The Great Jazz Guitarists

Guest Blogger: In honor of National Jazz Month, author Scott Yanow talks a little about his 11th jazz book, The Great Jazz Guitarists.


I have often been asked why I decided to write a book (my 11th) on jazz guitarists. Among my other books are ones that cover trumpeters and jazz singers, so why the guitar this time?

Rather than pick an instrument that had tens of thousands of great players (such as the piano, bass, drums or saxophone), I wanted to focus on an instrument that had a smaller number of masterful players. The guitar also has a rather fascinating history in jazz. While it is an indispensable part of blues, rock and bluegrass groups, many of the most important jazz bands never included a guitarist, whether it was the Benny Goodman Quartet, the Charlie Parker Quintet, John Coltrane’s quartet or either of Miles Davis’ classic quintets.

The guitar had to win three different battles before it could be considered a major instrument in jazz. It had to find a place for itself in the music, replacing the banjo (which happened in the late 1920s/early ‘30s). It had to become audible in all settings (which did not happen until it was electrified in the late 1930s) and it had to develop several major stylists. While Eddie Lang and Django Reinhardt had emerged in the 1920s and early ‘30s, Charlie Christian became the dominant force on young guitarists during his period with Benny Goodman (1939-41). In fact Christian was such a powerful force, that most electric guitarists who emerged during 1940-65 sounded like they could have been one of his relatives! While Tal Farlow, Barney Kessel, Herb Ellis, Jimmy Raney, Wes Montgomery and Grant Green certainly had their own musical personalities, their allegiance to Christian’s ideas and approach was obvious.

It was not until the rise of fusion and the emergence on the scene of John McLaughlin in the late 1960s that the guitar finally moved permanently beyond Charlie Christian. It was in the 1970s that the guitar became a major jazz instrument, developing many different stylists who have enriched the music ever since. If one listens to McLaughlin, Pat Metheny, John Scofield, Howard Alden, Russell Malone, Stanley Jordan, Mike Stern, Charlie Hunter and Marty Grosz, one hears nine very different ways of playing the jazz guitar. Each musician sounds very different from each other, and that is true of a few dozen other guitarists on the scene today. The jazz guitar had finally arrived.

In The Great Jazz Guitarists, I discuss the musical legacy of hundreds of guitarists whose work is well worth exploring. I hope that readers will find it to be educational, informative, entertaining and fun.

Scott Yanow

The Great Jazz Guitarists

The prolific Scott Yanow has outdone even himself with this book, the most comprehensive guide to jazz guitarists ever published. With hundreds of dossiers and discographies on every major (and not so major) jazz guitar player of note, arranged in encyclopedia fashion, this is the final stop on anyone’s tour of six-string wizards working the swinging side of the street.

From Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian to Pat Metheny, John McLaughlin and even Les Paul to Jeff Beck and beyond (not to mention Wes and Barney and everyone in between), The Great Jazz Guitarist hits every note, never sharp or flat, and always with the combination of edge, sensitivity and awe-inspiring depth of knowledge that has made author Yanow one of the most widely read and respected critics and historians in jazz history.



Hal Leonard Performing Arts Publishing Group, the trade book division of Hal Leonard Corporations, publishes books on the performing arts under the imprints Hal Leonard Books, Backbeat Books, Amadeus Press, and Applause Theatre and Cinema Books.

Posted on April 25, 2013, in Music Fans and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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