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Is he a guitarist who sings, or a singer who picks a little? A jazz cat or pop star? Whether strolling "On Broadway," riding "Sidecar" with Miles Davis, or just "Breezin'," Benson is, above all, a consummate swinger and an ultimate entertainer. Benson's formidable guitar chops are most evident in his '60s recordings, so let's learn his interpretation of a Charlie Parker tune, "Billie's Bounce," recently reissued on the Verve digipack Giblet Gravy.
"Billie's Bounce" is a 12-bar jazz-blues. On the recording, Benson states the head twice (rehearsal letter A), then solos for 11 choruses (B1-B11)—the first eight featuring single-note lines, and the last three showcasing an effortless chord-melody technique. After an eight-chorus (96-bar) piano solo, Benson and Herbie Hancock trade fours (D1-D4); that is, they exchange four-measure phrases. Note that all of Benson's phrases overlap with Hancock's for a partial measure on either side.
In classical music, eighth notes are evenly divided; jazz's most salient element is the swung eighth note. Each beat is divided into three parts. Before you pick up your axe, select a slow metronome setting and count "one-and-uh, two-and-uh, three-and-uh, four-and-uh," and so on, with a number falling on each tick. Then play, picking a note on each beat, holding it through the "and," and striking a consecutive note on the "uh." Be sure to accent each "uh." In a jazz manuscript, the swing feel is understood, so although the first two measures of "Billie's Bounce" appear to contain straight eighth notes, the feel would be more akin to swing. Now try swinging the entire head. Practice slowly, gradually building up speed till you can play along with Benson.
Keep in mind that the triplet approach is not a steadfast rule but an approximation. In performance, an average swung eighth note occurs somewhere between a straight eighth note and a triplet. Swing varies according to tempo; faster solos tend toward straighter eighth notes. Playing ahead or behind the beat also abets swing—laying back promotes a relaxed feel, whereas forging slightly ahead of the beat lends a driving feel. To become steeped in swing, listen intently to the jazz greats and jam along with their albums.
Throughout "Billie's Bounce," Benson employs triads to negotiate dominant 7th chords. Beginning in the third measure of section B4, for example, he plays Eb (Eb-G-Bb) and F (F-A-C) triads before superimposing a Gb triad (Gb-Bb-Db), which includes F7's b9th (Gb) and b13th (Db). On the 2nd beat of D1's penultimate measure, he plays a B triad (B-D#-F#) over an F7 chord, sounding the #4th (B) and b9th (F#/Gb).
Try some of your own triad superimposition: over an F7 chord, play a D triad (D-F#-A) and a G triad (G-B-D). Which of F7's extensions and alterations do the triads highlight? The D triad contains F7's b9th (F#) and 13th (D), and the G triad includes F7's 9th (G), #11th (B), and 13th (D).Try playing these triad substitutions and others in all keys, up and down the fretboard.