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 Patterns [Buckyball].