The Rhythm chord or “Jazz” rhythm chords have strong musical characteristics as well as a rather colorful history. The Guitar has always had an intimate relationship with dance and thus rhythm and accompaniment in a host of different styles. The Flamenco guitar’s dance origins go back to the 18th century. In this Spanish folk art form the guitar is used as the driving rhythmic force behind the dance, the design of the instrument as well as the playing technique are defined by its relationship to the dance. This percussive playing style is deeply rooted in the Gypsy folk music tradition which was in turn expressed in the Jazz Manouche or Gypsy Jazz tradition which was largely brought to popular attention by Django Rheinhardt. In fact Django Rheinhardt was of the same Romani or Spanish descent as many of the great Flamenco artists. This percussive rhythmic playing style eventually became an intrinsic part of the modern Jazz guitar sound.
At the beginning of the 20th century the guitar was seen as the chosen instrument of Cowboys, Blues and Folk musicians but over a few short years the creative genius of a new generation of players with amplifiers began to redefine the rhythm instrument. This new technological marvel of amplification added an entirely new dimension to the instrument that led to it becoming a strong solo voice that could be heard even over horn sections. This began to reveal the true harmonic capabilities and complexities of the instrument and eventually led to the guitar being used in small combos as a solo as well as accompaniment instrument.
By the late 30s players like Charlie Christian, Carl Kress, George Barnes were taking solos and the banjo (still being used by Duke Ellington in his orchestra) was increasingly being replaced by the sounds of the F Hole Arch top electric jazz guitar. The once intimate and soft spoken portable parlour instrument had with the event of the amp and pickup become as dynamic as its cumbersome mechanical cousin, the piano.
Throughout this musical and guitaristic development guitarists chose chord voicings for their ability to be changed quickly in any key in order to drive out a steady rhythm and be heard within the rhythm section. The chords had to have a balanced sound without the unnecessary duplication of notes within the chords and generally without open strings . Over the years many players settled on many shared chord voicings because of their ease of use and functionality and these were eventually referred to simply as “rhythm chords” or often colloquially as “Jazz chords”.
Due to their harmonic economy, ease of use and musicality these same chords have been passed down and to this day are considered an essential part of every jazz guitarist’s vocabulary. These tried and true forms are used by College level guitar programs all over North America to introduce developing players to reading changes and playing chord charts much in the same way they were originally used by the Jazz guitar greats.
In the arpeggios book we are using many of these same voicings simply because of the popularity they have enjoyed for a century or so and because they just work and sound great. There are other voicings that could be effective as well but for the purposes of this book we have carefully chosen some of the most useful and universal.
Other great players to listen to who were influenced by the great swing era and who in turn came to influence entire generations of new players are: Joe Pass, Herb Ellis, Barney Kessell, Grant Green, Wes Montgomery, Kenny Burrell, Tal Farlow, Lenny Breau, Howard Roberts, Les Paul.