So You Think You’re a Guitar Player…

( A pleasant exchange about dancing in kitchens and big- band music led to this one; thanks, Girlie! )

My guitar student has been working on several jazz standards for some time now, and making remarkable progress.

Lately, we’ve been working on ” Take the A Train ” by Duke Ellington.  As are the others we’ve tried, it sounds very simple and accessible to listen to, but on closer examination have discovered the hidden complexities.

The ‘A Train‘ is very smooth and easy to listen ( or dance! ) to, and the chord progression seems very easy and playable at a glance; that’s why I chose it.

But then… we found that all these alternate chord voicings were being used, and that they actually frame the melody so well that you have to learn them, or just give up. Not just C, but C6; not just Dm7, but Dm7+9b5. And you have to, or it’s just wrong. And there are usually two different fingerings being used in different places for each of several chords.

You had better not get on the ‘ A Train’ unless you’ve got your tuxedo on, or at least a damned good suit. These guys played for blood.

This is Freddie Green.

He spent most of his life playing in Duke Ellington’s rhythm section.

He was known to play only one single- note solo in his entire life. He was a chord guy. He was the chord guy.

He played full-bodied acoustic guitars  ( Gretsch, Stromberg, Gibson) with heavy-gauge strings, and the bridge raised to about 1 inch high; and played with the instrument almost flat in his lap.

Which means he could leap tall buildings if he wanted to. He would have had the hand strength of any ten normal guitar guys.

The other jazz guitar guys were scared of him. He not only knew a lot more chords than they did, he would do really cool stuff with them, like accent different notes in the chords to get different shadings and tones.

Most typical light-gauge-strings-Les Paul– Strat- have-to-play-loud-or-you-can’t-hear-me guys don’t even know about this stuff. Freddie played an acoustic guitar with no amp, surrounded by horn players.  And cut through just fine, when Ellington wanted him to. Freddie liked to mix in with the bass and drums so smoothly that you couldn’t tell them apart.

So put down ‘Back in Black’, and try on the ‘ A Train’ …

Yeah, I know. You’ve got a lot to learn.

Got to go now…have to move the kitchen table out of the way…

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. …for some reason my brain tried to get me to see the Title (of this post) as something to the effect of ‘…think you’re a roger’

    Upon re-reading I see that the title says nothing of the sort. But still there might be a sub-title ‘so you think you’re a roger’ with the implication being that Freddie was a roger…with the intricate focus on the chords and the proper placement of same… very rogerian

  2. Don’t mention it:)
    Here’s my deal (nice writing in this one btw) – I look at the pic of Freddie and wonder 1) was the pic taken of him actually playing? 2)look at his left hand – might be my lack of cold medicine (and the fact I don’t play guitar) but it seems as if it is curved way around the neck (he has a giant thumb!!)and finally
    3)could he hold the body of the guitar any higher/ closer?! Video! Video! Where’s the youtube when you needed them! LOL I want to see him play!
    As to the rogerian thing – his smile is certainly the wide, pleasant, I’ve got a secret kind of smile that many rogers display.
    Wait! What was Duke? clark, scott or roger? Geez, now I have to go and figure that out…..

    • From what I’ve read, that is a picture of him playing. Can’t imagine it. And smiling too.


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