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Published on November 19th, 2012 | by Sam


Soul Jazz Guitar Licks

Soul jazz has an interesting place in the history of jazz.  It’s where jazz, blues, and rock met a decade before jazz fusion became ‘a thing.’  In the 50s and 60s the lines between these different styles were pretty blurry.  Was T-Bone Walker a jazz or blues artist?  What about Ray Charles, or Jimmy Smith?  Putting these soul jazz guitar licks into your vocabulary is a great way to expand your jazz and blues playing.

Much of this music that straddled the line featured the guitar playing of either Grant Green or Melvin Sparks.  Let’s take a look at some of great jazz guitar licks these players played.

Soul Jazz Guitar Licks

Melvin Sparks

Melvin Sparks played on many recordings by Lou Donaldson, Sonny Stitt, and Idris Muhammad.  He played mostly out of the pentatonic scale-which was typical for this style, but would use more blues mannerisms than many of the other jazz guitarists playing soul jazz.   He would frequently bend strings and use some of chitlin-circuit licks that Jimi Hendrix later became known for using.

Our first lick comes from a Jack McDuff recording of the tune “Snap Back Jack” and uses hammer ons and double stops.  The lick is based on an Eb chord-it could be major or dominant, and is from the Eb major pentatonic scale.

Soul Jazz Guitar Lick 1

The second lick is from a great Lou Donaldson recording called “Everything I Play From Now On Gonna Be Funky” in Bb.  Here we have some creative uses of the minor pentatonic scale and repeated notes.  He also uses some bends here to make the lick funky.  The second half of this lick uses double stops and ends with a bend on the b3.

Green With Soul Envy

Grant Green was a fantastic bebop player, but many feel he really made his name playing funky.  His album Live at the Lighthouse is sited as a huge influence on many players.

Double Stop Licks

Green played double stops frequently and made them funky.  Our first lick is from the tune “Iron City” from the album of the same name.  The lick is over a G7 chord.  He starts it out playing a 5th and ends it with a funky half step bend line going back to the tonic.

The second lick uses another double stop-this time a minor 6th between the 5th and flat 3rd.  This lick ends with a simple pentatonic lick again going back to the root.

Our third lick is a very simple repeating lick that is very effective.  Green uses repeating licks in many of his solos, even dating back to his bebop days.  This one is a pull off lick from the b5 to the 4 and flat 3rd.  Again, he resolves it to the root.

The final lick from Grant is from the tune “Down Here on the Ground” which has been used as a sample for some hip hop groups.  The lick is a pretty simple minor pentatonic lick in the key of D.

Grant Green Lick 4 If you play either jazz or blues, adding some killing soul jazz guitar licks into your playing will give you some new things to work with.


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4 Responses to Soul Jazz Guitar Licks

  1. JC says:

    Nice licks and transcriptions, but why did you notate everything with sharps? an E flat chord and the associated licks are generally spelled with E flat and not D sharps…like wise the B flat lick in # 2 generally would call for B flats, D flats…etc

    • Sam says:

      Thanks so much!
      You’re right on the sharps. That happens because the application I use for notation (guitar pro 6) makes its pretty difficult to change to flats. Most of my readers use tab so I just leave the sharps. Good on you for using the notation! Helps to know some readers use the standard notation. Thanks for checking it out!

      • JC says:

        Yeah, I did the whole music school thing – I started on clarinet in 4th grade and then sax and guitar in junior high, and finished just short of a masters in music education about 15 years ago. I was a pretty good reader, and I still can hear the standard notation in my head when I look at it – pitches and rhythms. The tab helps with the fingerings and such, but I still prefer notation most of the time.

        Thanks for what you do.

  2. Emily Smith says:

    This was a really interesting article about jazz licks. I don’t know a lot about them but I have a cousin who loves to play the guitar. He has been trying to teach me more about playing the guitar. I will have to show him this article. He will probably find it really interesting.
    Emily Smith | http://jazztrumpetlicks.com

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