Progressions: 100 Years of Jazz Guitar
Overall and song-by-song review

© Copyright Jeff Seigle 2006
Last updated January 29, 2006

In listening to the first selections on the Disc 1, I started to ask myself, "What's jazz?" Well, to paraphrase Justice Potter Stewart, I know it when I hear it. And there are several selections in this anthology that I just can't call jazz. Good selections. Historically significant selections. Selections with hot guitar playing. But not jazz.

I am an amateur jazz guitarist, but certainly not the most scholarly or knowledgable about the history of jazz guitar. But I know that by any stretch, banjo music from 1906 is not jazz guitar. I also know that Jimi Hendrix playing Manic Depression is not jazz guitar. Jimi was the greatest, but his fame was basically inventing modern rock guitar. His most obvious influences were blues. There may have been some jazz influence, but it isn't evident in this selection. Similarly, I am still trying to figure out why Chet Atkins and Carlos Santana are here. These guys are the greatest, but they're not jazz. Another tune sounds like early aimless experimental overfuzzed guitar (also non-jazz) music--and I was shocked to check the notes and find out it was recorded in the late 90s.

After I pondered the "what is jazz" question, I tried to figure out what the producers were trying to do with this collection. I didn't necessarily expect the best known selections from each guitarist; a "best of the best" would be tiresome. But I couldn't identify any other theme holding this thing together. Illustrate the progression of jazz guitar? No—the selections are not always chronological; a Barney Kessel recording from 1957 is followed five tunes later by Chet Atkins in 1951. A selection by Derek Baily from 1996 is followed by the Hendrix tune from 1966. There seems to be no particular pattern or grouping. Is it about a collection of the most influential jazz guitarists and their recordings? I must admit I never knew that Toots Thielemans even played guitar until now. The recording of him doubling himself on whistling Bluesette is deftly played but lightweight and more of a novelty than an influence. There are many great guitarists represented, but in many cases I am baffled by the selections. Solo Flight by Charlie Christian is undeniably a seminal piece. Unit 7 is my personal favorite recording by Wes Montgomery. How Insensitive was one of Charlie Byrd's favorites; I heard him play it in Annapolis many years ago. On the other hand, Just Friends by Pat Martino is a great take, although is earlier work that doesn't truly represent how his style eventually evolved and how most people think of him today. I can think of any number of George Benson tunes I would have preferred (but thank you, oh thank you, for not using Breezin').

And why does this collection stop in 2001 with a recording by Bill Frisell? Did jazz guitar stop evolving five years ago?

On the plus side there are many artists I was not familiar with that are/were great players and I'm happy to get a taste so I can go explore further. Jimmy Raney and Hank Garland are not in my current collection but their recordings here make me want more. My favorite run on the collection is the last six or seven songs on Disc 2, which I play over and over and over, except it must be in the car as I drive to work because my wife doesn't have quite the same appreciation as me.

After listening to the entire set of four discs about six times, I have zoomed in on about a third of the songs that I really enjoy listening to, a third that are fine for historical significance but don't really do it for me, and a third that I just don't need to hear again.

The collection is well worth the price, and the included booklet (it's not just a pamphlet, it's really a small book) with notes about all the artists is a keeper all by itself.

Here is that shows the not-strictly-chronological sequencing of the songs

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Here is a song-by-song review.

If you're going cherry picking, pick these tunes. They're my favorites and really belong in this collection.
Program your iPod to skip this tune. Can't figure out why this tune is included; maybe it has some scholarly interest but it's not much to listen to.
Nothing objectionable, in fact, might even be great, but can't figure out why it's included in a collection of important jazz guitar recordings.

Disc 1
1. St. Louis TickleVESS OSSMANA pre-jazz banjo ditty. This must have historical significance, because it's repetitive, and there is no improvisation. It sounds like it has elements of the Gay 90's, ragtime, and what would eventually become Dixieland. Not jazz, not guitar.
2. Chain Gang BluesSAM MOOREThis tune played on solo slide guitar (credited as octochorda--I'd never heard of it either) also predates anything I would call jazz. Again, somewhat repetitive.
3. Savoy BluesJOHNNY ST. CYR and LONNIE JOHNSONThis tune with Louis Armstrong is very bluesy but has one foot over the threshold of jazz. Johnny St. Cyr is actually playing a Frankenstein instrument, a guitar neck on a banjo body.
4. You're The One For MeSOL HOOPIIThis song brings to mind Hawaiian music particularly with the vibrato style used on the slide guitar, but I must say that it swings. It does have a few nice guitar breaks to interrupt the repetition.
5. Add A Little WiggleEDDIE LANGThis tune has a very nice guitar lead, despite the boom-chick piano rhythms. Lang also does some nice scalewise double- and triple-stops, flavored with just a little syncopation here and there.
6. Clowin' The FretsEDDIE BUSHI find this song just downright annoying. The first 30 seconds aren't bad, but the repetition and the slide of the steel guitar just send me over the edge. It does have an interestingly twisty turnaround in the verse, but after hearing it about eight times it just starts to get on my nerves.
7. California BluesBENNY "KING" NAHAWIThis song has a kazoo solo. I'm not sure what else I can say.
8. How'm I Doin'/DinahROY SMECK
9. Who's Sorry NowEDDIE CONDON
10. DanzonCARL KRESS & DICK McDONOUGHThis is a really great performance, classic in the sense that it holds up very well in 2006 and doesn't sound dated. This guitar duet breaks remarkable ground in jazz considering it was recorded in 1931.
11. China BoyOTTO "COCO" HEIMELThis lively instrumental swing, with a hint of Dixieland style, highlights a relaxed but energetic guitar solo, with solid comping through the tune. Everybody hushes when it's time for the acoustic guitar solo, foretelling the impact that amplified guitar would have in the future.
12. MinnehahaSAM KOKIThis odd hybrid of jazz and Hawaiian music is credited as the first known recording of an amplified guitar. However, the guitar is a steel guitar, bridging the leap from Hawaiian to jazz, with Hawaiian lyrics. It also features some mainstream jazz clarinet and trumpet work.
13. Swingin' On The StringsINK SPOTSThis very up tune that highlights the multipart vocal harmony of the Ink Spots, and also features inventive and impressive comping and chord and single-note solo guitar work. I get a little sense that the guitarist's style is the result of crossover from banjo.
14. Honeysuckle RoseDJANGO REINHARDTNot Reinhardt's most impressive work but still typical, and representative of how he influenced the genre.
16. Love Me Or Leave MeEDDIE DURHAM & FREDDIE GREENGotta love anything that features Freddie Green. This is a slow-paced piece with a swing, where the guitars play the role of chief accompanists, with a couple of solos.
17. WhisperingOSCAR ALEMANThis fingerstyle solo piece is heavily informed by classical technique but applying it for a fully jazzical result. It is another performance that is timeless and would sound just as good today using today's production values as it did then.
18. Pickin' For PatsyALLAN REUSSA big band piece featuring guitar, and you know there aren't loads of those. This enjoyable piece won't blow your socks off but is a refreshing showcase for Reuss.
19. Little Rock GetawayGEORGE BARNESThis swing piece just rolls right along. Barnes's style is a little like the western swing of the modern-day Telemasters. It sounds like he's playing a steel guitar, although there are no glissandi.
20. Solo FlightCHARLIE CHRISTIANThis is the first cut on the anthology that appears in my own collection. This is probably the single best choice the compilers made. This is a historic recording by someone who may have been the single most important influence in jazz guitar history.
21. Buck Jumpin'AL CASEYThis 12-bar blues-with-a-swing features guitar work that I would describe more as blues with a jazz flavor, with lots of bends. It includes a quiet chorus with harmonics (and someone yells, "All right, start buck jumpin'" whatever that may mean).
22. Twin Guitar SpecialLEON McAULIFFE & ELDON SHAMBLINThis tune features two guitarists, playing solos plus very nice harmonized lines. All the soloists are helped along by the vocal encouragement of an uncredited woman ("no, not six guitars, just two").
23. I'm Walkin' This TownTEDDY BUNNHere is a comping lesson on this up-tempo vocal piece, including a very fluid solo by Bunn.
24. Palm Springs JumpSLIM GAILLARDThis easy vocal swing (Manhattan Transfer would have sounded great on this) features a nice but not stunning solo by Gaillard. The song also features a bass solo accompanied by the humming of the bassist.
25. Gee Baby Ain't I Good To YouOSCAR MOOREThis sultry vocal piece by Nat King Cole is nicely complemented by the guitar work of Moore. A piano/guitar/bass trio is pretty rare but it works here.
26. Red CrossTINY GRIMESThis tune with Charlie Parker signals the arrival of bebop.

Disc 2
1. Ol' Man RebopBill De ArangoAn illustrative bebop piece, with a guitar solo on the bridge.
2. On Green Dolphin StreetBarney KesselThis tune opens with a very original intro. The first part of the head is played very delicately, like something from "South Pacific," unlike most interpretations that use a heavier Latin beat. Then the swing section really swings. Kessel continues the Latin/swing breaks for the first solo chorus, then swings the rest of the tune.
3. What Is This Thing Called LoveGeorge Van EpsThis piece starts with a solo guitar, then Van Eps is accompanied just by bongos. It moves apace very nicely and is over much too soon.
4. Body And SoulJimmy RaneyRaney creates a classic take on this classic tune. After an utterly tasteful run-through, he does a very agile double-time stretch. The great thing about this is that he's got lots of chops but you aren't focusing on the technique, you're enjoying the great music he's playing. He continues the double-time unaccompanied to take the tune home.
5. My Baby Just Cares For MeChuck WayneAside from the incredibly dated lyrics, Wayne comes in after the first vocal chorus with a nice solo but one that at first threatens to overpower the rest of the tune with its long string of sixteenth notes. But he slows back to an easy swing.
6. Runnin' WildLes PaulLes plays a great solo on this piece, but it sounds to me like he dubbed it while the track was playing at half speed, then the whole thing was sped up again. A novelty piece, not Les's best work and not particularly influential (although Larry Carlton sounds like he did the same sort of thing on the solo section on Mulberry Street from his Strikes Twice album). I would have loved to hear a "Lester and Chester" tune in this collection.
7. Mountain MelodyChet AtkinsChet's the greatest. But this is a country song, complete with boom-chick-boom-chick percussion. He throws in a series of attention-getting tricks, such as a line of harmonics, very typical in the country guitar music culture. Great playing but why is it here?
8. Yardbird SuiteTal FarlowThis is the second cut that appears in my own collection. It is an excellent selection from Farlow's work, demonstrative of the guitar on the bebop playing field and of Farlow's influence.
9. The Boy Next DoorJohnny SmithOne of Smith's most beautiful unaccompanied pieces. The arrangement and the playing are both gorgeous and a real gem from his repertoire.
10. TocataLaurindo AlmeidaJazz with a taste of Latin, played an acoustic by Almeida, featuring a saxophonist. The head is a bit outside and has an experimental feel but the solo sections are more conventional.
11. I've Got You Under My SkinJim HallA bubbly duet with pianist Bill Evans, this is a nice example of Hall's early traditional work.
12. Aguas De Marco [Waters Of March]Joćo GilbertoThe guitar is noticeable but not the focus of the tune; it simply provides the harmonic backdrop for this rather harmonically monotonous tune. The singing leaves something to be desired; Joćo singing the first verse in Portuguese seems to get behind the beat pretty early on; the woman singing in English has a pretty voice but with some intonation and timing problems. Stan Getz's sax solo is a blessed relief. My preferred version of this tune is Jobim's with a playful vocal duet.
13. BluesetteToots ThielemansThis is a very pleasant rendering of a pleasant little tune. Toots plays guitar and accompanies himself by whistling in unison, through the head and the entire solo. Pleasant, but more of a novelty than groundbreaking—why is it this included?
14. Midnight BlueKenny BurrellA rolling medium-tempo jazz blues, typical of the late 60's in which it was recorded, and similar to some of Wes Montgomery's tunes.
15. Unit 7Wes MontgomeryThis is my personal favorite recording by Wes. Following a piano solo, Wes cuts loose with several choruses of single note with evidence of bebop influence, then moving on to octaves, then full chords. You could dissect this solo for ages trying to figure out how he did it.
16. Naptown BluesHerb EllisHerb is on rocket fuel in this inspired up-tempo blues with swingmaster Oscar Peterson. As a bonus, Peterson grunts along to an astonishingly energetic solo starting with a generous portion of octaves and chords then moving to single note.
17. MoveHank GarlandThis is a real find for me. I had heard Garland's name but had not heard his work. He starts by giving us a comping clinic behind Gary Burton's delightful vibes solo. Then he goes on a great ride on these changes, which are basically "I Got Rhythm" changes. He does a fine job of deconstructing the tune harmonically, and the chops never quit. Drumming by Joe Morello is also sparse and notably tasteful. (The tune follows the traditional head-solos-head formula for 32-bar jazz tunes, rather than trying to follow the original Miles Davis arrangement.)
18. Easy LivingHoward RobertsPhew! Time to take a breath with this lovely jazz ballad.
19. Jean de FleurGrant GreenAlthough well known to guitarists, Grant Green's contributions are sometimes underappreciated by the public, overshadowed by Wes. In fact, this tune reminds me of Wes. I don't know if Green listed Wes as an influence, but regardless, Green has his own voice and his phrasing also shows evidence of bebop.
20. Night And DayJoe PassAfter spending a huge amount of timeing to Pass's "Virtuoso" series, it is a real breath of fresh air to hear him in this setting, without the burden of carrying the entire sound.

Disc 3
1. ClockwiseGEORGE BENSONThis very up-tempo that is loosely based on "Rhythm" changes with a few nice twists is a showcase for Benson's early brilliance, in that stretch after he stopped singing "All Of Me" but before he started singing "On Broadway." It is a juicy energetic piece; I am more familiar with later more cerebral work.
2. Just FriendsPAT MARTINOI thought I would recognize Pat Martino's playing an Astronomical Unit away, but this one was from his earlier days showing more of his influence rather than his later playing, which became an influence. He plays with a brighter tone, uses more pulls and hammers (his later work has a more muted tone and he picks damn near every note). But on subsequenting I realized this could be no one else but Martino. And another pleasure to add to my collection.
3. A Taste Of HoneyLENNY BREAUThis light piece, a jazz version of a pop tune (done by no less that Tijuana Brass and The Beatles) is done tastefully. I was unfamiliar with Breau's work prior to this, and it's a credible performance but I was left unsure of it's qualifications for inclusion in this collection.
4. How InsensitiveCHARLIE BYRDCharlie did much for bossa novas played on a nylon-string guitar, and this is probably as good an example as any.
5. Gypsy QueenGABOR SZABOThe tune starts with Latin-sounding percussion, although the approach to the guitar reminds me more of Indian sitar music. It is basically an exploration of a single chord, though there are some implications of a harmonic nature. Carlos Santana's rendering of this tune on Abraxas takes the best of it, reinvents it, and gives it energy. I am completely unfamiliar with Szabo and his work but this rendition doesn't do much for me. It sounds like it's just about to do something but never quite does.
6. June 15, 1967LARRY CORYELLThis piece, with a head played by Coryell plus Gary Burton on vibes, has a nice melody, and finishes with a nice "outside" passage. Burton takes the first solo, then Coryell comes in to fill the second half, with blues-inspired and outside licks. I have only a passing familiarity with Coryell, but am not sure why this piece was selected instead of any other from his body of work.
7. As We Used To SingSONNY SHARROCKThis tune starts out innocently enough, sounding like a straight-ahead jazz tune with some innovative tones from the guitar. But after the head, Sharrock wakes us up with a solo that at first I was going to call atonal but now I can only call amusical. There's an old joke that I always resented: "Jazz is music where if the musician plays the wrong note, you can't tell." Now I get it. This strikes me as a very odd place to be in the late 90's when experimentation with this type of sound was years gone. This is just far too abstract for me, and it's grating abstract at that. Is this the Jackson Pollock of jazz guitar? Or just a lot of noisy noodling? You be the judge.
8. Should Be ReversedDEREK BAILEYHere's another oddball piece that I can't describe as jazz, or even music. It's a completely unconventional approach even to playing the instrument. I'll say this, the dude can find harmonics everywhere. I am unfamiliar with Bailey but can find nothing influential or indicating of a contemporary trend here. This performance is more like audible performance art than music.
9. Manic DepressionJIMI HENDRIXJimi is arguably the most influential guitarist who ever lived. This is a great song. He wasn't a jazz player. I have heard various rationales of why he should be included but I'm not buying it. One thing about Jimi, though, is that I always had the feeling that what we heard on his guitar was exactly what he was hearing in his head.
10. Birds Of FireJOHN McLAUGHLINA classic piece by McLaughlin, with outside rhythms, outside tonality, occasionally a bit jarring, but it never sounds like noise. I don't particularly care for it but I'll grant it has its legitimacy and is an important recording.
11. CoralMICK GOODRICKBlessed relief after the last few tracks. Here is a pretty, cerebral jazz ballad with bass, vibes, and barely-there brushed drums.
12. Ralph's Piano WaltzJOHN ABERCROMBIE
13. The ProwlerRALPH TOWNER
14. Bright Size LifePAT METHENYThis song captures the unique voice of Metheny as well as any. The book says "light, airy, and clear" and a little too much of each for my taste, but a fine performance. I am glad something like this was selected rather than his less interesting but more foot-tapping and more popular Phase Dance. As an added bonus there is an inspired solo by Jaco Pastorius.
15. Aqui, OhTONINHO HORTAThis is a fun tune, light but with serious guitar work. I don't know why, but I can always tell a Brazilian singer, even if it's not because of the language. There is something about Brazilian singing culture that permeates vocals from artists as disparate as Jobim, the singer here (book doesn't say if it's Horta singing), and Djavan.
16. Midnight In San JuanEARL KLUGHKlugh established a niche for himself that no one else managed to follow with nearly the same success, smooth jazz on a nylon-string guitar. This song is an excellent example of the genre, though smooth isn't my bag.

Disc 4
1. Europa (Earth's Cry Heaven's Smile)CARLOS SANTANAI have loved Carlos Santana's playing since 1970 when I was learning his solos note for note. But including this is a real stretch. It's a beautiful tune, typical Santana; a ballad that reminds me a little of Samba Pa Ti, but it's a rock ballad in my book.
2. Inner City BluesPHIL UPCHURCHI first bought a Phil Upchurch album on vinyl when I heard him as a sideman on a George Benson album, holding his own. This take on Marvin Gaye's lament is a nice example of how jazz influenced R&B, and Upchurch does plenty of tasty work here. However, I have never thought of Upchurch as a major influence on jazz, and this selection is R&B with a jazz flavor, rather than vice versa.
3. ThumperERIC GALEGood stuff but I've got to call this one R&B/blues.
4. SpiralLARRY CARLTONThis tune, though fine, is representative of the "Smooth Jazz" movement, albeit with the greater energy of Carlton which gives it more heft than most of its genre. Of Carlton's work, even though the Crusaders is what gave him a big popularity boost, I would have picked something from one of his two solo albums, or even his work for Steely Dan.
5. Captain FingersLEE RITENOURThis is a very good example of a movement in jazz that might be better illustrated with a Chick Corea tune (although Al Dimeola does appear a couple of cuts down the road). It uses a guitar that is distorted but not messily so, and the composed portion uses the technique of several instruments playing 16th-note triplets in unison (even the drums). The guitar solo is a bit outside but quite tasteful, and altogether too short!
6. Mr. SpockALLAN HOLDSWORTHThis is a hot performance by Holdsworth that dances right on top of that fine line between fusion jazz and Steve Vai. There's a drum solo with the guitar vamping heavy chords all the way through, not sure why that was needed. But with chops that never end, a heavy bass and drum beat, and chompy chords, I still call this jazz.
7. Race With The Devil On Spanish HighwayAL DIMEOLAThis song goes through a lot of changes, almost like a fusion suite. Dimeola plays his typical flawless, fleet-fingered lines. I would rather have heard something from his Return To Forever days in this slot, however.
8. Cause We've Ended As LoversJEFF BECKBeck plays an incredibly expressive axe on this ballad. However, it's typical of harmonically challenged rock ballads; it's just the same 8 bars over and over, with a short bridge.
9. ChurchJAMES BLOOD ULMEROdd piece. Starts out with a somewhat atonal rubato intro, then threatens to break into a funk/R&B groove, but heads off into the ether.
10. Ron CarterBILL FRISELL
11. HottentotJOHN SCOFIELDScofield is a fine player, with one of the most distinct voices in jazz guitardom. The inclusion of one of his songs cannot be intepreted as vanity due to his role in compiling this collection. I am not sure how this particular song came to be selected, though, out of his extensive body of work.
12. PostizoMARC RIBOT
13. Fat TimeMIKE STERNA great piece of Miles's fusion/funk work. Stern puts in a tremendous solo typical of the genre, with rock balls but with much more complexity than in straight-out rock. If you look up "fusion" in the dictionary, you will see a picture of this song.