I studied with Bruce Forman during the majority of my undergraduate and doctorate degrees at the University of Southern California. As a result, many of my thoughts on jazz performance and improvisation are directly influenced by him. Forman is a legend amongst jazz guitarists; many a time I have watched guitarists react to the mention of his name, often shaking their heads and mumbling about his unbelievable speed, his original take on the bebop language and phrasing, or his chord substitutions. Watching Forman live is always an experience. Like Sonny Rollins, Forman is always exploring during his improvisations. And, like Rollins, he improvises with a firm belief that jazz music can be fun, often demonstrating a strong sense of humor. Forman creates an environment of interaction and exchange, not only with his fellow band members, but with the audience as well. Everyone in the room is along for the journey and is excited to find out where Forman will take the solo.

If you are not familiar with his playing, here’s a clip of Forman’s latest trio project, featuring Marvin “Smitty” Smith on drums. This trio, with bassist Alex Frank, recorded an album that will be available in the summer of 2015.

Since 2003, Forman has invested a significant portion of his time performing, touring, and recording with Cowbop, his cowboy jazz and western bebop band. Given Cowbop’s roots, the jazz standard “I’m an Old Cowhand” seems right at home among the band’s repertoire of country, swing, and sixties pop songs. The song may be best known by jazz aficionados by its inclusion on Sonny Rollins’ 1957 album Way Out West. It has an abbreviated form, divided into two sections (AB). Section A is eight measures long, while section B is eight measures with a built-in two measure tag, resulting in a repeating form of eighteen measures.

Cowbop in Sierra Madre, led by Joey the Dog


Musical Analysis

Forman’s three choruses on “I’m an Old Cowhand” clearly demonstrate his impeccable time, melodic sense, and great linear playing.  Forman’s implementation of various chordal textures in the guitar, bass, and drum trio on this recording represents a very valuable lesson. He does not merely shift from single-notes to chords, but uses chords in a variety of ways:

In addition to chordal textures, Forman helps pace the solo through the intentional use of specific rhythmic subdivisions. Below is a general roadmap of his solo, outlining the evolution of texture and subdivision.

Bruce Forman on "I'm An Old Cowhand" from Route 66 (2008)

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