Published on May 10th, 2012 | by Sam7
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!