote to him just before his passing last June 2013 and he was decent in responding that he was sorry that he hadn’t written sooner. He was away on a fishing trip and answered me as soon as he arrived home. He was never secretive about his popular style of playing and was eager to divulge any information that he could offer to a budding guitar player.
    His passing will surely be missed.

    • Sam says:

      Definitely, what a nice guy though. It’s great when these greats are so willing to talk with us ‘normal’ people!

  4. larry t says:

    you’re right. i have the music for moonlight in vermont. starting from the beginning, they chording is all 4 notes.

  5. Arnon says:

    This is a wonderful essay!
    Are the full transcriptions available somewhere?

  6. Arnon says:

    First chord of “What’s New” is G7b5- spelled ( from buttom up) Db F G B

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