Top 20 Jazz Guitarists

date: 07/14/2014 category: features
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Top 20 Jazz Guitarists
I would like to discuss something that most people here on Ultimate-Guitar seem to overlook, which would be jazz guitarists and overall it seems to be jazz in general.

I wonder why such an influential genre alone that was formed alongside the blues as blues bands may have evolved from early jazz bands, gospel choirs and jug bands has been so overlooked. Although they may not be obviously the same thing and their is a firm differentiation as jazz fused elements of western styles but played in its own form relying on improvisations and overall being a vast and hard to define genre but also growing up alongside the blues and having also been formed in the southern states of America.

Although jazz relies heavily on instruments like the saxophone, cornet, trombone and piano for example the guitar itself has played a crucial role since it was first incorporated into the sound of jazz as blues musicians would sing and use it for accompaniment. Guitarists like Karl Cress, Django Reinhardt, Tal Farlow, and of course Charlie Christian. I just wonder what is it about jazz that doesn't really appeal to most people here, after all the genre alone has yielded so many great guitarists and just because it isn't "hard rock" or as appealing as the so called "rock god" guitarists I think these musicians are greatly underplayed and often times overlooked; they may not make their guitars scream but there is just as intricate, speedy, and meticulous playing going on that is in my eyes just as beautiful and highly professional and for me alone I think the greatest guitar players are mainly jazz guitarists.

Please forgive me if this list isn't actually complete as their are many jazz guitarists that are so great in their own right, I will have to compose this into a top 100 list most likely in the future but I will try to include the ones that are really essential to listen to if you aren't aware of them already and I will try to include highly influential guitarists too.

20. George Benson

Beginning his professional career at the age of only 21, Benson was in fact a former child prodigy and would begin his career playing beautiful soul jazz first playing with Jack McDuff among others. He would reach a breakthrough when signing to Warner Brothers when he recorded "Breezin" thus a whole new audience would discover him as the track "This Masquerade" would become a pop single. Benson would use a rest-stroke picking technique similar to that of Django Reinhardt.

19. Freddie Green

Frederick William "Freddie" Green had performed for the Count Basie Orchestra as a part of the "All-American Rhythm Section" along with Basie on piano. He had originally learned banjo before picking up a guitar and upon moving to New York as a teenager he would keep playing clubs until he would perform with Count Basie. Freddie Green is known for his sophisticated rhythm guitar played in big band settings.

18. Tal Farlow

Tal Farlow had created his own new technique with a totally different approach to his playing as his preference would be to place single notes together in clusters that would vary between harmonically enriched tones.

17. Larry Coryell

Coryell is a fusion guitarist that would have an accessible yet intense style of jazz while maintaining it's virtuosity and complexities along with inspired and spontaneous improvisation.

16. Mike Stern

Most may not know of this but Mike Stern was actually a member of the jazz rock fusion band Blood, Sweat and Tears for a couple of years and he would also play with Miles Davis and drummer Billy Cobham.

15. Pat Martino

Pat Martino has also worked with a number of different legendary jazz organists such as Jack McDuff, Trudy Pitts, Jimmy Smith, Gene Ludwig, Don Patterson and Richard "Groove" Holmes. He has played within the many different styles such as post-bop, fusion, mainstream jazz, soul jazz and hard bop idioms as a sideman and solo artist in a more than well established career.

14. Larry Carlton

Larry Carlton began playing at the age of just six years and his work as a session artist and solo is just so vast having done recordings for Steely Dan, Joni Mitchell, Billy Joel, Michael Jackson, Quincy Jones, The Four Tops, Christopher Cross, Barbra Streisand and so many others. He is well known for his fruitful solo career but has covered so many different genres alone in jazz, smooth jazz, jazz fusion, blues, pop, and even as a rock guitarist proving great versatility but dominantly a jazz guitarist. He had been inspired by Joe Pass.

13. Bill Frisell

Bill Frisell would be an amazing jazz guitarist he had also contributed to progressive folk, classical music, country music, noise music and more. He uses a variety of effects to create unique sounds from his instrument.

12. Kenny Burrell

Kenny Burrell had also been known for his work as a guitarist with soul jazz organist Jimmy Smith even achieving a hit single together. He would begin playing guitar at the age of twelve and his influences were Charlie Christian, Django Reinhardt, and Wes Montgomery. His first official recording debut would be with Dizzy Gillespie's sextet as a member of the group. He had also even toured with legendary jazz pianist Oscar Peterson and he would largely be known as an important sideman but also as a distinct and brilliant solo guitarist.

11. Lenny Breau

Lenny Breau would be known for blending many different musical styles such as jazz, country, classical and flamenco guitar and using fingerstyle techniques often not used in jazz also using a seven string guitar which opened up new possibilities.

10. Jim Hall

Not only was he a guitarist in jazz but also an arranger and composer and had grown up in a musical family strong in that background. He had began playing in Chico Hamilton's quintet and he would develop his complex and challengingly impossible workmanship in the Jimmy Giuffre Three. He is also a teacher and has performed with Sonny Rollins, Ben Webster, Bill Evans, Art Farmer and plenty of other big names in jazz.

9. John Scofield

An American jazz-rock guitarist and composer, who has played and collaborated with Miles Davis, Dave Liebman, Joe Henderson, Charles Mingus, Joey DeFrancesco, Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny, Bill Frisell, Pat Martino, Mavis Staples, Phil Lesh, Billy Cobham, Medeski Martin & Wood, George Duke, Jaco Pastorius and many more. Spanning across the genres of jazz fusion, funk, blues, soul, rock.

8. Grant Green

Green's primary influences were saxophonists, particularly Charlie Parker, and his approach was therefore almost exclusively linear rather than chordal. He would perform various kinds of soul infused jazz with smooth grooves and overall is a terribly underrated guitarist in general.

7. Allan Holdsworth

Holdsworth would utilize a vast array of complex chord progressions and intricate solo to give him a distinct and unmatched sound. He would use his unique legato soloing technique because his original intentions were to in fact play a saxophone but he successfully created his own unique and complex sound of diminished, augmented, whole tone, chromatic and altered scales giving that "off" and unpredictable genius sound.

6. John McLaughlin

McLaughlin himself would span many genres but also being predominantly a jazz guitarist playing jazz and rock with and has an interest in Indian classical music forming Mahavishnu Orchestra and he has essentially became one of the pioneering figures in fusion having recorded on the highly influential and historical Miles Davis album "Bitches Brew" among many other important albums in jazz rock fusion and history.

5. Charlie Christian

Charlie Christian was an important jazz guitarist and also an early performer on the electric guitar as well as a key figure in the development of bebop and cool jazz. He gained more recognition as a member of the Benny Goodman Sextet and Orchestra and used single-string technique combined with amplification which would help bring the guitar out of the rhythm section and more to the forefront as a solo instrument.

4. Joe Pass

Joe Pass would use walking basslines, melodic counterpoint during improvisation, use of a chord-melody style of playing and outstanding knowledge of chord inversions and progressions which would open new possibilities towards the jazz genre and he is often thought to be one of the greatest jazz guitarists of the 20th century... Need I say more?

3. Pat Metheny

American jazz guitarist and composer best known as the leader of the Pat Metheny Group but also is involved in other collaborations and side works. He would merge and incorporate the progressive elements along with contemporary jazz, post-bop, latin jazz and jazz fusion.

2. Django Reinhardt

Often considered one of guitar players of all time and also the first important European jazz musician, making major contributions to the genre. He suffered paralysis in a fire and his last two fingers were affected this would cause him to utilize only the index and middle fingers of his left hand on his solos creating a whole new style of jazz.

1. Wes Montgomery

Wes Montgomery would be influenced by Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian and also would influence countless others, including George Benson, Kenny Burrell, Royce Campbell, Grant Green, Jimi Hendrix, Steve Howe, Russell Malone, Pat Martino, Pat Metheny, Lee Ritenour and the list goes on. He had grown up in a musical family and both his brothers were jazz performers, he would release a number of albums as The Montgomery Brothers. Lionel Hampton had in fact hired him for his idolization of Charlie Christian, able to pick up on every solo note for note. Many fellow jazz guitarists consider Montgomery the greatest influence among modern jazz guitarists.

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