The Art of Synth Soloing: Eddie Jobson

Learn to play synth solos like Eddie Jobson

When music fans discuss the giants of progressive rock (art-rock, progressive music—whatever term you like) the names Emerson, Wakeman, Banks, and Lord rightfully come up. But less frequently do they mention Eddie Jobson. Ask keyboard players, however, and Jobson is always brought up: He is a highly regarded “player’s player” and has earned his place near the front of the line. To complement my interview with him this month, I went through his many works looking for some synth solos to cover. Surprisingly (and by Eddie’s own admission) he didn’t take many, reserving that role for his electric violin and organ. But fear not, loyal reader, we have some great material to cover.

Live, From NY, It’s…

Eddie’s most “typical” recorded synth solo appears on the Zappa In New York album (recorded in 1976, but not released until 1978). The tune was titled “I Promise Not to Come in Your Mouth,” but later became known as “Läther.” It’s a beautiful, somewhat pointillistic ballad, and after a stop-time/floating guitar solo section, the band moves into a rather jazzy feel for Eddie’s solo. Played on a Minimoog, the solo is highly melodic and displays Eddie’s virtuosic technique as it progresses.

Example 1 shows the opening of his solo, and Eddie paces himself nicely, creating a soaring melody that stands in contrast to Zappa’s previous, dense solo. He starts adding some nice color tones, like the ninth on the B minor in bar 5, and the jazzy, Lydian mode sound (using the raised 4th/F#) on the C major seventh in bar 7. For the Eb major seventh in bars 15 and 16 he moves to more scalar runs, and curiously uses a flatted seventh against the major seventh sound in bar 16, but in passing it works.

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Example 2 is taken from the end of his solo and exemplifies Eddie’s crisp, articulate chops. All based on a Db Lydian scale, the repeated phrase turns into a downward crashing run ending on the major seventh. Finish off with a few bass tones with filter sweeps and you have a musical, melodic, and classic solo. Interestingly, Jobson hews closely to this same solo on his recently released Four Decades career-retrospective concert recording (a 2013 show in Japan) released in 2016. Highly recommended.

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The UK Years

Eddie is most famously known for the band UK, which was short-lived, but created a hugely influential body of work. As mentioned earlier, there are few true synth solos, but plenty of powerful parts, synth tones, and classic compositions. On their first album, U.K., I found a section of the tune “Nevermore” where Eddie and guitarist Allan Holdsworth trade solos for a short spell. Example 3 shows Eddie’s “turn” and he starts by echoing the phrase Holdsworth plays in the first bar. The phrases in bars 3 and 4 are buried under some synth sound effects and are the best approximation I could figure out.

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Starting on bar 4 (the F minor 6/9) Eddie plays some wonderfully angular lines in fourths, which sound like they come from the modal jazz influence of McCoy Tyner and Chick Corea. It’s all F Dorian mode, and he uses the same note choices when the chord changes to the Ab major 7th for a Lydian mode flavor. That one B natural at the top of the line adds some interesting dissonance, and he ends his phrase on the D natural (the sharp 11th) while Holdsworth comes in early over him.

An Extra Gift from Eddie and Me

I asked Eddie if he had a hand-written chart/score for his most challenging composition, “Presto Vivace” from that first UK album. He did not, so I decided to transcribe it and offer it to you as a special online extra. Eddie helped me get the time signatures and note groupings correctly notated, and it’s the first time there is an “approved” score for this classic tune. Check it out online and enjoy learning it!