Bop-style Comping

As rhythm section players, we guitarists generally spend most of our time accompanying other players. Strange, then, that the majority of "jazz guitar" books, videos, etc. deal heavily with how to solo yet say little or nothing about how to back a soloist!

When it comes to bebop-style comping, there might be a good reason for that. The bop era was a sort of dark period for guitar; the instrument was largely overlooked by bop combos in favor of piano. There are comparatively few recorded examples of guitarists comping on bop-period records. Studying the work of bop-era pianists can be very helpful to a guitarist who's learning to comp in this style.

As an example, I have adapted a chorus of Duke Jordan's comping behind the melody of Scrapple From The Apple, recorded by Charlie Parker in 1947 (released in 1948). This is not a literal transcription! The rhythms are Jordan's; the voicings are similar to his but have been modified to be more playable on guitar.

Of interest:

  • Notice how much of the time Duke lays out! This is an essential element in comping; what you don't play means as much as what you do play. In bar 8, he actually leaves out the D7 normally played in the second half of that bar, demonstrating that it's not necessary to play every change all the time!
  • The "ands" (afterbeats) are frequently favored in this music. Note how often Jordan cadences on the "and" of beat four, for example.
  • On this particular recording, Jordan does not make extensive use of altered chords. In this example, there's one tritone sub for C7 (bar 28) and a couple of cases where a diminished chord implies C7b9 (bars 15, 31). Other than that, dominants are extended (9, 11, 13) but not altered.
  • Many of the things Jordan plays serve as punctuation; they happen during rests in the melody line or reinforce the end of a melodic phrase.


To view the notation, click the links below:


2000, Bob Russell