Hey Jazz Guy,
I’ve got my chords down pretty well, but how
can I be more rhythmic in my accompanying?
–Square in Sacramento
The most important thing about accompaniment
or “comping,” is to make whatever
it is you are accompanying sound better. A
large rhythmic vocabulary is crucial to making
you sound great behind a soloist. Ex. 1
shows a typical jazz rhythm over our favorite
recurring progression. This example accents
the Cmaj7 by placing a downbeat before it
and by playing that chord on an upbeat. Anytime
an upbeat is played after several
downbeats it sounds very dramatic and very
stylistic. Notice the articulation marks simulate
one way a horn section would play the
figure. Big band horn sections are great
examples of comping rhythms. Also, by playing
a four-note voicing on the accented chord
you create contrast from the three-note voicings
that came earlier.
In Ex. 2 we have some one- and two-note
comping. This can be an effective technique
to add variance in the texture of your accompaniment.
We build drama by using a strong
downbeat first and ultimately resolving to the
upbeat on Dm7. The last example [Ex. 3] is an
extended progression combining a little of
everything. There is a strong contrast between
the downbeats in bars 1 and 3 and the upbeats
in bars 2 and 4, creating motion. Note the
voice leading only leaps for dramatic effect. By
far, the best way to expand your knowledge
of jazz comping rhythms is by listening to great
accompanists. Wynton Kelly, Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass, Bill Evans and scores of others
are the best sources of comping examples.
Listen hard, shed hard, and your square
rhythms will be swingin’ in no time.
Jake Hertzog is the jazz ambassador to the
non-jazz world. Send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. Jake’s latest release is