Who are the jazz guitarists that all guitar players should know about? What are their best albums? Which guitars do they use? Guitar Command answers all of these questions and more in this list of the 10 most important jazz guitarists …
Born: 23 / 01 / 1910 (Died 16 / 05 / 53)
Main Guitar Used: Selmer Maccaferri
Perhaps the most famous of all jazz guitarists is Django Reinhardt. The Gypsy jazz guitarist learned his trade whilst traveling across his native Belgium and France. His flamboyant and melodic playing style is all the more impressive given that he only had the full use of two fingers on his left hand – a result of injuries sustained in a caravan fire.
Reinhardt made his name with the Paris-based ‘Quintette du Hot Club de France’, the band that he formed with violinist Stéphane Grappelli in 1934. Reinhardt led several versions of the group up until 1948. Reinhardt also spent a short time in America and toured with Duke Ellington.
Reinhardt has inspired a huge number of jazz guitarists, and the joy, energy and inventiveness of his playing shines through on all of his recordings.
Essential Django Reinhardt album: Djangology
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Born: 29 / 07 / 1916 (Died 02 / 03 / 42)
Main Guitar Used: Gibson ES-150
Charlie Christian was one of the first jazz guitarists to use an electric guitar, and he helped to make the use of the instrument commonplace. Christian gained fame as a member of Benny Goodman’s band, and both directly and indirectly inspired many other guitarists.
The early pickups that Christian used on his Gibson ES-150 became known as ‘Charlie Christian Pickups’. Christian died of tuberculosis aged only 25, his legacy not only being his music, but also the use of guitar as a lead instrument in jazz.
Essential Charlie Christian Album: Charlie Christian – The genius of the electric guitar
Born: 06 / 03 / 1925 (Died 15 / 06 / 1968)
Main Guitar Used: Gibson L-5 CES
Many of today’s jazz guitarists cite Wes Montgomery as being a major influence. Montgomery took up the guitar aged nineteen after having been inspired by Charlie Christian, and was self-taught. He is well-known for his distinctive thumb picking style; it is said that he had a corn or wart on his thumb that helped this technique.
Montgomery’s solos are melodic and lyrical; his flowing arpeggiated lines are interspersed with his trademark octave playing.
Essential Wes Montgomery Album: ‘The Incredible Jazz Guitar Of Wes Montgomery’.
Born: 12 / 12 / 1930
Main Guitar Used: Gibson ES-175
Jim Hall possesses an understated, laid-back style; he eschews flashy note-filled solos for more thoughtful playing. An influential guitarist, Hall has worked with many of the biggest names in jazz, including Sonny Rollins and Bill Evans. His soft, melodic tones have influenced jazz guitarists such as Pat Metheny, with whom Hall has also recorded.
Essential Jim Hall Album: Undercurrent (with Bill Evans)
Links: Jim Hall Official Site
Born: 13 / 01 / 1939 (Died 23 / 05 / 1994)
Main Guitar Used: Gibson ES-175
Joe Pass was a master jazz guitarist. He is best known for his staggering solo jazz guitar technique which continues to astound today. Pass showed what was possible on the guitar. His collaborations with Ella Fitzgerald are legendary, and he played with many other greats, including Frank Sinatra.
Essential Joe Pass Album: Take Love Easy – Ella Fitzgerald & Joe Pass. Voice and jazz guitar combine to make a beautiful, mellow album.
Born: 04 / 01 / 1942
Band: Mahavishnu Orchestra, Solo, Played with Miles Davis, Chick Corea etc.
Main Guitar Used: Uses many makes and models of guitar.
John McLaughlin possesses a phenomenal technique and is not afraid to push the boundaries of what can be done on the guitar, and what a guitar should sound like. Unlike many other jazz guitarists, McLaughlin is often seen with a solid-bodied guitar, occasionally fitted with a midi output to control other instruments.
McLaughlin played with Hendrix and was also a member of Miles Davis’ band. He is famous for using non-Western sounds in his own music, particularly in the Indian-influenced Mahavishnu Orchestra recordings.
Essential John McLaughlin Album: The Inner Mounting Flame – The Mahavishnu Orchestra
Born: 22 / 03 / 1943
Main Guitar Used: Ibanez Signature model, Gibson Super 400 CES
As well as being one of the most proficient jazz guitarists of his generation, George Benson also found crossover success in the soul / rhythm and blues fields. Benson is nonetheless a vary capable jazzer, influenced originally by Wes Montgomery and having played with Miles Davis. His distinctive picking technique has become known as ‘Benson picking’.
Essential George Benson Album: Breezin’ – the laid back album which introduced Benson to the mainstream.
Born: 25 / 08 / 1944
Main Guitar Used: Gibson signature model / 12-string electric
Pat Martino is a famed for his uncompromising high-tempo playing style. His weaving hard bop lines are unmistakable, and he possesses an inventive energy that few jazz guitarists can match. Martino had to completely relearn the guitar in the early eighties after suffering a brain aneurysm.
Essential Albums: Live At Yoshi’s, East, Footprints
Links: Pat Martino Official Site
Born December 26, 1951
Main Guitar: ’81 Ibanez As-200 (Ibanez also make a John Scofield signature model).
John Scofield was inspired by rock and blues players, and was educated at Berklee College of Music. He has recorded with many of the biggest names in jazz, including Chet Baker, Charles Mingus, and Miles Davis. Scofield is an innovative, edgy player who is equally at home playing bebop, fusion, jazz-funk or blues. If you hear a jazz guitarist playing bebop with the overdriven tone and vibrato of a blues player then it’s probably ‘Sco’.
Essential Album: EnRoute 2010. Sco’ is joined by long time collaborators Steve Swallow (bass) and Bill Stewart (drums) to produce a live album that showcases his quirky, inventive and soulful sound.
Links: John Scofield Official Site
Born: 12 / 08 / 1954
Main Guitar Used: Gibson ES-175, Ibanez custom
Pat Metheny is one of the most famous living jazz guitarists. He is known for his latin-tinged fusion compositions and lyrical soloing. Metheny is a prolific artist and has recorded albums both as leader of his own ‘Pat Metheny Group’, and in collaboration with a diverse range of musicians and composers. His latest release, Union Band, was recently reviewed by Guitar Command: Pat Metheny Union Band Review.
Essential Album: Still Life (Talking) – Pat Metheny Group.
Links: Pat Metheny Official Site
Jazz Guitarists Conclusion
We hope that you have enjoyed this brief round up of jazz guitarists. Of course, there are plenty of other notable musicians we haven’t had room for; I suspect that many of them will be featured in future articles. As always, we welcome your suggestions and comments below – who are your favourite jazz guitarists? What are their essential albums? Is there anyone who should have been included in this piece, or anyone you think that maybe shouldn’t have been? Let us know!
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