Archive for March, 2009

(Jazz) Guitarists as Stylistic Innovators

March 26, 2009

Nicolai Foss

Although I confess to being heavily biased, I do think there is a case for claiming that jazz encyclopedia and books on the evolution of jazz typically downplay the role of guitarists. Charlie Christian’s role as a bebop innovator may be mentioned but that is about it. In an interesting academic paper, “No one had ever heard a guitar played like that before,” Paul Carr of the University of Glamorgan, points to innovative role in defining fusion/jazz-rock of guitarists like Corryell and McLaughlin who both were “authentic practicioners” both jazz and rock traditions (in contrast to Miles Davis). Definitely worth a read!

Jazz Guitar Books on Google Books

March 25, 2009

Nicolai Foss

The Google book scanning project is a massive project to register and present online excerpts from the World’s stock of books. This means that also jazz guitar books are or will be part of Here is, for example, Tommy Tedesco’s For Guitar Player’s Only, with numerous nifty little nuggets for those who want to make it in studios. Most of the book seems available. And here is Joe Diorio’s Jazz Blues Styles. Finally, one I look forward to studying: Mitch Holder’s The Jazz Guitar Stylings of Howard Roberts.

Recent Howard Roberts Re-Issues

March 24, 2009

Nicolai Foss

Howard Roberts may not be as well known as Kessel, Pass, Farlow, Smith et al., but for many jazz guitar afficionados he belongs in that league. Roberts combined the drive of Farlow, the earthiness of Kessel, and the technical mastery of Smith. And added his own distinctive touch.

I heard Howard Roberts play in the Montmartre in Copenhagen around 1981-2. If I remember correctly, he played a Gibson L5S (but perhaps it was really the Gibson HR Fusion, which I think must have been out at this time). His technique was absolutely astonishing and I remember some of the local guitarists (I am pretty sure a young Doug Raney was on stage with Howard) literally dropping jaws in awe of his amazing dexterity. HR’s The Real Howard Roberts (currently on sale at Amazon for 60 USD!!!) is among my top-5 jazz guitar albums. For the ultimate HR resource, check Mike Evans’ fabuloussite.

Roberts’ recordings have until recently been difficult to find. Luckily, much material has been re-released within the last decade. I just received my copies of Mr. Roberts Plays Guitar (first released in 1956; re-released in 2008) and Good Pickin’s (released in 1959; re-released in 2006).

I am still digesting these two great albums, but they are clearly distinct. “Mr. Roberts” comes complete with a string quartet on a number of the tracks, and is general much more arranged and polite than “Pickin’s” which has much more straightahead blowing. The distinctive Roberts style with its “funk” was clearly developed already at this early stage of his career (Roberts was 27 when “Mr. Roberts” was recorded but clearly a very mature player). The blues was always a strong force in Roberts’ playing, and the source of that is revealed in the liner notes to Good Pickin’s: Playing the blues, and nothing but the blues, in the 2-3 “negro jazz clubs” of Phoenix in the years immediately after the 2nd World War. Both CDs are terrific and highly recommended.

More on Acoustics versus Electrics

March 22, 2009

Nicolai Foss

Richard Autenzio sent me the thought-provoking mail below on an issue that has often been debated on this blog.

I keep coming back to the basics and that is Acoustics versus electrification. As we all know the 175 was really built as an electric archtop where as the forerunners like the L-5 were built as acoustic archtop guitars.
The 175 was a laminated top and the L-5 was a carved top and so in many way I would have to agree with Nicolai that they are completely different guitars. As I have said many time as soon as they started putting pickups on guitars, that changed the guitar for ever. If you want to debate this then please do because I believe that the true archtop acoustic sound has slowly taken second place to the plugged in sound, which in many cases has no resemblence to the acoustic sound of the archtop guitar unplugged. As Nicolai knows D’Aquisto in his latter years tried to retain that archtop acoustic sound by making The Centura, The solo, The Avant Garde etc which all came without pickups. I have played many of the popular famous name archtop guitars including the 175 and I am not impressed by the acoustic sound they struggle to produce. Just getting a little bit more technical now, but apart from many changes to the achtop guitar that has taken place the short scale concept has not helped with the acoustic sound. Whilst the short scale guitar makes the fret board easier for many to use it has shotened the string length and I have noticed that the nicer sounding acoustic archtop guitars are a full 25 1/2″ scale allowing the strings to fully resonate. On the subject of strings the flats have not done much for the full acoustic sound of many archtop guitars as most like the L-5’s were designed for round wounds. I still use L-5 on most of my archtops for that reason.

New Les Paul Twofer

March 1, 2009

Nicolai Foss

While I was aware that Les Paul (b. 1915; he is still among us) had jammed with Charlie Christian, had been a very prolific member of the JATP gang, and had actually recorded with Pat Martino, I had never listened to his music until the arrival in my postbox of the new Avid two-CD collection, Les Paul: The Jazzman (so titled to distinguish these recordings from those of Rhubarb Red: The Country Musician, or Les Paul: The Multi-track Pop Artist, etc.), priced at the ridiculously low price of 3,98 GBP.

All of the tracks are from 1944 or 1945, and feature Paul with the likes of JJ Johnson, Illinois Jacquet, Nat “King” Cole, Vic Dickenson, Harry “Sweets” Edison, Arnold Ross, Barney Kessel, etc. As this indicates the music is largely swing, with some traces of early bebop. The JATP sessions are … well … “robust” with some pretty awful screaming by Jacquet but very nice solo work by Paul. The most stylish contributions are, however, his work with smaller combos, perhaps particularly his work with quartets, where there is substantial space for stretching out.

The liner notes (by Brian Priestley) seem to make Art Tatum the main influence on Paul’s playing. However, I think the over-whelming influence is actually Django Reinhardt; much of Paul’s playing on these tracks sounds like–in fact, anticipates–Reinhardt’s electrical playing (1947-1953). Buy this twofer!