Some of the most influential and innovative guitarists have emerged from the world of Jazz – often with breathtakingly fast technique and intricate phrasing – Jazz maestro’s can match anything that rock and roll can produce – indeed the Jazz genre has been popular for almost 100 years and from trad jazz to new world fusion pioneers they are a diverse breed producing a wide spectrum of sound.
So what makes a great Jazz guitarist? Flamboyance – technique and a dash of magic – our top 10 list features guitarists who have their own unique styles and sound – often mimicked but never matched. Want to get into Jazz guitar? Well check out these ten great players.
1. Joe Pass
With a career that spanned 50 years, including time spent with Frank Sinatra, Dizzy Gillespie and Herb Ellis – Pass became renowned for his solo style that utilized complex finger picking technique coupled with a deft left hand phrasing. With an Epiphone signature guitar released in his honor – Pass is a true great
2. Pat Metheny
Part of the modern Jazz set – Metheny is a real innovator on guitar – mixing a broad palette of musical influences from rock to folk, orchestral and traditional Jazz. Hard to pin down with a specific technique but with influences from Joe Pass to Wes Montgomery he’s has a career that spans 30 years and remains highly regarded.
3. Les Paul
One of histories most important guitarists. Central in the development of the modern guitar and recording techniques. It was however as a Jazz Guitarist that he became famous – with a fast fluid style reminiscent of the great Django Reinheardt but with a distinctive country twang he’s blazed a trail throughout his career – the fact that Les Paul still played to audiences in his 90’s is testament to how important this man is.
4. Wes Montgomery
Montgomery played with a distinctive style – discarding the use of a pick he played with mostly with his thumb resting his fingers on the guitar’s body. With intricate phrasing including use of Octaves – Montgomery sound is easily distinguishable – despite a career that was cut short at the tender age of 43 – Montgomery still had time to record a string of hit Jazz albums and influence a wealth or artists.
5. Charlie Christian
Hugely influencial in the Jazz genre and one of first mainstream Electric Guitarists but with a frustratingly brief career (dying at the age of 25) – renowned for his playing with the Benny Goodman orchestra in the 30’s and 40’s
6. John Mclaughlin
Incredible Jazz Fusion artist – part of the Mahavishnu Orchestra fusion group in the 70’s. With a blinding fast technique and influenced by world music sound – McLaughlin is a unique voice in the world of Jazz.
7. Herb Ellis
Reaching the Jazz audience with his stint with the Oscar Peterson trio in the ‘50’s Ellis has continued to record and play with a range of artists – with a fast - fluid but still melodic style – Ellis has a distinctive voice in the world of jazz guitar and inspiring tecfhnique.
8. Charlie Byrd
Grammy award winning and with a career that spanned 40 years – classically trained Byrd was heavily influenced by the South American bossa nova sound made his name playing with Stan Getz during the 1960’s -
9. Kenny Burrell
With a style that marries a soulful technique with a love of bebop, Burrell has played with a bucket load of greats including Dizzy Gillespie, Stan Getz and Benny Goodman – with a treasure of over 40 albums and career spanning over 50 years Burrell is a true Jazz master
10. Django Reinhardt
No list of Jazz guitarists would be complete without mentioning Django – with a Gypsy upbringing and musical influence he had a fascinating technique which involved picking close to the bridge and one string solo’s – influenced by few but influencing many – he remains perhaps the most important Jazz Guitarist of all time.
The author runs the blog Jazzbox-Cafe which offers a lively and fun look at the world of Jazz Guitar - offering tips on equipment and technique and a place for those that love the genre to discuss the latest news and events.