WHAT DO EDWARD VAN HALEN, STEVE LUKATHER, Scott Henderson, jazz bassist Christian McBride, Paul McCartney guitarslinger Rusty Anderson, and late, great trumpet legend Freddie Hubbard all have in common? Each one of these iconic musicians has shown up at the Baked Potato—the wonderfully unpretentious jazz club just over the hill from Hollywood—to attend its popular Monday night jam.
Well into its fifth year, this weekly funk/ fusion throwdown is led by two tantalizing guitarists: John Ziegler—the explosive avantshred force behind Pygmy Love Circus and Volto! (featuring Tool drummer Danny Carey)—and Jamie Kime, the hypnotic guitar whisperer who collected a Grammy award earlier this year for his work alongside Dweezil Zappa and Steve Vai in Zappa Plays Zappa.
No, you don’t have to be a superstar to sit in at the ’Tater on these evenings—it’s open to everyone—but, after you experience the epic fusion odysseys Kime, Ziegler, and the rest of the house band play to kick off the night, you’ll quickly realize that this isn’t your average open mic. If you’re planning to step onto this stage, you’re expected to take your solo to the moon and back, or at least be willing to crash and burn trying.
As is often the case in jam-friendly environments, the repertoire at these sessions (which delves deep into the music of everyone from Coltrane and Shorter to Zappa and Miles) often lands on the jam-friendly terra firma of extended one- or two-chord funk vamps. After all, it’s a lot easier to take a big solo when you don’t have to worry about chord changes or shifting key centers, right?
When the stakes are this high, it’s a mistake to think that improvising over a fixed harmony is any less daunting than doing so over a busy chord progression. Remember, your musical soul is rarely more exposed than when you are handed an open-ended solo on the I chord with no changes in which to take cover, no harmonic or melodic constructs on which to lean, and you are tasked with building something captivating, nonclichéd, and entirely your own.
“For me, the challenge in that situation is to make things harmonically interesting,” says Kime. “I’m always trying to get that feeling of a rollercoaster going—that feeling of a wave going up and down—even when the background harmony is unchanging.”
Whether he’s wielding a Les Paul or a Stratocaster, attacking the strings with a pick or just his fingertips, Kime—like a snake charmer coaxing a cobra out of a basket— can pull a kaleidoscopically colorful solo out of the most ordinary groove. “I’m definitely more of a conceptual player than a lick player,” says the guitarist. “Any technique I have has been born out of needing that technique to execute a musical idea.”
Let’s take a look at some of Kime’s musical ideas. For instance, if Kime is handed a wide-open Dm groove, he might start his solo, like legions of other guitarists, in D Dorian.
“But there are so many other notes to explore as well,” says Kime. “Over Dm, I might also think of superimposing C# maj7 [Ex. 1], which adds two very special notes to the mix: the major 7 (C# ), and the #11 (G# ). I love the way those chord tones sound over a minor background. You can get a similar sound by simply playing C# major triads in the form of a C# major arpeggio over Dm [Ex. 2]. You’re superimposing interesting melodies in bite-sized chunks.
“Of course,” continues Kime, “you can also think altered-dominant to project an altered V chord sound—A7# 5b9 over Dm— by playing this scale [Ex. 3]. It has the exact same notes as Bb melodic minor, but I find that if you think of it that way, you naturally start veering towards the harmony Bb— just like if you’re driving while looking right, your car may drift to the right. So think of it from the A perspective.”
Another thing Kime loves to superimpose upon a static minor chord is the “Coltrane changes”—three separate key centers a major third apart, à la “Giant Steps.” Over Dm7— which Kime thinks of as the IIm chord in C— this means Kime will tag the keys of Ab, C, and E. “I love that sound, because it creates so much tension,” says Kime, demon- strating the approach with the intriguing line in Ex. 4. “Plus, it’s fun—you’re getting the ‘Giant Steps’ sound, but not while almost dying trying to swing at 300bpm. Some of the notes will clash with Dm if you bring them out too much, so be diligent in working out which ones you’re going to emphasize—or just play everything really fast! [Laughs.]”
As we wrap up our interview, Kime shares that if he has one goal as a guitarist, it is to become completely non-pattern-based in everything he plays. “Unfortunately,” he adds, “by nature of the instrument, that is pretty f**king impossible to do.”
Thoughts on this lesson? Email them to GIT director Jude Gold at email@example.com.