Kenny Burrell Blues Licks
Kenny Burrell has long been identified as one the best guitarists in the jazz-blues genre. He uses blues vocabulary liberally even though he came up during the ‘post bop’ era. He is a great guitarist to learn from and transcribe because his vocabulary is really classic and easy to put into your own playing, plus he doesn’t typically play extremely fast tempos.
Most of these are from the landmark album, Midnight Blue which needs to be in every jazz and blues guitarist’s library.
The first lick here is played in the “Chitlins Con Carne” solo. This is one you here KB playing often, one of his go to licks. In this case he is putting it on the I chord before moving to the V (actually bVI here) in bars 8-9. Try experimenting with placing this lick in other places. Harmonically, he’s outlining the tonic chord’s root and fifth by sliding into them.
The next lick we’ll look at is a variation of lick 1, and put in the same place. This time he uses a similar rhythm but uses the entire minor pentatonic scale.
This lick is just a classic minor pentatonic blues lick. He plays this during the 2nd bar of the tonic chord, but it could easily be moved all around.
The next lick comes from KB’s recording of “Gee Baby Ain’t I Good to You.” This one and lick 5 are closely related. They both use the ‘blue note’ b5 and have a static tonic on top. Use a shape similar to the minor pentatonic box shape. Here he slides into the third, using the blue note again.
KB plays this variation in the song, “K Twist.” It is very similar to Lick 4, just using a slightly different rhythm.
The next selection is an extended piece of the “K Twist” solo. This is the first phrase of the solo, going from the I to the IV chord. There are a few licks here to unpack and add to your vocabulary, so don’t be afraid to piece it out. The first part of the lick is a throwback to players like Tiny Grimes and even a little Charlie Christian. This would even sound at home in a country solo. He then follows an arpeggio up to the b7 of the C7 chord and plays the G pentatonic scale down, finishing the lick all within the pentatonic scale.
Here we a some shorter lick. Number 7 is from the song “Saturday Night Blues,” when KB goes from the V to the IV towards the end of the form. The lick is all chord tones, but the way he uses it is interesting.
This lick is from the same song and same place in the tune. He again uses the pentatonic scale, skipping from the D up to the Bb, then following it down (leaving out the F). Be sure to listen to this one, the notation doesn’t do it justice.
The next four licks are all from the Jimmy Smith classic “Back at the Chicken Shack.” Lick 9 is a great one to put into your vocabulary. Be sure to bend the Ab in the second bar just a bit to give it something.
In Lick 10, KB decides to play his best Chuck Berry impression! The lick is a bit overused, but all guitarists need to know this one.
Lick 11 is somewhat similar to lick 7, in that it uses all chord tones in an interesting way. Another simple, but effective lick.
The 12th lick here is actually the melody of “Back at the Chicken Shack.” Again this lick could be put into any style-jazz, country, rock, etc. Try this in first position in the “F Shape.”
The last lick we’re looking at here is the melody of the tune “Saturday Night Blues.” This one can give you a ton of material to use in solos, but can also be a tune itself. The turnaround melody (bars 9-10) are great, as is the Db9 chord going into the 5th bar. Classic!
Please leave a comment below about your favorite Kenny Burrell moments and licks. Also if you have any questions about vocabulary and developing your own jazz vocabulary please be sure to get in touch. I will be releasing an article soon on the topic of building your jazz vocabulary, but more than willing to talk over email or twitter about it.
Make sure to check out my eBook, Blues Language for more on learning the vocabulary of the blues.
- Live Jazz: Kenny Burrell 80 Years Young at Royce Hall (irom.wordpress.com)
- The Blues is like an onion, donkey… (bluespoodle.wordpress.com)
- Going Deeper with Charlie Christian (samsmileymusic.com)