Notable Jazz Guitarists

The topic of who is and who isn’t a jazz guitarist always sparks some controversy. From my point of view, a jazz guitarist follows a tradition beginning with Charlie Christian, Freddie Green, Django Reinhardt, Eddie Lang and others. It came to a full musical style in the 1950′s where it achieved an unprecedented popularity with, of all things, record sales. These were not only LPs but surprisingly top selling 45 recordings as well.

Les Paul and Johnny Smith were in the forefront of this movement but others were also successful in this arena. This prototypical player was short haired, sat while playing, wore an open collar shirt and a sport coat. It was a “cool” thing.

The instrument of choice was the full body acoustic electric guitar. The king of guitars was at this time the Gibson L5, The Gibson Super 400, the Gibson Byrdland and the D’Angelico guitar. The D’Angelico was one of the first “boutique” guitars and was produced one guitar at a time by master luthier John D’Angelico of New York city. Other manufactures included Epiphone with the Emperor model and an assortment of Guild guitars. Gradually, the Gibson L5 became the standard by which all other jazz guitars would be measured.

Other notable jazz guitarists from this early period are:

Wes Montgomery
Kenny Burrell
Herb Ellis
Joe Pass
Grant Green
Jim Hall
Tal Farlow
George Van Eps
Jimmy Raney
Barney Kessel
Hank Garland
Bucky Pizzarelli

A newer school of jazz guitarists include:

Jimmy Bruno
Pat Martino
Larry Coryell
George Benson
Lenny Breau
John Scofield
Robert Conti

Still a newer school recognizes:

Martin Taylor
Charlie Hunter
Kurt Rosenwinkel
John McLaughlin
Bill Frisell

To say the least, this is a very partial list. It is however representative of the “jazz guitar school” without getting too caught up on other styles such as “fusion” and “metal”.

There are also great jazz guitarists who chose not to pursue public notoriety like Joe Lano originally from Philly but a long time resident of Nevada. Many great jazz players find it more interesting and fulfilling to pursue teaching and research over performance. Take the time to look up these players on You Tube or on their own sites. It’s a very interesting journey of discovery.