Under appreciated during his lifetime, and often still overlooked today, Grant Green’s elegant, uncluttered playing deserves more recognition. He had his own instantly recognisable sound (something that can’t be said for the majority of jazz guitarists), and a conversational way of playing which was particularly compelling on mid-tempo and ballad numbers. Perhaps his finest album is Idle Moments (1964). The title track is a composition by Duke Pearson, another underrated musician, and the languid mood of the piece provides the perfect vehicle for Green’s glowing guitar tone and bluesy phrasing. I’ve made a transcription of his second solo chorus. It’s essential to listen to the recording to get the right feel.
Idle Moments also features Grant Green’s take on John Lewis’s Django, a song composed in tribute to the great Belgian gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt. The piece was written in 1954, a year after Reinhardt’s death, and was first recorded that same year by Lewis’s group MJQ. As good as their original version was, the tune rather fittingly came into its own in the hands of guitarists. Perhaps the two greatest recordings of the song were those by Green and Joe Pass respectively. The latter’s version from his 1964 album For Django boasts a riveting solo. Green’s solo is completely different in approach, but equally compelling. I’ve included a transcription of his first chorus below.
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Hank Mobley’s album Workout is a classic example of early sixties hard-bop and strong evidence of the merits of a sax and guitar led quintet. Mobley’s arrangement of The Best Things In Life Are Free offers a light and supple groove which inspires relaxed and fluid soloing all round. Grant Green’s solo makes for a perfect study for aspiring jazz guitarists who have reached an intermediate level of competency. It has the virtues of being concise, swinging and perfectly playable throughout. There are no double time phrases to lose sleep over, no mind bending runs over extended chords, and by playing along with recording, the student can focus on getting the feel and timing just right.
The solo opens with one of Green’s trademark declamatory syncopated arpeggios, with a heavy attack on the offbeats. For the first four bars of the ‘B’ section, Green highlights a descending chromatic line implied by the chord changes. He achieves this by the the most straightforward of means – simply alternating between the changing notes and regular repetitions of high C.
In bar 14 Green selects notes from the Altered scale (Bb, Cb, Db, D, E, Gb, Ab). The phrase is almost a cliche, but instead of the second and third quavers in the bar being the expected Cb and Bb, Green uses C natural as a passing note, thereby avoiding stating the root of the chord, and delaying its arrival until the following bar, where it becomes the fifth of Eb.
The angular phrase at section ‘C’ finds Green deciding to alter the dominant chord midway through bar 18. The flattened thirteenth Cb is allowed to float enigmatically for a fraction of a second before the phrase folds in on itself, finding resolution on the third degree of Ab major.
In the second half of bar 23 the listener will encounter a device favoured by many jazz musicians, whereby the third of a dominant chord – in this case the D natural at the start of bar 24 – is preceded by descending notes above it, and static notes below. Green ends the solo by succinctly outlining a I-VI-ii-V progression. The third degree of the VI chord is approached by semitone, as is the fifth degree of the ii chord.