The riff we are looking at comes in around 2:30 into the song. Above is the tab. The most important thing to note is that I am not a skilled transcriber and so do not take what you see as the true note for note. This is simply how I would play the riff based on my personal style. So feel free to experiment - play it in a way that suits your own style.
You can listen to the actual riff here. This will let you compare Joe Pass's playing of the riff to my own (in which case it should be clear Joe Pass plays it much more nicely than I do!).
So let's look at the main parts of the riff:
The opening part of the riff is an ascending run that is essentially based on Jazz Melodic Minor. You can see my guitar lesson on Jazz Melodic Minor here. Without getting into detail, the run is in E Jazz Melodic Minor which is a fairly sensible approach to coming up with a riff since the song is mostly in E Minor.
Next there is a descending run that is based on E Minor. And so right away, we see some switching going on between E Minor and E Jazz Melodic Minor.
After the descending run, there is an ascending arpeggio run based on F Maj9 after which he ends the riff with a descending run based on the Whole Step Half Step scale. This scale is very common in jazz music and is also known as the Diminished Scale.
So we see that Joe Pass combines several ideas as a way to build really cool, unique sounding riffs. This is an approach that any guitar player can use to spice up their playing.
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