Five's Company: Pentatonic-Based Accompaniment Parts
In the R&B-based styles of Curtis Mayfield, Steve Cropper, and Jimi Hendrix, you’ll find pentatonics used in double- and triple-stop fills—see Fig. 12, for example, in which C major pentatonic (C–D–E–G–A), G major pentatonic (G–A–B–D–E), and A minor pentatonic chord partials are played around C, G, and Am chords, respectively.
Interestingly, in country music, a similar approach is used to dress up open-position “cowboy” chords. As depicted in Fig. 13, single notes within G major pentatonic and C major pentatonic are hammered on and pulled off between the upper strings of G and C chords.
Contrary to popular belief, jazz comping isn’t all about altered 7th chords. In one-chord modal vamps, modern-jazz giants like Mike Stern, Scott Henderson, and Joe Diorio might combine handfuls of notes within pentatonic scales to create chord sounds like those seen in Figs. 14A–D.
All of these shapes derive from A minor pentatonic. This comping concept is highly practical because it works in any minor mode (Dorian, Phrygian, and Aeolian), since minor pentatonic omits the 2nd and 6th scale degrees (the tones that vary between minor modes). Fig. 15 is built on 3rds, 4ths, and 5ths in A minor pentatonic (beats 1–2 throughout), alternating with Ef major pentatonic (Ef–F–G–Bf–C) note pairs—the result of tritone substitution (pitches borrowed from a chord sitting a f5 away from the tonic). Use this passage as a cadenza to end any standard in A minor—like “What Are You Doing the Rest of Your Life” or “Black Orpheus.”