Archive for April, 2007

Remembering Barney Kessel

April 26, 2007

Nicolai Foss

In the 1950s, jazz guitar was virtually identical with Barney Kessel. It wasn’t entirely over the top when Mundell Lowe could declare that “Barney Kessel was the American jazz icon. He reached the same status as Louis Armstrong.”

Here is an excellent Spectropop remembrance article on Barney. Even if you know about Barney’s career, the article is sure to contain some new info. For example, I at least wasn’t aware how much he was down with the Hollywood elite, and how much he was respected by the leading pop and rock musicians of the 1960s (although the admiration wasn’t mutual).

Gypsygrass and more

April 25, 2007

Nicolai Foss

OK, this may not be strictly archtop-material (in spite of the great pic of Bucky playing an Eastman), but you should still check VMdownloads for some excellent acoustic music, mainly (but not exclusively) gypsy-inspired with strong bluegrass influences, in other words, Messrs. Grisman, Vignola, Nolan, Pizzarelli, etc. I was very impressed with the sample from Frank Vignola’s Gypsy Grass Collective. Great stuff!

Tal and …. Larry Carlton

April 24, 2007

Nicolai Foss

Here is a YouTube clip with Tal Farlow, Larry Carlton, John Patitucci and Billy Hart playing “Misty.” I have little idea when it is from, but probably beginning of the 1990s or even mid-1990s (Tal died in 1997).

Online Tal Farlow Biography

April 23, 2007

Nicolai Foss

My first jazz guitar hero was definitely Tal Farlow. One of my very first jazz records, purchased at the tender age of 16, was Tal’s The Swinging Guitar of Tal Farlow, which is still 26 years after, one of my absolute favorites.

Here is an excellent online biography of Tal, a master musician and, according to those knew him, a great human being.

Progressions: 100 Years of Jazz Guitar

April 20, 2007

Nicolai Foss

I recently blogged on boxsets on jazz guitar. It turns out that I overlooked Progressions: 100 Years of Jazz Guitar.

This boxset stands out among jazz guitar boxsets for three reasons: First, it features only one cut by any performer. In contrast, other boxsets or collections of jazz guitar may allocate more tracks to Lang, Reinhardt, Christian etc. than to the more unknown players. Second, its reach in terms of time period covered is larger than any other jazz guitar collection, beginning in 1906 and ending in 1998 (not quite 100 hundred years, but who cares…). Third, it has a booklet which at a whopping 146 pages is actually more than a booklet. In addition to the tracklistings, there is an endorsement/introduction by John Schofield, a learned and excellent overview of the (almost) 100 years of jazz guitar history covered by the collection, a section where guitarists pick their jazz guitar heroes and favorite albums and tracks (the most consistently picked album is Wes’ Smokin’ at the Half Note), and even half a dozen pages with analyses of select solo fragments.

The only minus, and it may be a huge one depending on your musical tastes, is that the jazz content in a number of the tracks is small or even negligible. I completely fail to see the jazz content in Hendrix, for example. Half of the tracks feature the major innovators from the period 1967 – 1998, so if your preferences are more towards Raney, Farlow, Hall, Burrell, Green, etc. and less to Ritenour, Bailey, Sharrock etc. then this may not be your favorite collection. Still, it provides an invaluable overview of the history of jazz guitar.

German Archtops on German Ebay

April 18, 2007

Nicolai Foss

Do you lust for a Höfner, Egmond, Framus, Hoyer, Musima, or some “uralte Meister-Jazzgitarre,” then German ebay is for you! Type in “jazz Gitarre” or “Jazzgitarre” (or the specific producer you are looking for (doh!)). Here is the rather rare Höfner 461s with the dancing seals, and here is a nice looking Hoyer with an Ideal floating pickup.

Yahoo Groups on Jazz Guitar

April 17, 2007

Nicolai Foss

Yahoo is home to several groups of potential interest to this blog. Here are some of these:

Archtop — Small group with little activity. Not much new or interesting stuff IMHO.

Charlie Christian — small group with relatively little activity, but definitely worth checking out. Contains some entertaining shouting matches over issues of Christiana.

Gypsy Jazz Guitar
— Excellent, active and large group dedicated to jazz manouche.

Jazz_guitar — According to themselves the largest online jazz guitar forum. Almost 6,000 members. Lots of activity. Pretty mainstream; very little on older styles (e.g., the prewar chordal style or jazz manouche).

Licks Books

April 15, 2007

Nicolai Foss

I am usually no great fan of licks books. Too often, the licks are presented without discussing how they fit harmonically, what is their proper role in a solo statement, etc. The licks are often tired, and seem to represent the author’s limited imagination rather than the real licks of the jazz greats. Licks books are seldom serious alternatives to transcriptions of solos. However, I just came across Wolf Marshall’s 101 Must Know Jazz Licks which is an exception to the rule. In general, Marshall does extremely solid work in the transcription department (I will later discuss his transcriptions of Christian, Benson, Green, etc.). Many of the licks are lifted from greats such as Christian and Parker (you will surely recognize a number of them). I found them all very useful. Moreover, what really adds to the value is that the collection is organized historically, so we begin with swing, progress to bebop, hardbop, etc. Very strongly recommended!

Green Street

April 12, 2007

Nicolai Foss

As I am writing this I am listening to Grant Green’s Green Street. The two CDs that are often singled out as Grant’s best are Solid and Matador. While the sidemen are impressive, I don’t think these two CDs represent Grant’s best work. I much prefer the quartet sessions with Sonny Clark and Green Street. The latter was recorded for Blue Note in 1961, using the guitar-bass-drums format. I think (but I may be wrong here) that the only other album that Grant cut with this format was Standards, another 1961 session. Standards, though by no means bad, is a somewhat sleepy and uninspired affair, if compared to Green Street . In particular, “No.1 Green Street” cooks, and “‘Round About Midnight” is one of the most beautiful versions of that tune ever cut.

Great Boxsets

April 10, 2007

Nicolai Foss

There are now a number of great jazz guitar box sets. I highly recommend these:

Hittin’ on All Six. This begins with Lonnie Johnson and ends with Jimmy Raney. Lots of great and rare tracks with the likes of Dave Barbour, Billy Mackel, Mary Osborne, Bus Etri, Bernard Addison, and other largely forgotten but excellent players, plus tracks with much better known players such as George Barnes and Barney Kessel, in addition to the major innovators, Lang, Reinhardt and Christian.

Charlie Christian: The Genius of the Electric Guitar. Indispensable!!

Jimmy Raney — Woody Herman’s Cool Guitar Player. Apparently, the German producers of this 4-cd set think that Raney needs to be advertised by means of the association with Herman. Well, perhaps, but for jazz guitar afficionados Raney is one of the greatest. This fourfer features lots of wonderful “cool” material from the 1950s — and at a ridicuolously low price.

The Complete Verve Tal Farlow Sessions. In a booklet that accompanies this set, Howard Alden argues that these sessions, with the main bulk of Tal’s recorded output from the 1950s, are the “Holy Grail of Jazz Guitar.” Amen!

Tal Farlow: The Fastest Guitar Play of His Era. If you think that the price of the above Tal collection is too much to stomach, try this fourfer (by the same producers as the Raney fourfer — and with an equally ridiculous subtitle; but who cares at that price?).