John Stowell provides an insight into his composition and style with video, music tab and helpful observations.
Jazz Guitar Today invited me to provide a lesson with some of my original compositions – I picked a favorite of mine, “Welcome to Nice”. First, my tunes are extensions of my comping ideas, and I create the songs as chord melodies. I don’t have any formal training in composition, so I’m guided by my ear and preference for melody that I’ve developed over the years playing other people’s songs. I favor voicings on the guitar that are pianistic in nature, using close intervals, open strings, and inner voice movement. In my experience, the best way to expand your chord vocabulary and retain new shapes is in the context of an arrangement. I don’t try to avoid diatonic harmony in my writing, but the chord progressions for my songs are not like those found in standards. In my experience, the best way to improvise over these kinds of progressions is to connect the chords with arpeggios and develop melodies using chord tones.
In “Welcome to Nice”, the first three bars use some variations on F#7 altered. Note the use of open strings. When I’m playing an F#7, I often use the high E and B strings (b7 and sus4 respectively) in combination with the G and D strings (b9 and b13). Very often I’ll employ a melodic or harmonic minor chord as a dominant chord. At the end of the song, the C#7#11 and B7#11 are also G# and F# melodic minor chords. Take the time to analyze my inversions and locate the tensions and/or embellishments in the naming of the chord. Hopefully, you can find broader applications of the harmony when you acquire some new shapes and sounds.
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