Guitar Picks

Hello everyone, and welcome to the first installment of Guitar Picks, an educational column dedicated to the guitar's role in jazz past and present. I should begin first by telling you what I hope can be accomplished by readers and students of this column over time.

First and foremost, this column can assist beginner and intermediate guitar students of all styles in incorporating and introducing jazz sensibilities, phrasings and improvisational tools into their own playing, in hopes of going beyond "faster" and "better" in favor of "smarter". An important aspect of this will be learning how to listen, not just to guitar players, but to brilliant musicians of every type, as great concepts and ideas are instrument-agnostic.

Second, this column will address important aspects such as tone, setup, smarter gear shopping and the real source of your sound : your fingers.

Third, it will hopefully show you in many ways how to teach yourself through exploration of new music, styles, players and of course, self-exploration and evaluation.

As is the source for getting the first word on jazz recordings, this column will use an editorial approach by through the referencing and discussion of specific recordings of all types.

Must-Have Recordings, Part 1 of 3 In speaking to the guitar's role in jazz, my first recommendation is this "hit list" of recordings, which I feel will be an economical and useful introduction to some of the pioneers of jazz guitar. Keep in mind, that while some of these recordings may seem like "Best Of" compilations, they are recommended because of their broad coverage of the artist's catalog within economic means. If you want to purchase each player's entire catalog, don't let me stop you, but for the rest of us who are on a budget, this will be a nice head start and will focus on the key aspects of each player's technique and approach.

These recordings will cover a wide variety of players, are not not in order of importance or chronological order.

1. Charlie Christian: The Genius Of The Electric Guitar (Legacy/Columbia)
Although his life ended at the early age of 25, Christian ushered in the bebop era through horn-like phrasings and some of the first jazz guitar 'licks', bringing the guitar into the spotlight as a lead instrument on the jazz scene. This recording features 16 tracks.

2. Wes Montgomery: Verve Jazz Masters 14 (Verve)
This Verve collection is a perfect mix of quality and catalog, and features several Montgomery trademark tunes, but more importantly, showcases the great's trademark thumb/fingerpicking technique across a broad range of tunes. Montgomery's use of lightning fast octaves and his mellow tone set a precedent for just about every jazz guitarist during and after his death.

3. The Best Of Joe Pass (Pablo/Fantasy)
Joe Pass has been a staple of Jazz guitar, mixing technique, melodic genius and improvisational prowess all-in-one. Right in bebop pocket, Pass' powerhouse lines were only surpassed by his use of chord melody and thick solo guitar arrangements. Most importantly, Pass conveyed his message whether at lightning speed or in the midst of a soulful ballad.

4. The Guitar Artistry Of Charlie Byrd (Fantasy/OJC)
Charlie Byrd earned a legendary place in jazz guitar history, not only for his melodic approach, but as one of the first to combine classical guitar tones and techniques with jazz styles. A student of classical guitar great Andres Segovia, Byrd favored nylon string guitars and in the tradition of classical/European guitarists, strictly fingerstyle technique, influencing a league of contemporary players (such as Earl Klugh) to adopt the same approach.

5. Pat Metheny: Bright Size Life (ECM)
Metheny is a jump ahead chronologically, but his role in shaping modern jazz guitar is no less significant. Bright Size Life, Metheny's debut at the age of only 21, wowed critics and broke the mold of traditional jazz guitar, incorporating the melodic sensibility and improvisational edge of traditional jazz guitarists before him with the more daring harmonic and melodic ideas that transpired within the late 60's-70's fusion movements. BSL also features the legendary Jaco Pastorius and drummer Bob Moses.

The Sound Of Wood and Wires Just to touch briefly on the subject of guitar types, for those of us who are in the market for an instrument to further explore a "jazz" sound, or who currently own an instrument and what to evaluate whether or not it will be right for their journey into jazz guitar.

There are several types of guitars, broken out most commonly this way :

Hollow-body Acoustic Guitars: Your average steel-string or nylon-string acoustic guitar. Used for everything from rock to folk, and even jazz, a standard acoustic guitar can give the player a natural, unaffected sound for just about any purpose. A great deal of jazz guitar players have composed works strictly for the acoustic guitar, have favored the acoustic guitar for ballads or more mellow works, or, like Charlie Byrd and Paco DeLucia, have made it their primary instrument. (Examples : Martin Steel-Strings, Takamine Classical Guitars, Ovation Series Guitars)

Archtop (Hollow-body) Electric Guitars: Commonly called "jazz boxes", archtops mix the full-bodied, clean sound of acoustic guitars with the tone-shaping ability of standard electric guitars. While these guitars are the most commonly seen among jazz guitarists, their larger bodies and dimensions may be less favorable for players accustomed to smaller, slimmer solid-bodied electrics. It is also important to keep in mind that these guitars are prone to feedback, which may be undesirable for players who utilize a lot of gain or effects in their sound. (Examples: The Gibson ES-175, Guild x-150)

Semi-Hollow Archtop Electric Guitar: The slimmed-down version of the hollow-bodied electric, these guitars are a good balance of versatility, tone and dimensions. Utilized more frequently by blues guitarists, the semi-hollow has also been a favorite amongst contemporary jazz/fusion players for its ability to co-exist in both the hollow-body and solid-body worlds. Players who favor these guitars are John Scofield, among others. (Examples, the Gibson ES-335, Guild Starfire Series, Ibanez Artist Series)

Solid-Bodied Electric Guitar: Commonly seen in the hands of rock players, the solid-bodied electric depends more on the tone-shaping control at the amplifier level, although these types of guitars can carry distinct sounds all their own. Many modern players, such as Mike Stern, favor a solid bodied guitar for its smaller dimensions, and ability to handle several styles effortlessly. (Examples : Fender Telecaster and Stratocaster, Gibson Les Paul).

Remember, ultimately, your sounds comes from your fingers, but having the right gear is important when considering what avenue your playing and music will take.

Thank you for tuning in this month, and I look forward to beginning this journey with you into the world of jazz guitar through technique, lessons, listening and learning. Next month's issue will feature: Must-Have Recordings, Part 2, Setting up Your Sound, and Common Chord Progressions.

Fred Gerantab is a guitarist and composer whose work has been featured in several New York area groups and recordings, as well as music for film and television.

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