Ask Barney Kessel!


What do you do when you comp behind a singer?

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Comp is an abbreviated term for "accompaniment," but a particular kind of accompaniment. Instead of playing some steady, recurring rhythm pattern behind a vocalist or instrumental soloist, or instead of playing 4/4 "chunk-style" rhythm of the 1930s or '40s, or using the bass-chord/boom-chuck type of rhythm, you play chordal rhythm. It is rather a kind of chordal accompaniment in which the player "throws" chords at a soloist in a syncopated rhythmic manner, using rhythm patterns that do recur frequently and sound "off-beat" and unpredictable, but swing. This kind of accompaniment sounds more modern than the previously mentioned accompaniments, and provides a kind of excitement in the accompaniment.

When you play fast, do you use all downstrokes or up-and-down strokes?

I use both. If a passage at a particular tempo is too fast to be playing using only downstrokes, I use up-and-down strokes. Downstrokes provide the best sound, the most even articulation, and the guitarist is in greater control of his right hand while picking downstrokes.

Can you give me some tips on how to find the right guitar for jazz? What should I look for?

Comfort and ease in playing. Also, a personal "warm" sound, similar to what you imagine in your mind as the ideal jazz sound of a guitar.

I've noticed that most jazz guitarists use an electric hollowbody, and I assume they do so because of the quality of the tone. Would it not be better to play an acoustic guitar and mic it to get a better tone while playing jazz?

Not really. The quality of tone in an electric guitar comes from the pickup, not the wood. Many electric guitars having lovely sounds are actually made of plywood. The shape of the electric guitar is, for the most part, not very meaningful in the overall contribution to the sound, and serves more as a psychological aid to help the guitarist feel that he is playing a genuine guitar instead of a pickup with strings. What contributes to the overall sound much more than the shape or size of the body, is whether or not the guitar is hollow or solid. The solidbody keeps the sound from rumbling around, but the hollowbody sound has its own charm.

From the October 1973 issue of Guitar Player.

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