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10 Essential Jazz Guitar Albums

When I was a kid, there was no YouTube, Spotify, or iTunes, and living in a small town made finding jazz guitar albums difficult to say the least.

After buying every jazz album at my local record store, I scoured mail order catalogues looking for the next addition to my collection.

Without any direction, I found some great records, and some not so great records.

While online music sites make it easier to find albums, it also makes it difficult to sort the good from the bad.

To help you sift through the huge volume of jazz guitar albums, I’ve chosen 10 albums to introduce newcomers to the genre, and fill out the library of the serious listener.

These albums are not the best jazz guitar albums.

Instead, they cover 10 legendary players, explore jazz sub-genres, and open your ears to explore these players, and eras further.

Check out these records, they might not all be your cup of tea, but they expose you to some of the best albums jazz guitar has to offer.

And, you don’t have to send a check and wait a month for them to arrive; you can jump on iTunes and enjoy them today.

Man I feel old…

 

 

 

10 Essential Jazz Guitar Albums (Click to Skip Down)

 

  1. East Coast Love Affair
  2. A Go-Go
  3. Djangology
  4. Genius of the Electric Guitar
  5. Virtuoso
  6. El Hombre
  7. Midnight Blue
  8. Bright Size Life
  9. Jim Hall Live
  10. Incredible Jazz Guitar

 

 

 

 

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East Coast Love Affair – Kurt Rosenwinkel

 

“The album showcases some of Rosenwinkel’s finest playing” – David R Adler (Allmusic.com)

 

East Coast Love AffairThe most modern guitarist on this list, Kurt Rosenwinkel has changed the face of jazz guitar as he leads the genre into the new millennium.

With a strong sense of melody, advanced harmonies, unique tone, and strong groove, Rosenwinkel is a master, which is evident on ECLA.

Recorded live at Smalls in New York, the album features bassist Avishai Cohen and drummer Jorge Rossy, forming one of the great jazz guitar trios.

The tunes are mostly jazz standards, which appeals to traditional jazz fans looking to expand their collection with a modern jazz album.

For me, Kurt’s playing on this record is at his best.

His ideas are creative, flow smoothly over the changes, and the trio interacts almost as one instrument.

Definitely worth a listen.

 

 

 

A Go-Go – John Scofield

 

“Those who aren’t afraid of the funk will definitely want to go to this A Go Go.” – Bill Milkowski (Jazztimes)

 

A Go GoWhen you take jazz guitarist John Scofield, and team him up with Medeski Martin and Wood, the results are what you’d expect – killer.

Though it seems like MMW and Sco have always collaborated, A Go Go was the first album they recorded together.

After putting his stamp on jazz fusion, Scofield took a step into jazz funk with A Go Go, showcasing the tone and phrasing that made him one of the most successful guitarists of his era.

For those looking to step out of the usual jazz albums, A Go Go opens your ears to jazz funk in a creative and highly improvisational setting.

It took me a while to warm to this record, but once I gave it a chance, it has become an all-time favorite.

 

 

 

Djangology – Django Reinhardt

 

“Djangology…stands as further proof of the guitarist’s casual genius.” – Mark Deming (Allmusic.com)

 

DjangologyThough I’m not the biggest gypsy jazz fan, I have a huge appreciation for Django Reinhardt.

There’s a fire in Django’s solos that is rare, and his influence is still felt today, decades after he released his first recordings.

This compilation album, which was the last Django and Stephane Grappelli recorded together, was culled from 50 tracks recorded in 1949 while the duo was on tour in Italy.

On a personal note, the first jazz concert I ever saw was Stephane Grappelli with Bucky Pizzarelli, and as they say that night changed my life.

One can only wonder what Django would have accomplished if he had lived longer, as he passed away not long after this album was recorded.

This album is a strong introduction to Django Reinhardt, and is a must have for any gypsy jazz fan.

 

 

 

Genius of the Electric Guitar – Charlie Christian

 

“This worthwhile collection confirms the guitarist to be a bridge between two of Jazz’s most glorious eras.” – Bill Shoemaker (Jazztimes)

 

Genius of the Electric GuitarTo think that Charlie Christian changed the face of jazz guitar before he passed away at the age of 25 is amazing.

Few players have had that kind of impact on jazz, and fewer at that young age, which makes Christian a true genius of the instrument.

Featuring selections from Christian recordings, including his legendary collaborations with Benny Goodman, this album is a must have for any jazz fan.

Tracks include Rose Room, Seven Come Eleven, and Honeysuckle Rose, reflecting the intensity that made Christian a favorite of swing and bebop fans alike.

We’ll never know what Christian would have accomplished had he lived longer.

In the same vein as Jimi Hendrix, fans wonder if Christian’s success would’ve grown as jazz evolved in the post-bop era.

While this question can’t be answered, one thing’s for sure, this album showcases why Christian is considered to be the father of jazz guitar.

 

 

 

Virtuoso – Joe Pass

 

“If you must have one Joe Pass recording, let it be this one.” – C. Michael Bailey (Allaboutjazz.com)

 

Joe Pass VirtuosoChoosing one Joe Pass record for this list is almost an impossible task.

But, if I had to pick a desert island Pass record, it would be Virtuoso.

Though Joe made some incredible group records, he turned the jazz world on its head with this quintessential solo jazz album.

For me, his playing on this album is some of his best, and is, in my opinion, his strongest solo guitar album.

Joe’s playing is raw, in a good way, and the tracks are organized yet improvised at the same time, keeping the listener guessing at what’s coming next.

If I had to recommend one solo jazz guitar album, Virtuoso would be it.

While solo guitar albums can sometimes wear on the listener, Virtuoso sounds fresh with each listen.

It’s the album that keeps on giving.

 

 

 

El Hombre – Pat Martino

 

“El Hombre is an organ-drenched speedfest that shows off this Philly kid’s ability to play soulfully…It was Martino’s calling card, and this was his party…it was appropriately a good time.” – Will Layman (Pop Matters)

 

El HombreWhen I first heard El Hombre I had two thoughts:

 

“Wow this guy is absolutely amazing.”

 

And, after learning he was 22 years old:

 

“Well, time to pack it in.”

 

Pat Martino has pushed the limits of post-bop guitar with his lightening fast lines, deep bebop vocabulary, and excursions into Eastern, modal, and pop genres.

Though his playing isn’t for everyone, it’s hard not to admire Pat’s abilities and the energy that he brings to every tune, especially on this record.

As well as being a great listening record, there is a lifetime’s worth of study here for jazz guitarists when it comes to transcribing lines and solos from this album.

When I was coming up, Pat’s solo on Just Friends from this album was essential learning.

There’s enough vocabulary in that one solo to keep any player busy in the woodshed for years.

Whether you’re looking to check out a new hard-bop album, or want to build your bebop vocabulary, this is a must-have album.

Check it out. Even if it’s not for you, it’s worth at least a few listens.

And, if you’re like me, ignore those thoughts of packing in the guitar, they’ll go away, I promise.

 

 

 

 

Midnight Blue – Kenny Burrell

 

“Few albums capture the aesthetic of Blue Note’s golden era better than Midnight Blue” – Aidan Levy (Bluenote Records)

 

Midnight BlueWhen I was younger, I never really got into Midnight Blue, but this Kenny Burrell album has grown on me over time.

This is the best bridge album for blues guitarist looking to explore jazz, from both a listening or playing standpoint.

The tunes have a strong blues feel to them, and Kenny is at the top of his game, playing endless choruses of classic jazz blues lines and phrases.

As well, fans of Stevie Ray Vaughn will recognize Chitlins Con Carne, which SRV recorded and even began his solo with the same opening line from Kenny’s solo.

Even if you aren’t a fan of the cool jazz guitar, check out Midnight Blue as it’ll expand your library, and may even make you a Burrell convert, as it did to me.

 

 

 

Bright Size Life – Pat Metheny

 

“All in all, a bright shining statement from a time some folks think of as the bleakest era in Jazz.” – Murray Horwitz (American Film Institute/NPR)

 

Bright Size LifeThere are few players who’ve had the same impact on jazz as Pat Metheny, and it all began with Bright Size Life.

Featuring Jaco Pastorius and Bob Moses, Pat leads this trio with the confidence one would expect from a player twice his age, not from one making their debut as a leader.

Outdoing Martino by a year, Metheny was 21 when this album was released in 1978, and it’s made “best of” lists ever since.

While many listeners come to Metheny through his Pat Metheny Group recordings, Bright Size Life remains one of his best.

Transitioning jazz from the ‘70s to the ‘80s, Bright Size Life introduced the world to the slippery, reverb soaked, and intense playing that became Metheny’s characteristic sound.

If you only own one modern jazz guitar record, Bright Size Life is your best bet.

It’s jazz guitar soloing, writing, and comping at its best.

 

 

 

Live – Jim Hall

 

“A treat for all fans of Jim Hall.” – David Rickert (Allaboutjazz.com)

 

Jim Hall LiveThis is the one record on this list that had the biggest impact on my playing.

After hearing it for the first time, I remember thinking:

 

“I need to stop everything and learn to play like that.”

 

That’s the kind of album Live is.

At this stage in his career, it was no secret that Jim Hall was a world-class player, but Live elevated his status to jazz guitar legend.

It remains as one of the top jazz guitar trio performances of all time, and set the bar high for creativity and group dynamics.

There’s something about the interaction between Hall, drummer Terry Clarke, and bassists Don Thompson, that’s a joy to listen to.

Their reaction to each other’s ideas borders on ESP, with each player complementing the ideas of the other in a musical and entertaining fashion.

This is the one trio record that every jazz guitarist should own.

Even if you aren’t a Jim Hall fan, and how could you not be, it’s worth checking out.

And, if you’re feeling brave, transcribing this record, or parts of it, will be one of the biggest challenges that you’ll face in the woodshed.

 

 

 

Incredible Jazz Guitar – Wes Montgomery

 

“This remarkable set…catches precisely the quality that made Cannonball Adderley burst into the Riverside offices…and insist they sign him.” – The Guardian

 

Incredible Jazz GuitarThough other albums had a bigger influence on my playing, Incredible Jazz Guitar by Wes Montgomery made me want to play jazz.

After tiptoeing into the jazz world as a teenager, a friend of mine hipped me to this record.

After listening to the first track, I knew I wanted to play jazz guitar for the rest of my life.

I knew I would never reach Wes’ creative heights, but the record inspired me to dedicate all my time to being the best jazz guitarist I could be.

It’s not often an album changes someone’s life, but Incredible Jazz Guitar is that kind of album.

It’s hard to only have one Wes Montgomery album on a list like this, but if I had to choose only one, it’s this record.

Full of great tunes, classic solos, intense playing from Wes, and a strong group dynamic, this is the one jazz guitar album every player should own.

It’s a life changer.

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45 Comments

  1. Karl Scholes, October 9, 2015:

    Olá Matt,

    Yet another great email, I don’t know how you have the time to put all of this wonderful stuff together. On your recommendation alone I’m tempted to buy every one of those albums by the way.

    Just recently has been particularly good; Jazz standards, Ultimate Guide To Jazz Chords, Chord Melody, Pentatonic Scales I could go on…

    Of course I’ll never live long enough to assimilate all this information and I don’t even consider myself a jazz player but I just wanted to let you know that I think what you’re doing and providing is terrific, it’s all so well organised and structured, one just has to put in the time and effort.

    Once again sincere thanks and I’m sure I speak for many, keep up the great work.

    All the best,
    Karl

  2. Shane Butler, October 9, 2015:

    As always, great Article Matt! Looking forward to checking out the tunes on these albums. It would be cool to invite your subscribers to list some of their favorite most inspirational jazz artists/albums. You’d quickly build an archive of endless jazz greats to listen to and study from. Grant Green is one of my all-time favorites :)

  3. S. H., October 9, 2015:

    Top 10 jazz guitar albums? You are a brave, or foolish, man to paint such a large target on your back. I am on a personal George Barnes jag this month, so I’ll huff and roll my eyes that “Don’t Get Around Much Anymore” isn’t on this list. Genius! Superlative! Swings like nuts! (Huffs and rolls eyes)

    Great list. I’ll get over my disappointment.

  4. Tom H., October 9, 2015:

    Downloaded them all. You should ask iTunes for commission :)

  5. Brad Conroy, October 9, 2015:

    Great list and commentary Matt!Two of my favorites are:

    1. Standards by Mike Stern
    2. Doble CD Consciousness and Live by Pat Martino

  6. Mike, October 9, 2015:

    The Real Howard Roberts – one of the more musical jazz guitarists and this is some of his best work.

  7. Nelson Vargas, October 9, 2015:

    Really impossible to say which is the best album, but all are incredible Virtuosso choose Joe Pass ….

  8. Joe, October 9, 2015:

    Good to see Bright Size Life included in this list. At least for me, I think it was Jaco’s very best work, before things went bad with him. Wish there was another duet between Metheny and Jaco, but if there had to be just one, this one is sure excellent.

  9. Multiac, October 9, 2015:

    Nice List. Apart from Kenny Burrell who is far from the level of the Martino, Metheny, Sco, Wes and Jim Hall, I have to say I would have chosen most of the cd you chose.
    Wondering why Benson, Mclauglin and Frisell are not on this list.

  10. manlio, October 9, 2015:

    Grazie.

  11. Mike Quinlan, October 9, 2015:

    How about Tal Farlow the greatest Bebop player of all or Sal Salador

  12. tim fowler, October 9, 2015:

    Great List Matt! Couldn’t have been easy to make! Hadn’t heard the Pat Martino one before. Would throw in Ed Bickert’s “at the Garden Party”

  13. Walter, October 9, 2015:

    Thank You for posting this one. Sometimes what us beginners need to learn jazz is guidance. I have not been able to transfer my ear to complicated jazz structure as of yet. I hope this will guide my ear to more complicated Jazz style. Thank Again send more information out like this. I will open the doors for people that have an ear an a open set to get out of what some people call Music.

  14. Lindie Naughton, October 9, 2015:

    Emily Remler – especially East to Wes and Firefly.The missing link between Mongomery and Methany.

  15. Stan Godlovitch, October 9, 2015:

    Thanks for the list.
    For fans of the guitar ensemble, let’s not forget Great Guitars (Concord Jazz, 1975) with Charlie Byrd, Barney Kessel and Herb Ellis.

    And there might be something by Lenny Breau.

  16. Marcus Almeida, October 9, 2015:

    “Moonlight in Vermont” (Johnny Smith). I don’ t know where, but I think it must be here. And I would change Pat Metheny to “First Circle” and Scofield to “Umberjam Deux”.
    Congratulation. It is a top list!!!

  17. Jay Stapleton, October 10, 2015:

    Great list, impossible task. And, of course, there’s Grant Green…

  18. Paolo Arista, October 10, 2015:

    great idea and great work, clear and good structured. Sincere thank you

  19. Ken Rowan, October 10, 2015:

    A good selection of guitarists, Matt. You might consider putting together a second list to include Barney Kessel, Ed Bickert, Herb Ellis, Johnny Smith, Howard Roberts, and George Benson with the organ trio – not his vocals.

  20. Eljas, October 10, 2015:

    (some of my favourites)
    John Scofield albums Blue Matter and Protocol

    Mike Stern: Time in Place

    Kevin Eubanks: Zen Cafe

    Miles Davis: Kind of Blue (well, I was also born 1959 :)

    Scott Henderson: Vibe Station (is this jazz :) there’s also a nice guitar version of Chelsea Bridge (Strayhorn)

    and, eh…… greetings from Finland!

  21. Javier Alonso, October 10, 2015:

    Too narrow a choice, obviously, but I agree with them all. Also I agree with Ken Rowan about Herb Ellis, Barney Kessel and George Benson… Without Vocals…

  22. Valentino Tavolazzi, October 11, 2015:

    Hi Matt,
    I want thank you for your terrific job in developing jazz guitar culture and learning. You have “engineered” the teaching method in a well organized system that includes theory, history, practicing, tunes, gear, critical approach. That’s the meaning of “jazz guitar culture”. Please go on.

  23. Bill Wilson, October 11, 2015:

    Thank you, Matt, for the great list and your other informative emails. My own faves include: Idle Moments (Grant Green), The Velvet Touch of Lenny Breau: Live!, Barney Kessel’s Swingin’ Party at Contemporary, and Seven Come Eleven (Herb Ellis, Joe Pass)

  24. 3rdwaverider, October 11, 2015:

    Fantastic list – I have all but Sco in my collection and will add. He is playing here in Portland in January on the same bill with Pat Martino and Henry Johnson. This will help me appreciate his works beforehand.

  25. Gregory Nichols, October 11, 2015:

    Very partial to Lee Ritenour’s Rit’s house and also Larry Carlton & Lee Ritenours Larry& Lee album also anything by Grant Green

  26. Aaron, October 12, 2015:

    Like the list – some albums I haven’t heard that I will check out. My personal fav is hard to narrow down but lets go with Bad Benson by George Benson…

  27. Josiah, October 15, 2015:

    Good list. I am a bit surprised that Allan Holdsworth has been excluded, though. His album Secrets is easily one of the best jazz guitar recordings ever.

  28. Ashley Kelly, October 23, 2015:

    I love all your albums but would have snuck John Mclauglin in somewhere.

  29. Sam, March 15, 2016:

    Great album Joe Pass Continental!!!

  30. Peet, March 15, 2016:

    Looks very much like the list I would make. And of course it could be much longer. But what about the Pizarelli’s (you mentioned Bucky, but there is also John), or with a deep bow: Eddy Lang, regarded by some as the Father of Jazz Guitar. He played a Gibson L-4 and L-5 guitar, providing great influence for many guitarists including Django Reinhardt, according to Wikipedia. And there is George van Eps, who also invented the 7 string guitar, well almost. Much later we have the Rosenbergs, OK, that;s gypsy, but still…

  31. Santiago, March 15, 2016:

    Great list,
    There´s a couple of albums I haven´t heard yet.
    I don´t have my own list, but in my opinion Julian Lage has a lot to offer. Same case with Nels Cline.

  32. edouard adjiman, March 15, 2016:

    dear friend; I am old enough 83 years old to hear live those fantastic guitarists like
    Jim hall, kenny burell, django, wes , rené thomas, jimmy gourley,

    My prefered record is
    Stan getz with jimmy raney , at the storyville i’m always singing”The song is you”

  33. Kirk, March 15, 2016:

    Any of the George Benson stuff. Listen how the lines are put together. That includes playing through the changes. Another Lee Ritenour.

  34. Rudy, March 15, 2016:

    Although the number of available jazz records was really extremely limited in the litlle town near the French border, where I grew up in the 60s, I owned 3 records by Wes, 1 by Hall, 1 by Pass and 13! by Howard Roberts ( RCA lable) I am really amazed to find his name mentioned twice in the comments here. 15 years later attended his workshop over here in Germany but at that time – I hate to say that – he was already over the zenith of his technical skills. If you listen to “The Real Howard Roberts” … an allusion to the fact that RCA had never allowed him to play more than 2 chorusses – for commercial reasons. A real shame because even the themes on the RCA LPs are always presented with ornaments, absolute phantastic phrasing and musical taste. Youngsters, please don’t buy them but listen at least once to HR’s early recordings. It’s worth while.

  35. John, March 16, 2016:

    Though not technically guitar records, I enjoy listening to Anthony Wilson on the Diana Krall records he has worked on.

  36. John Freeman, March 17, 2016:

    Very personal choices.
    Ralph Towner, Anthem
    Ricardo Silveira and Roberto Taufic, Atlanticos

  37. Trenty, March 18, 2016:

    “Artistry” and “Solo” by Martin Taylor are my favourite jazz guitar albums of all time. Martin’s playing is superb. His versions of “Polka Dots and Moonbeams” and “Stella by Starlight” are definitive interpretations! Go listen!

  38. Richard Lunn, March 19, 2016:

    Yes, Grant Green – but where is Charlie Christian?

  39. Richard Lunn, March 19, 2016:

    Yes, Grant Green – but where is Charlie Christian?

    Oops! Should have read more carefully!.

  40. Matt, March 23, 2016:

    Fantastic article, great resource! Thankyou.

  41. Gary Pears, April 4, 2016:

    Tal Farlow
    Lee ritenour

  42. Kevin, June 15, 2016:

    Beholden by Mike Walker & Stuart McCallum is an excellent recording.

  43. Phil Valade, October 26, 2016:

    Glad someone mentioned Holdsworth. Jazz or not he’s a great improvisor. Probably hard for a beginner to assimilate but Ben Monder should be mentioned. I really enjoyed Flux, the solo pieces especially. Cheers Matt.

  44. Matt Warnock, October 26, 2016:

    Thanks Phil! Hope you’re doing well. I agree, gotta love Flux and any Monder album. Holdsworth is another great addition. Too many to keep to 10!

  45. Scott Sinclair, November 19, 2016:

    Dizzy’s Big Four is Joe Pass’ best effort. Pat Martino’ s Footprints is his best. Grant Green Sunday Moring or In The Spirit.

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