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When it comes to jazz, it’s the common opinion that only grand masters of every instrument can play and create jazz music. That means that creating a list like this would be as hard as it can be, but we tried our best to present you with the best of the best.
1. Charlie Christian
Charlie Christian was one of the most influential jazz guitarists of the 20th century. He is best known for his work with the Benny Goodman Quartet and Sextet, where he revolutionized the role of the guitar in jazz. His solos on songs like “Flying Home” and “Swing to Bop” are some of the most memorable in jazz history.
Christian was born in Oklahoma City in 1916. His father was a guitarist and bandleader, and Charlie began playing guitar at an early age. He quickly developed a reputation as a talented guitarist, and by the time he was in his early twenties, he was already working professionally. In 1939, he moved to New York City, where he quickly became one of the most in-demand guitarists in the city.
He began working with Benny Goodman in 1940, and his solos on songs like “Flying Home” and “Swing to Bop” helped to define the role of the guitar in jazz. Christian continued to work with Goodman until 1941, when he died suddenly of a heart attack. He was only 25 years old.
Even though he only recorded a handful of records as a leader, Charlie Christian’s impact on jazz guitar is still felt today. His innovative style paved the way for future generations of jazz guitarist, and his influence can be heard in the playing of everyone from Wes Montgomery to George Benson.
2. Django Reinhardt
Django Reinhardt was a Belgian guitarist and composer who is often considered one of the greatest jazz guitarists of all time. He was born in 1910 in Liberchies, Belgium and started playing the violin at age seven. When he was around eighteen, he received a banjo-guitar as a gift from his mother and began to teach himself how to play. In 1928, he injured two fingers on his left hand in a caravan fire, which led him to develop his own style of playing with only two fingers on that hand.
Reinhardt soon became popular in Parisian clubs for his gypsy jazz style of music. He recorded several records with guitarist Stephane Grappelli and their band, The Quintet of the Hot Club of France. He also toured with Duke Ellington and played at Carnegie Hall in 1937. In the 1940s, he settled in Samois-sur-Seine, France, where he continued to play and record music until his death in 1953.
Reinhardt is considered one of the most influential jazz guitarists of all time and has inspired many other musicians, including B.B. King and Les Paul. His style of playing was unique and innovative, and he helped to popularize jazz guitar as a solo instrument.
3. Wes Montgomery
Wes Montgomery was born in Indianapolis, Indiana on March 6, 1925. His father, Walter Sr., played mandolin and his mother, Mary, played piano. Wes learned to play guitar from his brother Monk, who was also a guitarist. Wes began his professional career playing in clubs in Indianapolis. He later moved to Chicago, where he became one of the most popular jazz guitarists of the 1950s and 1960s.
Wes Montgomery was one of the first jazz guitarists to use octaves in his solos. He was also known for his use of seemingly effortless string-bending techniques. Montgomery’s style influenced many subsequent jazz guitarists, including George Benson and Pat Metheny.
Montgomery recorded over 50 albums as a leader, and also appeared as a sideman on many other albums. He collaborated with such artists as Miles Davis, Wynton Kelly, Milt Jackson, and Nat Adderley. His best-known album is probably The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery (1960), which features his signature tune “Four on Six.”
Montgomery died of a heart attack on June 15, 1968, at the age of 43. He was survived by his wife and six children. Montgomery was posthumously inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame in 2000.
4. Joe Pass
Joe Pass was a jazz guitarist who is considered one of the greatest guitarists of all time. He had a very successful career, playing with some of the biggest names in jazz. He also recorded over 100 albums, both as a leader and as a sideman
Pass was born in 1929 in New Jersey, and started playing guitar when he was just 11 years old. He was mostly self-taught, learning from records and watching other guitarists play. He developed his own unique style that combined elements of bebop, blues, and Latin music
In the 1950s, Pass moved to Los Angeles and began working as a studio musician. He quickly became one of the most in-demand guitarists in the city. He played on hundreds of recordings, including albums by Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, and Ella Fitzgerald. He also began leading his own groups and recording albums under his own name
In the 1960s and 1970s, Pass toured extensively with Oscar Peterson. The two musicians had a very close working relationship, and they recorded dozens of albums together. They were widely considered to be one of the greatest jazz duos ever
Pass continued to play and record until his death in 1994. He left behind a legacy as one of the greatest guitarists in jazz history.
5. Jim Hall
Jim Hall is one of the most respected and influential jazz guitarists of all time. He has had a prolific career spanning over five decades, during which he has played with some of the biggest names in jazz. He is known for his unique approach to the guitar, which blends elements of bebop, swing, and cool jazz. His playing style is characterized by its beautiful melodic lines and impeccable sense of swing.
Hall was born in Buffalo, New York in 1930. He began playing guitar at the age of 12 and soon developed a passion for jazz. He went on to study at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, where he studied with legendary guitarist Charlie Christian. After graduation, Hall moved to New York City and quickly established himself as a leading guitarist on the jazz scene. He played with a who’s who of jazz greats, including Sonny Rollins, Miles Davis, and Coleman Hawkins. He also made a name for himself as a solo artist, releasing a series of highly acclaimed albums.
Over the course of his career, Hall has won numerous awards and accolades. In 2001, he was inducted into the Down Beat Hall of Fame. He has also been awarded the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Fellowship, one of the highest honors that can be bestowed upon a jazz musician.
6. Kenny Burrell
Kenny Burrell is a legendary jazz guitarist who has been playing the instrument for over seventy years. He was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1931 and started playing guitar when he was just six years old. His first professional gig was with the big band leader Lionel Hampton when he was only eighteen. He then went on to play with some of the most famous names in jazz including Dizzy Gillespie, John Coltrane, Miles Davis, and Thelonious Monk. He has recorded over one hundred albums as a leader and has collaborated with many other great musicians.
Burrell is considered one of the finest jazz guitarists of all time and has influenced countless other players. He is known for his beautiful tone and impeccable technique. He continues to perform and teach around the world. In 2013, he was awarded the National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master Fellowship, the highest honor that can be bestowed upon a jazz musician.
7. Pat Metheny
Pat Metheny is a guitarist who has been at the forefront of the jazz world for over four decades. He has released over 80 albums as a leader and has won 20 Grammy Awards. Metheny has also collaborated with some of the biggest names in music, including Steve Reich, Herbie Hancock, and Charlie Haden.
Metheny was born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1954. His father was a guitarist and his mother was a singer. Metheny started playing guitar when he was just eight years old. He was influenced by players such as Wes Montgomery and Charlie Christian. Metheny attended Berklee College of Music in Boston on a scholarship. After graduating, he moved to New York City to pursue his musical career.
Metheny’s career took off in the 1970s when he formed the Pat Metheny Group. The group released their first album, Bright Size Life, in 1976. The album featured Metheny’s distinctive guitar sound and won a Grammy Award for Best Jazz Recording. The group went on to release a string of successful albums throughout the 1980s and 1990s.
In addition to his work with the Pat Metheny Group, Metheny has also released several solo albums and collaborated with other musicians. In 1997, he won a Grammy Award for Best Jazz Instrumental Performance for his album Quartet. He has also been awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award from the National Endowment for the Arts and the Polar Music Prize.
Metheny continues to be an active and innovative guitarist. He has released several albums in recent years, including Unity Band (2012) and Kin (2018). He continues to tour extensively and perform with some of the biggest names in jazz. Metheny is one of the most respected and influential guitarists of his generation.
8. George Benson
George Benson is a guitarist born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. He first started playing the guitar at the age of eight. By the time he was eighteen, Benson was already an accomplished jazz guitarist. He has played with some of the most famous jazz musicians, including Miles Davis and Wes Montgomery
Benson’s career took off in the 1970s when he released his album Breezin’, which featured his hit single “This Masquerade”. The album won a Grammy Award for Best Pop Instrumental Performance. Benson continued to have success in the 1980s and 1990s with albums such as In Your Eyes and Give Me the Night
Today, George Benson is still active in music, touring and performing around the world. His distinctive guitar playing style has influenced many other guitarists.
9. Grant Green
As a jazz guitarist, Grant Green’s life was dedicated to his music. Born in St. Louis, Missouri in 1931, Green began playing the guitar at the age of ten. He was self-taught and developed his own style of playing that was influenced by the likes of Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt
Green played in various bands throughout his career, most notably with Miles Davis on the album “In a Silent Way.” He also recorded several solo albums, including “Grantstand” and “Idle Moments.” In addition to his work as a musician, Green also taught guitar at Howard University.
Green passed away in 1979 at the age of 48.
10. John McLaughlin
John McLaughlin was born on 4 January 1942 in Doncaster, Yorkshire, England to an Irish mother from County Armagh and a Scottish father. His paternal grandfather was a fiddle player who introduced him to Scottish music and his maternal uncle was a guitarist. He began playing guitar at age eight, inspired by hearing Hank Marvin of The Shadows on the radio.
McLaughlin’s first formal training was in classical guitar at Doncaster Grammar School. He later attended St Michael’s College, a Catholic school in Blackpool where he studied trombone, piano, and theory. He played in local bands in Yorkshire until moving to London at age seventeen to study at the Royal Academy of Music.
In 1960, McLaughlin made his first recordings as a leader for the Blue Note label. These were subsequently released as The Johnny McLaughlin Trio (1961) and Toots Thielemans & The Johnny McLaughlin Trio (1962). He toured Europe with Thielemans in 1962 and 1963.
In 1964, McLaughlin moved to New York City, where he worked as a sideman for Jimmy Smith and Wes Montgomery. He also began playing with Tony Williams’ Lifetime, which revolutionized the jazz-rock genre with its 1965 album Emergency!. Lifetime was short-lived, but it proved to be influential.
In 1971, McLaughlin formed The Mahavishnu Orchestra, a jazz-rock group that blended elements of Indian classical music with rock and jazz. The band’s first album, The Inner Mounting Flame (1971), is considered a classic of the genre. The Mahavishnu Orchestra toured extensively and released four more albums before disbanding in 1976.
McLaughlin has continued to record and perform as a leader of various groups since the 1970s. He has also worked as a sideman with Jaco Pastorius, Al Di Meola, Paco de Lucía, Billy Cobham, Charles Mingus, and Herbie Hancock, among others.