Jazz Violin After 1930-Getting Started with Chromatic Lines

Paul Elliott

Many jazz violinists today follow closely in the footsteps of Joe Venuti, Stephan Grappelli, Svend Assmusen, and the other greats who began defining jazz violin in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. Small wonder - the majority of jazz violin recordings feature these great players, and gypsy jazz ("manouche") and swing revivals have spawned new waves of players to keep their styles alive.

But a lot has happened in jazz since those players developed their styles. Jazz players have experimented with and changed everything from the way melodic lines are constructed to how chord changes are negotiated. This two part article is intended for jazz violinists who want to incorporate sounds from the 40s and beyond into their playing. We'll start by looking at some of the chromatic line playing that evolved with bebop.

There are many things that give bebop its characteristic sound. In this article we'll look at what is sometimes called "enclosure" or "deflection" (but might just as well be called "messing around with the chord tones"). To demonstrate what this sounds like and how it differs from older styles of playing here are two four-measure examples of solos over chord changes that would fit a jazz standard such as "Out Of Nowhere." In example A the melody is based mostly on the arpeggios of the underlying chords, which gives it a more 30s sound. The melody of example B has a more modern, slightly bebop-ish sound.

What gives example B that sound, and how do you get it into your own playing? Well, I like to think of it as playing a scale but putting off getting to the notes in the chords. For example if you play a G scale and from the root (G) to the third (B), you get this:

Now let's put off getting to that third. We'll go to the note a half step above it first, then back down to it:

Let's delay even longer. We'll go above the third, then a half step below it:

And finally we'll go a half step above, then a whole step below, coming back up by half steps:

Play through each of those to get the sound in your ear. Now we're going to do the same thing between the third (B) and fifth (D) of the chord. This time, to "enclose" the fifth we'll use two half steps above and one below it:

Play through each of those, and then well complete this drill by doing the same thing between the fifth and the root, again using two half steps above and one below the target note.

If you've come to jazz violin strictly from an older style or by practicing arpeggios and scales exclusively it may take a while to get your fingers used to these kinds of chromatic phrases. The first step is to get comfortable with the basic patterns-root to third, third to fifth, and fifth to root-in a couple of different keys. In the next article I'll show you how to practice building melodic lines out of those patterns, and give some more examples of how you might use them in your own solos.

(A note on fingerings and bowings-The suggested fingerings and bowings in this article are just that: suggestions. I often use open strings when it makes it easier to finger chromatic passages, and I often use my fourth finger in order to avoid difficult string crossings. As for bowing, I don't make much use of pattern bowing. To me the characteristic "twistiness" of bebop-influenced lines doesn't lend itself that well to the classic swing bowing pattern espoused by Joe Venuti and others. But I think bowing and fingering decisions are up to each individual player, and should be developed to suit each player's individual style and technique. )

Paul Elliott is one of the most respected and versatile fiddle players on the West Coast. He has performed with The Good Old Persons, John Reischman, Michelle Shocked, Alison Brown, Buell Neidlinger, and others. His recording credits span film, television, and radio, and a long list of CDs including Scott Nygaard's No Hurry on the Rounder label. He currently lives and plays in Seattle, Washington.

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