Learn to play the 1920s and ’30s chord melody and rhythm guitar styles of Eddie Lang, Nick Lucas, Freddie Green, Carl Kress, and other early jazz greats. With chord melody solos to popular swing melodies, advanced rhythm guitar techniques, and acoustic jazz picking techniques.
Check out these songs featured in the Roots of Jazz Guitar course.
Matt plays and sings the early jazz standard “Singin’ the Blues” as a demonstration of ways you can introduce some early jazz elements into a song’s performance. Matt’s version employs bass runs, single-note lines, and chordal fills, all of which are hallmarks of the accompaniment styles of early jazz guitarists such as Eddie Lang and Nick Lucas.
Learn a chord melody arrangement of “Bye Bye Blues,” a staple of traditional jazz and early 1920s music. Matt starts by going through the voicings you’ll use to play the arrangement, showing you specific fingerings that will help you move from chord to chord smoothly. He also shows you some different rhythmic ideas you can try with the picking hand when you’re playing melody notes that last for a full measure or two.
The jazz standard “Whispering,” first published (and recorded by Paul Whiteman) in 1920 has a very 1920s sound, with some characteristic harmonic movement. You’ll learn a chord melody version of “Whispering” in the key of C in this lesson. You’ll also learn some cool 1930s-style chord-melody variations that feature contrapuntal voice movement and chord substitution.
Nick Lucas’ instrumental tour de force “Picking the Guitar,” recorded in 1922, is one of the most important songs in the early jazz guitar canon. “Picking the Guitar,” along with another tune recorded by Lucas at the same time, “Teasing the Frets,” set a template for guitar playing that carried on through the music of Eddie Lang and even the Hot Club of France. Lang and Django Reinhardt shared a similar stylistic quality with Lucas in their use of picking-hand downstrokes, and “Picking the Guitar,” in addition to being a great tune to play, is a study in using downstrokes.
“I Don’t Want to Set the World on Fire” was written in 1938 and was a big hit for the Ink Spots. It’s a great tune for practicing sliding inversions when playing chord melody. Matt starts by singing it through so you get a sense of the melody and basic chords. Then he starts breaking down his chord melody version of the tune, which is in the key of F and includes some phrases with cool internal movement, a couple of dissonant Dick McDonough-style licks, and a chromatic descending line under the bridge melody.
Eddie Lang recorded his guitar showpiece “April Kisses” on April 1, 1927. Although he’s credited as the writer, nobody really knows where it came from. Matt shows you how Lang played it and gives you ideas about playing variations and making this “rhapsodic meditation” your own.
Matt uses the jazz standard “Honeysuckle Rose” to talk about song form. He tells you how to quickly communicate a song’s form to fellow musicians and then walks you through the basic form of “Honeysuckle Rose,” playing rhythm and singing the melody. Then you’ll learn a chord melody version of “Honeysuckle Rose” inspired by Dick McDonough and Bucky Pizzarelli.
The 1920s jazz classic “Somebody Loves Me” was written by George Gershwin, Ballard MacDonald, and Buddy DeSilva and was a hit for the Paul Whiteman Orchestra and Ukulele Ike. It has an unusual chord structure, so Matt starts by singing and playing rhythm once through the song to give you a sense of the melody and basic chord progression. Then you’ll learn a chord melody arrangement of “Somebody Loves Me” that uses the Alan Reuss lick you learned in “Honeysuckle Rose” and has as some cool contrary motion on the bridge.
In this lesson, you’ll learn a single-note solo played by guitarist Bernard Addison, who was born in 1905 and played with a lot of the greats of early jazz, including Louis Armstrong, Sidney Bechet, Fletcher Henderson, Coleman Hawkins, and Jelly Roll Morton, whose 1930 recording of “Fussy Mabel” this solo comes from. Addison was primarily a rhythm player, but his 1930s recordings with Morton included a lot of solos. He had a huge sound, and an incredible rhythmic facility that allowed him to match the kind of phrasing Armstrong was doing.
The jazz classic “I’ll See You In My Dreams” was written in 1924 by Isham Jones and Gus Kahn. Rather than an AABA format it has two 16-bar halves, the second of which has a harmonic twist that introduces a bit of pathos to the song. Matt starts by playing and singing it through so you get a sense of the overall harmonic content and melody. Then he shows you a chord melody version “I’ll See You In My Dreams” that includes some cool substitutions and contrary motion.
The early jazz guitar instrumental classic “Teasing the Frets” was written by Ralph Colicchio and first recorded by Nick Lucas in 1922. It’s a guitar rag played with the plectrum and is the first blues ever recorded on the guitar as well as the first minor blues ever recorded. Lucas recorded it a number of times and always played it differently, so the version you’ll learn here includes Matt’s favorite passages from Lucas as well as some of his own ideas. Matt walks you through all three parts phrase by phrase, giving you fingering and picking suggestions and a few variations to try.
One of the most widely performed standards in the great American songbook, “Pennies from Heaven” is also the basis for numerous bebop tunes and instrumentals. After playing and singing the song through, Matt shows you how to construct a chord-melody version of “Pennies from Heaven” in the key of C. He includes some chord passages with internal movement and a few harmonic variations.
There are times when you’re playing with a band, especially if you’re playing an amplified archtop guitar, that the sound of full chords is too much. In this lesson Matt shows you a style of rhythm he’s developed that involves playing two-note chords, or dyads. He uses “Pennies from Heaven” as an example of dyad rhythm, explaining which notes of the chord are essential to include in the dyad, and walking you through the dyad voicings he uses to play “Pennies from Heaven.”
Fats Waller and Andy Razaf’s “Ain’t Misbehavin’” is a jazz classic and is essential to know if you play any style of jazz. You’ll learn it in the key of Eb, where it’s often played, which means that you’ll use a lot of voicings with the melody on the second string instead of the first string. Matt starts by singing it through so you can hear the melody and the basic chord progression. Then he shows you a chord melody arrangement of the whole song.
In 1927, Louis Armstrong featured guitarist Lonnie Johnson on his Hot Five recording of “Savoy Blues.” The recording includes a section where the rest of the band drops out, leaving Johnson and Johnny St. Cyr to play a 12-bar blues guitar duet. In this lesson, you’ll learn St. Cyr’s rhythm part and Johnson’s solo.
“Exactly Like You” is a well-known tune from the swing and Gypsy jazz repertoire. It’s in the key of C and has a distinctive melody, featuring a phrase of descending parallel fourths over the I chord and then the II7. Matt starts by singing it through so you can hear the melody and the basic chord progression. Then he shows you a chord melody arrangement of “Exactly Like You,” a basic version as well as some variations with internal movement.
Nick Lucas’s biggest hit was undoubtedly his 1929 recording of “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.” Matt starts by singing and playing the song, showing you the chords he uses to back up the melody. Lucas’s solos on “Tiptoe Through the Tulips” combine the melody with arpeggios and some of his odd distinctive flourishes. The solo you’ll learn here is a combination of some of Matt’s favorite Lucas licks and a few of his own. The bridge is more of a chord melody solo and includes a couple of strange harmonic choices typical of Lucas’s playing.
“Blue Guitar Stomp” is an early jazz/blues guitar tune recorded by Clifford Hayes’s Louisville Stompers in 1927 with Cal Smith on guitar. Smith played it on tenor guitar, but it works just as well on standard guitar, although there are some tricky fingerings. Matt walks you through the first two choruses Smith played, showing you the fingerings he uses to match Smith’s phrasing.
The jazz standard “Chinatown” is popular among traditional jazz, Gypsy jazz, early swing, and Western swing musicians. “Chinatown, My Chinatown” was written in 1906 and became a jazz classic when Louis Armstrong recorded it in the early 1930s. It’s usually played at a very fast tempo, and the chord melody arrangement you’ll learn here includes some subtle things that you can still play when the tempo heats up.
You’ve learned about some aspects of Eddie Lang’s rhythm style, but there are some key things that Eddie Lang does in his single-note lines that make his playing distinctive. Matt shows one of his signature runs, along with some variations, all of which lead into the third of the chord, often in the key of D or Eb. You can hear this very clearly on his recording with singer Alma Rotter of “Got Everything But You,”which includes a solo where Lang plays a wild version of the lick. Matt plays and sings “Got Everything But You” and then shows you Lang’s solo.
The beautiful ballad “Memories of You” was written in 1930 by pianist Eubie Blake and lyricist Andy Razaf. In his arrangement, Matt plays the melody of the A part primarily on the third string, with voicings on the lower strings of the guitar, as opposed to most of the other chord melody arrangements you’ve learned so far, which have put the melody on the first string. The bridge moves up into the upper octave with voicings that will be more familiar from previous lessons.
Eddie Lang and Lonnie Johnson’s 1929 recording of “Guitar Blues” is one of the pivotal early jazz guitar tunes. Lonnie Johnson is the primarily soloist, with Lang playing some beautiful backup and a couple of simple choruses. It’s a blues in the key of D, and Johnson takes numerous choruses. You’ll learn his intro and four of his first five choruses.
“Happy Feet” is a favorite of 1920s hot-jazz aficionados, and was originally recorded by the Paul Whiteman Orchestra with Bing Crosby. It’s in the key of Eb, but starts on the relative minor of Eb: C minor. Matt’s chord melody arrangement of “Happy Feet” requires more pick control than some arrangements, with chord voicings that don’t move around as much, but you’ll need to be careful which strings you’re hitting with your pick in order to bring out the melody.
Eddie Lang’s solo guitar piece “A Little Love, A Little Kiss” was written in the first decade of the 20th century by the Italian composer Lao Silesu. Matt’s version is based on Lang’s but has evolved somewhat since he first learned it 20 years ago or so. The piece is played rubato, and is a reflection of Lang’s European background more than the blues tradition. Matt talks about playing rubato, using the intro to the tune to demonstrate and then walks you through his arrangement of “A Little Love, A Little Kiss.”
The 1930s jazz standard “I’m Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter” was popularized by Fats Waller. It’s often played at a fast tempo, but Fats recorded it at a medium tempo, which is reflected in Matt’s chord-melody arrangement of the song. In addition to a basic chord-melody arrangement, Matt shows you some idiomatic 1920s and ’30s chord-melody style variations with a lot of internal movement.
This is the first installment in a three-part lesson on the classic guitar duet “Chicken à la Swing,” written by Dick McDonough and recorded in 1937 by McDonough and Carl Kress. You’ll learn both guitar parts to all five sections (and intro) of the tune, starting with the melody part, which was played by Dick McDonough. In this installment of the lesson, Matt shows you the intro, A part, and B part.
The C section of “Chicken à la Swing” is in the key of F, and Dick McDonough’s melody part consists of single-note lines. It’s a short eight-bar part that is repeated with minor variations. After the C part, there’s a two-bar interlude where the tempo abruptly comes down to about half time, and the fourth part continues at the slower tempo, with a series of ascending thirds and some string bends up the neck. After the D section, there’s a repeat of the A section, followed by the intro, with a two-bar ending.
In this lesson, you’ll learn Carl Kress’s guitar part to “Chicken à la Swing,” an accompaniment to Dick McDonough’s melody part, but not exactly a rhythm guitar part, as Kress plays bass lines and counter melodies as well as chords.
“Fascinating Rhythm” is a Gershwin song from the 1924 musical “Lady Be Good” and was made famous by Cliff Edwards and Fred Astaire. It’s rhythmically challenging, harmonically complex, and is often played at a fast tempo. Matt starts by whistling the melody while playing rhythm so you can hear the basic chord progression with the melody. Then he walks you through his arrangement of the tune, which features some banjo-style passages. He finishes by giving you advice on picking technique.
The song “Wabash Blues” was popular with country and early jazz musicians, with recordings by the Delmore Brothers and Bob Wills as well as Duke Ellington and Sidney Bechet, among others. Matt’s chord melody arrangement “Wabash Blues” is centered in 1930s-style jazz, with some cool contrary motion lines and different ways to fill in the melody when a note is held for a bar or more.
In this lesson, Matt gives you some examples of the kinds of contrary motion phrases he uses inspired by early jazz guitarists and pianists. He talks about what inspired these lines and gives you a few one- and two-bar examples in a few different keys.
“Two Sleepy People” was written by Hoagy Carmichael and Frank Loesser for the 1938 film Thanks for the Memory, where the song was sung by Bob Hope and Shirley Ross, but Fats Waller’s recorded version is probably the most popular. Matt’s chord melody arrangement in the key of Eb uses a lot of full voicings, with some bass notes on the fifth and sixth strings, and block chords on the top, giving it a 1930s-style swing guitar flavor.
“Jeannine (I Dream of Lilac Time)” was written for the movie Lilac Time and was recorded by Eddie Lang in 1928 with pianist Frank Signorelli. Lang’s version features folky chord voicings and a lot of single-line melodies with chordal accompaniment by Signorelli. Matt has arranged it as a solo guitar piece, and that’s the version you’ll learn here.
The jazz standard “It’s Only a Paper Moon'' was written in 1932 by Harold Arlen, Yip Harburg, and Billy Rose for the Broadway play The Great Magoo. The great guitarist Dick McDonough recorded “It’s Only a Paper Moon” in 1933 with Cliff Edwards (“Ukulele Ike”), and in this lesson, you’ll learn what he played behind Cliff Edwards’s ukulele. Matt starts by showing you the chords as they’re normally played, using Eddie Lang–style voicings.
In this lesson, you’ll learn a chord melody arrangement of “It’s Only a Paper Moon.'' It has an AABA form, so Matt starts by showing you a basic version of the A part, and then shows you another A part with a couple of triplet variations inspired by Dick McDonough. Then he walks you through the bridge arrangement and ends by showing a variation on the final A part that includes some contrapuntal two-note chords.
“Russian Lullaby” was written by Irving Berlin in 1927 and has been recorded countless times, most notably for guitarists perhaps by Oscar Alemán in 1939 and Jerry Garcia in 1974. It was originally written as a waltz, but by the time Benny Goodman recorded it in 1938, it had become a 4/4 swing tune. Matt’s version is inspired by Oscar Alemán’s recording. You’ll learn a chord melody arrangement of the tune as well as how Matt accompanies “Russian Lullaby.”
“I’ve Found a New Baby,” written by Spencer Williams and Jack Palmer in 1924, is one of the most popular standards in New Orleans jazz, swing, and Gypsy jazz. In this lesson, Matt shows you an accompaniment part to play while you’re singing “I’ve Found a New Baby” (or backing up another instrument), as well as a chord melody version of “I’ve Found a New Baby” that features four-note voicings.
Matt uses “I’ve Found a New Baby” to show you a great method of improvising chord-melody style using the Dm6 chord shapes you’ve already learned. Matt begins by showing you the four “drop two” inversions of a minor six chord and explaining what “drop two” voicings are. Then Matt shows you how to insert diminished/7b9 voicings between the minor six voicings to create a chord-melody scale and how to solo using these voicings.
“Red Hot Dan” is an obscure song that was recorded by Fats Waller in 1927, and it featured a solo by the great unsung guitarist Bobby Leecan. Leecan was a country blues and early jazz guitarist who performed around New York and Philadelphia in the 1920s, and his playing reflects the mix of blues and jazz that was happening at the time. The recording is in the key of Ab, but Leecan’s solo sounds as if he was playing out of G position, with his guitar either capoed at the first fret or tuned a half step high. In this lesson you’ll learn how to play Leecan’s in Ab as well as Matt’s chord melody arrangement of “Red Hot Dan.”
The early jazz standard “Some of These Days” was written in 1910 by Shelton Brooks and was a big hit for Sophie Tucker, who first recorded it on a wax cylinder in 1911 and later on a 78 RPM record in 1926. It has an unusual 32-bar form in which none of the eight-bar sections are repeated (ABCD), and it doesn’t reach the tonic of the key it’s in (in this case, F), until the C section. You’ll learn an Eddie Lang–style accompaniment and chord melody version of “Some of These Days” in this lesson.
The early jazz classic “If I Could Be with You” was written by James P. Johnson and Harry Creamer. You’ll learn the melody and accompanying chords in the key of Db, as well as a chord-melody arrangement inspired by a recording of guitarist Allan Reuss with the Benny Goodman orchestra.