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Jazz Guitar Primer – Legends of Jazz Guitar

It is 11 pm on a Friday night. You have been working all day and are looking forward to hitting your pillow, but a good night’s sleep will have to wait.

As you walk into the club, the smell of stale cigarette smoke and cheap bourbon acts as a smelling salt and you can feel your second wind coming on.

The “stage”, as it is affectionately known, is a small clearing in the back corner of the club, right next to the restrooms and the club’s payphone.

The drummer and bass player have already set up and are sitting at the bar talking and joking around while they enjoy some of the club’s “finest” refreshments.

You drop your amp in the corner and shake off the snow that had gathered on the grill during the walk from your apartment to the club.

Making sure that the amp is positioned in a way that it acts as both a speaker for the audience and a monitor for the trio, you slowly and carefully take out your guitar.

Your “other wife,” as it has become known, is a beautiful Gibson L-5 that you found at a pawn shop several years back, one of the happiest days of your life.

After a quick tune up and a brief check of your tone on the amp, you motion for the rest of the band to join you—it’s time to go to work.



You take a brief look around the room and, as with most nights, the audience is made up of a wide variety of people.

The college students are here because jazz is the hip thing to see right now, the middle aged couples stumbled upon the club after a night out for dinner, the regulars have been coming out for years now to hear you play and more than a few people aren’t sure if they belong in a jazz club.

You look over at the band. “Au Privave in F,” you say and begin to count off the tune.

The familiar feeling of excitement comes over you as you are about to head into the unknown.

Not one person in the room knows what you are going to play tonight, not even yourself.

It is a reminder that this is why you play—the sense that you are creating music on the spot and taking chances that may or may not work out as you intended.

A smile begins to form and you launch into the first tune of the night.

The life of the jazz guitarist has never been an easy one.

While some players throughout the years have been able to survive off of their playing and recordings alone, most have had to work at least one day job to make ends meet.

Famous players such as Wes Montgomery and Johnny Smith, along with many others, had to teach and work day jobs to help support their musical careers.

Nonetheless, guitarists have been some of the most influential performers in jazz history.

The fact that many of these players could work during the day and then perform at a world class level every night makes their accomplishments even more awe-inspiring.

Their recordings have brought joy to many listeners over the past century and have inspired thousands of young guitarists to learn their first major seventh chords and seven-note scales.

This jazz guitar primer explores eight of the most influential jazz guitarists of the past one hundred years and guides the reader to further study and listening.


Legends of Jazz Guitar

George Van Eps

Charlie Christian

Johnny Smith

Wes Montgomery

Joe Pass

Pat Martino

John McLaughlin

Pat Metheny

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  1. Scott Molnar, September 5, 2014:

    Missed a great on there. She is gone now, but worked with her briefly. Emily Remler. I miss her so…

  2. johntziallas, November 27, 2014:

    Where is Django man????

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