Jazzedge Community Forums PianoWithWillie Theory Discussion When Do I alter Blues Changes?

When Do I alter Blues Changes?


This topic contains 1 reply, has 2 voices, and was last updated by Willie Willie 3 years ago.

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    Willie, I have a question about comping the blues in a combo behind a soloist such as a saxophone or even for my own solo.

    In a basic jazz twelve bar blues (let’s keep it very basic (I/IV/I/I–IV/IV/I/I–V/V/I/V and assume all of those chords are dom7) very generally and to simplify, the comping pianist can play those plain (e.g., F7) or alter them (e.g., F7#9).

    If I alter them, very generally and typically in jazz, I can alter any of them with a b9, #9, #11, or alt (#9,b13). For example in an F blues as soloists begin I might play the first four bars as F7b9/Bb7#11/F7/ F7alt, etc. (Not to burden the discussion, but realistically with four beats per measure I might mix the chording, i.e., alter that chord on the third or fourth beat of the measure.)

    Question: During solo section comping behind a horn solo what SHOULD I be considering or listening for whether I alter them or play them plain? If the decision is to alter, which alteration of those standard three or four ways should I use (e.g., F#9 vs Fb9
    -Is it what the soloist might be playing, like if I hear a diminished run (go to b9) or altered scales (use #9b13)?
    -Is it mostly up to my taste? I love the altered sound in that fourth bar, no matter what the soloist is playing!
    -Are there accepted standard practice, say like the second bar IV chord often sounds good to my ear with a b9 e.g., Bb7b9 or the fourth bar I chord often sounds nice altered, e.g., F7#9b13.

    Thank you!


    Hey Chris, great question.

    OK, the first thing I would suggest is to not overthink what you do behind a soloist in terms of chord voicings. Instead, I would focus on intently listening to the soloist and listen for spaces where you can support what they are playing. the most important aspect of comping is the “dance” between soloist and the rest of the band. You need to think like an accompanist and be looking to support what they are playing without overplaying.

    Now, when comping you can also influence the direction of the solo with certain rhythms and chord voicings. For instance, if you played a funky #9 chord with a syncopated rhythm, the soloist might pick up on that and change the direction of their solo based upon your musical input. This is what you’re looking for.

    So, my best suggestion is to practice hard outside of the session, then in the session relax, listen and don’t be afraid to react.

    So often, for new players, by the time they have the thought to react to what they just heard…the moment has passed. So, you want to get better at reacting faster…even if it was not the right reaction, at least you get it out there.

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