“The Jazz Guitar Handbook” – Rod Fogg

“The Jazz Guitar Handbook” – Rod Fogg (2013, Backbeat Books / Hal Leonard)

When I first opened the package with my copy of “The Jazz Guitar Handbook” to review, it had the rich look of the coffee table kind of book that I was expecting – but immediately I noticed something unusual on the spine of the book, a new kind of spiral binding that is hidden inside what looks to be a normal hard cover binding, to allow it to lay open easily for study. This was the first of many things that turned out to be not what I had expected to find about the book.

The introduction makes a pretty expansive claim right from the get go, that it is “a thorough guide to playing jazz on the guitar, starting at a near-beginner level and progressing smoothly to an advanced standard.” What I found was that what Fogg provides here is “no brag, just fact”.

He starts with giving you a history of both the making of jazz guitars themselves and the innovator players of the instrument, which has of course been done before, but to my knowledge never with the perspective of someone that can obviously PLAY the music besides write about it. Amongst many other interesting tidbits of insights and information, Fogg has lots of insights into the how and why of ragtime’s evolution into jazz and why the guitar eventually replaced the banjo, as well as many other technological inventions that allowed the guitar to emerge as it had. He doesn’t just talk about the most well known of jazz guitarists, but also hits a few “deserving of wider recognition” and “guitarists’ guitarists” types, including the new young lions of present day. In 24 pages, he gives you something that you could give to your girlfriend (or boyfriend) to get them a great overview on the instrument and it’s major players, with a lot of pictures you haven’t already seen a million places before.

But all of that is the stuff of a coffee table book, and as I said, that is NOT all that this book is about.  From there he starts with the “how to” side of things, telling you what to look for in an instrument to play jazz on, basics like tuning and the “how to and why to” about reading both tablature and notation, and gets right into basic jazz “Kenny Burrell type” single note blues playing. There is an audio CD that comes with the book where the author plays all the examples, which even includes some backing tracks to practice with on your own as well.

Besides a lot of well thought out original musical examples, the main thing that struck me was how well organized and presented it all was.  From a page showing all the notes in the twelve major scales in a clear and easy to compare way, to really great and easy to see fingerboard graphics, and even a great guide to the names of the notes on all strings up to the 14th fret and the spelling of common jazz chords at the end of the book; he’s really thought of most everything to include here. I got the feeling that this guys closets are all spotless with all his old clothes shrink wrapped in those space saver containers that you see on TV but never get around to buying.

Section two gets into chords and starts methodically with the basic open position chords, then into the barre chords, and moving smoothly into the more common four note voicings that most jazz players use.  Everything is presented with “real world” musical examples, so you never feel like you are just learning exercises; with common comping patterns and even later on getting into walking bass-lines. All this is done while getting into a clearly presented look at music theory as you learn the chords and how they are used, including substitutions, inversions and extensions.

Part three attacks the major subjects of major, minor, pentatonic,  and symmetrical scales, modes, arpeggios, all again with real music examples. Part four takes you into chord melody,  “Wes type” octave playing, Django style Gypsy jazz soloing and comping, Latin feels, and even touches on slash and poly-chords..

I would recommend this to any jazz guitar teacher looking for a book to use with serious students, it will provide both an excellent road map of sequential subject matter to cover, as well as a lot of the material that you would normally have to write by hand. At 266 pages, Rod Fogg’s “The Jazz Guitar Handbook” delivers what it promises: a very in depth and systematic progression in what can and should be learned on the subject of jazz guitar and it’s playing.

Doug Perkins

Los Angeles, CA

Sept 5, 2013

“The Jazz Guitar Handbook” – Rod Fogg (2013, Backbeat Books / Hal Leonard) 

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