First posted on October 25, 2007
What a gloomy morning here in New Jersey. Today, something about the history of jazz and guitars in shorthand. The electric jazz guitar came into its own in the late 30’s-early 40s when Charlie Christian caused a sensation with Benny Goodman’s small and larger groups. Those first electrics available were more or less flat-tops that a pickup was added to. Later they sometimes had a cutaway. The Washburn HB-15 is in many ways a descendant of that style and can give you the vintage vibe—the sound of the bluesy, riffy Christian and those that came after, as well as those first electric blues folks like T-Bone Walker.
By the early ‘50s there were those that picked up on Christian’s style and expanded it into a full bebop sound and beyond. Jimmy Raney, Barney Kessel, Jim Hall, Johnny Smith and Kenny Burrell each had something important to say and developed the language of jazz guitar into extended elegance. By then they were playing guitars like the Washburn J-3. A little thicker in body, a little more streamlined.
By the late fifties and early sixties the music progressed even further with Wes Montgomery and George Benson driving the style to more complex chording patterns, octaves and the like. The Parker PJ-14 combines the gains in engineering that came about during those important years and updates them. The style is traditional-modern in looks, identifying it as having one foot in the past and one in the future. As time went on, many guitarists took some lessons from their rock and blues contemporaries and began turning up a notch or two and, in some cases, playing solid bodies. So you had a Joe Pass and then Pat Martino and John McLaughlin—the latter two have been capable of great stylistic diversity throughout their careers. There are others, of course, but the current culmination of mainstream stylistic edginess has come from Pat Metheny. He is likely to play on many different styled guitars at any point, as have other guitarists of the late sixties through today. I’ve left off some names because of space, (Abercrombie, Frisell, Green, and Scofield, for examples). All of these players have certainly laid the foundation for much of the playing that occurs today.
The point is to check out any of these guys you may have missed, but also following the way the music has developed, go ahead and be a traditionalist or feel free to take up whatever axe(s) you choose!! It is your music! Next time, a few Jazz CDs I’ve been appreciating lately.