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The 10 Jazz Guitarists That You Need To Know

Listen To Jazz!

Listening to jazz is an important part of learning jazz and also one of the things that can speed up that process. It’s essential to check out the right people. In this video, I’ll give you a list of some of the jazz guitarists that I think you really need to be familiar with. I’ll go over some of their famous albums and, if sometimes that’s not my favorite, I’ll talk about why and give you an alternative as well. Let’s hope that doesn’t offend anybody.

#1 The Underdog of Jazz Guitar

I’m going to start with somebody who I think is sometimes a little bit overlooked and underrated very often and then move on to one that I accidentally skipped the first time around, but I’ll get to that later. Jim Hall, I think, is actually sometimes a little bit overlooked, and that’s a pity because he is an amazing jazz guitarist and also somebody that I’m still transcribing to this day. You can learn so much from his inventive melodies and his fantastic iron-strong rhythm and timing.

The Jim Hall album that I recommend you check out is his debut album, simply titled Jazz Guitar.

It’s in a trio with bass, piano, and guitar. His playing on this is super solid, very traditional, but at the same time also kind of giving us hints at what’s to come because he really invented modern jazz guitar. A funny side note about his debut album is that it was, of course, released without drums, but then later, because of the success of people like Kenny Burrell and Wes Montgomery (who will appear later in the video), they actually overdubbed drums on it and re-released it later. Now I’ve never heard that version, that might be better, but I am kind of curious how that sounded.

Playing In Taiwan

As you can see, I’m in Taiwan. I’m performing at the Taichung Jazz Festival this Saturday with Nick Javier and his band,

and I thought it would be fun to try and shoot a video here, even if I’m shooting on location. So that’s not something I’m used to, I’m learning, and maybe the quality is not what you hope, but at least you get to see a little bit of some of the parks in Taiwan. And I thought this was a great place to shoot because I’m, of course, sitting next to a colleague, and he’s getting the attention that he deserves.

#2 The One I Didn’t Know About

With the internet, it’s becoming super easy, barely an inconvenience to check out any album or track. Look it up on Spotify or on YouTube and listen to it, and that wasn’t the case when I was starting out. I was really depending on the recommendations of my teachers and the people that I played with. Even then, if I knew who it was, I still had to find a physical copy, so a CD or an album to listen to, and that’s the reason why I didn’t really check out Grant Green in the beginning. Nobody talked about him, so I wasn’t aware that he existed, which is really a pity because he is a great place to start if you want to learn jazz.

 

If you listen to him, you will hear clear, playable, strong bebop executed in a way that you can actually fairly easily check it out on guitar and learn from it, something that we don’t have a ton of examples of. I’ve talked about in other videos how I don’t really like Grant Green’s tone on those earlier albums, so my favorite album is a little bit later in his career. It’s one of the Blue Note albums, it’s solid,

but that’s also with Joe Henderson and McCoy Tyner. There’s just so much great music on that album, definitely worth checking out. If I were to recommend an earlier album, probably Grant’s First Stand is a good one.

It’s pretty early, it’s in ’61, I think, but that’s Grant Green in an organ trio. That’s really also an album with some fairly famous Grant Green solos that you want to check out, even if I think that the guitar tone has maybe a bit much pick attack and way too much spring reverb.

#3 I Wanted To Be Him When I Grow Up

Joe Pass is a huge influence on my playing. I really check out a lot of his stuff and also some of his books. I’ve made a video about his guitar-style book, which I think is a great method for learning jazz vocabulary.

But his most famous album is probably Virtuoso, which is a solo jazz guitar album.

And to be honest, that’s not my favorite album. I don’t actually like that album that much. I don’t listen a ton to solo jazz guitar. I tend to be much more focused on jazz where it’s about playing together in a group.

So my favorite Joe Pass album is Intercontinental,

which I think is a great example of his playing. I’m pretty sure they didn’t rehearse anything and they’re just going into the studio and recording some standards, but the result is amazing.

I have another video where I’m breaking down a jazz blues off that album and you definitely want to check out that album. It’s Joe Pass at his very best.

#4 The One I Ignored

The first time I heard Barney Kessel’s playing, I was actually everything but impressed, but that was just because I was listening to the wrong stuff. The albums that you want to check out from Barney Kessel are the Poll Winners albums. They’re actually sort of the first jazz guitar trio albums that are out there.

I think there are three of them and they’re with Shelly Mann, Ray Brown, and Barney Kessel. They’re amazing albums. It’s actually kind of hard to screw it up if you’re in that company, but that’s where you want to start if you want to hear some truly great Barney Kessel.

#5 The One I Studied

I didn’t think about this when I was preparing the video, but actually, I’m recommending really a lot of debut albums. And this is another one. When it comes to Pat Martino, the album that you definitely have to check out is El Hombre, his first album.

He’s also coming out of the organ trio tradition. The whole band is sort of built around an organ trio, but he’s adding a flute player. He’s also adding some percussion. So in that way, it’s not completely just organ trio, but that’s the basic sound. It’s an amazing album from, I think he’s 22 at the time.


You need to check it out.

#6 Check Out The Old Stuff

George Benson is probably the jazz guitar player that I think has the best phrasing. It is really amazing how good he sounds most of the time, even if maybe some of the later stuff where he’s like focusing more on being a vocalist than a guitar player is not really to my taste. And don’t get me wrong, I think it’s perfectly fine. You should do whatever he wants. Those are just not gonna be my favorite albums.

So my favorite albums from him would probably be Cookbook,

which is really just a sort of a picture of where he came from, the organ trio and those groups playing in a quartet, which is like an organ trio with a saxophone player. That is an amazing album. Everybody is playing really solid solos. Another one that’s really great to check out that I also want to mention is Giblet Gravy,

where he’s actually playing with Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Billy Cobham. That’s where the famous version of Billy’s Bounce is found, which I’ve talked about many, many times and also made an entire video on.

There Are More People To Check Out

For this video, then I kind of ended up just going with the classic guitar player. So really the people that are active in the ’50s, ’60s. And of course, there’s a lot happening on jazz guitar afterwards. And actually jazz guitar becomes really an important instrument from the ’70s on and maybe it’s not as much an important instrument in the ’60s. Let me know if you want another video where I talk about sort of more of the modern guys. So Schofield, Metheny, Rosenwinkel, Gilead Hickselman, Jonathan Kreisberg, all these guys. There are a ton of amazing guitar players out there.

#7 Skipped This One By Accident

Another guitar player that I wasn’t really checking out because nobody recommended that I listen to him and nobody told me that he existed is Kenny Burrell. And that’s really a pity because he’s of course also really an amazing jazz guitar player to check out. His most famous albums are probably the one with Coltrane and then also the Midnight Blue album.

Now, both of those are not my favorite albums. I’ve listened really a lot to this Jimmy Smith album

where he is actually just a sideman, but he’s of course featured really a lot and he’s playing on this is so amazing.

#8 The King Of Jazz Guitar

I think we can all agree that Wes Montgomery is the most important and the most influential jazz guitarist that we have. So it’s kind of difficult to sort of pick a favorite, but if I have to pick a favorite, my choice is actually pretty cliché because I’m gonna go with Smoking at the Half Note.

That’s the album with the Wynton Kelly Trio and with that combination Wes and Wynton Kelly Trio, it just can’t go wrong and it certainly doesn’t. It’s an amazing album. They all play great, but especially Wes is really playing some amazing solos and I’ve learned a ton from checking out a lot of solos of that album. If I was to recommend another album, then I think you can kind of check out a different side of Wes’s playing by listening to an album like Boss Guitar because there you hear him playing in an organ trio which is actually different.

It’s also a little bit earlier. Still an amazing album with a lot of great solos to check out.

One thing that I do want to point out is that to me, what makes Wes great is not that he’s playing with his thumb or that he’s playing a lot of octaves or chord solos. That’s technique. He’s great. He sounds amazing. It’s not about that, but I think what really makes his solo so amazing is the clarity of the music that’s in there. So he often plays simpler phrases, but he will then have that one phrase is followed by a phrase that is either a response or a development of what he just plays. And that really connects the whole thing. And that’s actually fairly rare with guitarists or with jazz musicians in general. And that is what makes Wes a genius to me.

#9 The 1st Secret Recommendation

Because I was depending on recommendations from my teachers and the people that I played with, not the internet, then there are a few guitarists that I listen to really a lot that are maybe not as famous, but there are some really great albums that I definitely think you want to check out. The first one I want to mention just shortly is Lorne Lofsky and his debut album, another debut album, which is It Could Happen to You.

That is such an amazing album. He’s always great, but that album is definitely worth checking out. And I’ve listened to that so much.

#10 Another Secret Recommendation

Another album that you want to listen to is a Victorious album that right now I can’t remember the name of, but I’ll put the cover on screen so you can check it out.

The way he plays here is so beautiful, especially that first standard, I Heard You Cry Last Night is such an amazing song the way he plays it. And it’s such a beautiful feel. You definitely want to check that out.

But besides listening to the music, then you of course also want to start to find solos that you can learn by ear. That’s the best way to really develop your phrasing, your swing feel and your timing. But you also have to make sure that you’re not starting with something that’s too difficult, that you’ll just break your neck or that you will get demotivated by. So to help you with that, check out this video, which goes over a few solos that are pretty easy to learn and not too long and definitely will help you develop your playing

5 Easy Solos to Learn By Ear and Boost Your Jazz Guitar Skills

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Top 5 classic jazz guitar albums

This list is based on the stuff I not only listened to but also studied in terms of transcribing and learning to play the transcriptions to get better phrasing and of course really hear and feel the melodies when playing them with the record.

The things I have learned from these records differs from record to record, and I’ll try to talk a bit about that for each one of them.

5. George Benson – Cookbook

cookbook

Great playing by a fairly young Benson. One of the first things I learnt, before I had the skills to write anything down was “The Borgia Stick”. Surprisingly simple and very tonal A minor for the most part and even often A minor pentatonic (long sequence of groups of 3) It has a very simple chord solo part too. It was so simple that I sometimes doubted that I was hearing it right.

Purchase on Amazon: http://amzn.to/1PonGLf

4. Jim Hall – Alone Together

alonetogether

This album is a great collection of standards in duo with Ron Carter. It has a few nice harmonic choices which are quite typical of Jim Hall and work very well, and is a good example of how you can play standard repertoire and still give it a personal twist.

Purchase on Amazon: http://amzn.to/25zHCPb

3. Joe Pass – Intercontinental

intercontinental

I have studied a lot of Joe Pass stuff in that I was handed by teachers to learn, and a lot of it is really good basic bebop language material to learn. I included this album because it has a version of Joe’s Blues that I learnt from start to finish with a teacher and it taught me a lot about playing jazz blues and about a lot of other stuff about hard bop and bebop guitar. This is in my opinion one of the best Joe Pass albums out there, and he is also not just playing directly in to the board etc so the sound is fantastic.

Purchase on Amazon: http://amzn.to/1sPTzly

2. Pat Martino – El Hombre

elhombre

Pat Martino’s debut album is in so many ways mind blowing. His solo on Just Friends solo was also a solo I spent a lot of time learning and that had a huge impact on my playing at that time. On this record he is much more traditional and sounds very Wes influenced in my opinion. Later records his lines are much more dense.

Purchase on Amazon: http://amzn.to/1sPTv5o

1. Wes Montgomery – Smokin at the Half note

smokinhalfnote

There are so many guitar players out there that site this as a major influence on their playing,  and if there is one classic jazz record that you should own then this is probably it! This is one of the few records that I have learnt almost all the solos and even if I never wrote them down, I could at the time play them with the track and it improved my phrasing immensely.

Purchase on Amazon: http://amzn.to/1OW76g5

 

So there you have it! A small list of 5 classic jazz guitar albums that I have listened a lot to and learnt from. The order of the list is certainly debateable, but all these albums are really great albums!

Let me know what you think!

I have included affiliate links to the albums so should you be interested in buying them then you can support me by doing so via those links.