Guitar Player|September 2021
This month, we present the conclusion of our look at John Scofield’s sophisticated reinvention of a country classic.

LAST MONTH, WE looked at the melody and form to John Scofield’s instrumental cover of “Mama Tried,” the popular country tune written by Merle Haggard, which Scofield recorded for his Grammy Award-winning 2016 album Country for Old Men. In this conclusion to our two-part lesson, we’ll focus on highlights from Scofield’s improvised solo and discuss how he used jazz vocabulary to imply sophisticated harmonic movement over the basic underlying chord progression.

As stated in part 1, Scofield played his arrangement in standard tuning and in the concert key of Eb. He also used a capo at the 1st fret. For purposes of this lesson, we’ll forego the use of a capo and tune our guitars down a half step, to Eb standard (low to high: Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, Bb, Eb), and think “key of E.”

The solo is played over the repeating 16-bar chord progression that functions as the verse in the main melody section (see Fig. 1). Although the tune is built around basic chords, the single-note lines that Scofield plays imply more complex harmonic moves that are usually associated with jazz and bebop. In the following examples, we’ll discuss a few concepts Scofield used and how they were tastefully applied to this simple form.

If you’ve ever played a 12-bar blues, you’re familiar with the term turnaround. This refers to the last two bars of the repeating form, where the chord progression comes to a conclusion by setting up a compelling return to the beginning of the form. You can also find various turnarounds in other chord progressions and forms. For example, in “Mama Tried,” the solo section is a repeating 16-bar form, for which the last four bars function as the turnaround. All the turnaround examples we will examine in this lesson are based on the chord progression D7 - C#7 - F#7 - B7, which cycles back to the I chord, E.

It’s important to note that the lines John played over the turnaround often imply added harmonic extensions on top of the basic chord structure, which is why I have included the names of the “implied” chords above the staff in each of the following examples. Try using a looper pedal to record the implied chords, or have someone accompany you so that you can hear how the single-note lines effectively describe the more complex implied harmony.

If you’re playing with a bass player and no other chord instrument, he or she can play the root notes to the basic country changes and you can play all of these fancy licks over top without any problems, and it will sound cool. However, if you do have a chord instrument playing with you, the fancy stuff might make more sense to your ears if the person accompanying you reinforces the implied chord changes. I recommend experimenting with both approaches and comparing the difference between them.

The first turnaround we’ll examine is shown in Ex. 6 and occurs in the last four bars of Scofield’s first solo chorus (0:55–1:01) The first half of the line cycles through the progression D13 - C#7 - F#7b9 - B7. This is basically the same progression as D7 - C#7 - F#7 - B7 but with some implied harmonic extensions on the D7 and F#7 chords. If you ever have to solo over a fast tune with chords that change at the rate of two to a bar, you can simplify things by addressing only the second chord in each bar. For instance, in the first bar of this turnaround, we have D13 to C#7, which can be simplified to C#7, in terms of what chord to target. And in the bar that follows, we have F#7b9 to B7, which likewise can be reduced to one bar of B7. In other words, we have simplified the solo changes to one bar of C#7 followed by a bar of B7. On C#7, John plays notes from the C# Mixolydian mode (C#, D#, E#, F#, G#, A#, B) with the passing tones A (the b6) and E (the b3) added. The A falls on an upbeat of beat 1 and serves as a lead-in note, whereas the E falls on the downbeat of beat 3 and resolves to the major 3rd of the C#7 chord, E# (written here as F).

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