Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Top Black Jazz Guitarists Of All Time

Negrotown Knoll, Florida
June 10, 2011
Special Report

 The Black Buzz News Service Picks Its Top Black Guitarists of All Time

1. Charlie Jolly Christian- Jolly died at 25 and his recordings are scare so his  body of work is lacking, but he was obviously brilliant.  Jolly was the first to use the amplified guitar and he has influenced jazz guitarists for over a half century.
The Texas native Jolly began as a teenage  pianist in Oklahoma, but he switched to amplified guitar in 1937 after studying with Eddie Durham, the inventor of the instrument.  Record producer, John Hammond who had already discovered Benny Goodman, Billie Holiday and others, heard about the young guitarist and arranged for him to try out for Goodman's band. The audition led to two years with Benny Goodman Sextet, some solos with Goodman's big band and chances to jam at Minton's Playhouse, the cradle of Bebop, with such stars as Dizzy Gillespie, and Thelonious Monk.  Sadly, he developed TB and died in 1942 at only 25 years old.  Jolly was the first important player of the electric guitar.  He changed the face of popular music, not just jazz but in other genres of music. 

2. Wes Montgomery- Wes didn't have any formal training in music theory and he taught himself to play. Wes mastered every phase of the guitar. Wes was one of the first guitar players who didn't use a pick.  My favorite Wes albums are "Movin Wes", "Here On The Ground " and Groove Yard, which he played with his brothers Buddy and Monk Montgomery. Wes died a young man at 43 in 1968 at the height of his career.
I thought Wes was at his best when he was playing with his brothers and the other great jazz legends. Wes started playing pop tunes and crossovers as "California Dreamin" and some Beatles tunes to make some real money during the close of his great career.  Kenny Burrell says he was greatly influenced by Wes. The Black Buzz News Service notes that "Wes Montgomery was a innovator and the best technically of the Black " Pickers". The White establishment used his last years to turn him into a pop icon with strings and vocalist." When Wes was at his best NO one could touch him."
  Some other great Wes albums were as follows:
a.Wes Montgomery's Finest Hour
b. Scarborough Fair
c. Smokin at the Half Note
d. Double Deal.
e. Loita
f. Body and Soul
g. Day in the Life
h. Four and Six
i. Full House
j. Besame Mucho
k. Stairway To Stars
l. Movin Wes
m. Down Here On The Ground

3. Grant Green- Probably the most versatile of all the guitarists who could also play the organ.  He had great range and played with smooth rhythmic lyrics with great feeling and soul. Grant died when he was 47 but his spirit lives on in Grant Jr. and Gregg, his sons who also play mean guitars with great rhythmic feeling and soul in the same vein as their father. Grant Sr. could make his guitar sing and talk back to you and leave you in a trance. Check out Green's "Up At Minton's" and all of those great Latin pieces he did at the end before his unfortunate death.

4. Kenny Burrell- Kenny is still playing, singing and recording and who was a great technician and second to Wes of all the great guitarists.  Kenny was classically trained and taught a Masters Course at UCLA.  Kenny has recorded with many of the great Jazz legends and his unique style is second to none. One of my favorite Kenny Burrell Albums is "Midnight Blue" with the great Stanley Turrentine.
We believe at the Black Buzz News Service that Kenny is as skilled as anybody past or present, but he has no fire in his playing. Kenny is more subdued, very smooth but he's never been a hard swinger.
Other great Burrell albums, Mp's and CD's are as follows:
a.Soul Call
b.Two Guitars
c. Togethering
d. Kenny Burrell and John C.
e. Introducing Kenny
f. God Bless the Child
g. Bluesy Burrell
h. Ellington Forever
i. Guitar Forms
k. John Jenkins with Kenny
j. Night at the Vanguard
l. The Cats
m. Jazzmen Detroit
n.  Weaver of Dreams
o. All Day All Night
p. Crash
q. At the Five Spot Cafe
r. Have Yourself a Souful

Kenny, Wes and Grant Sr. mastered the high octave and Kenny says Wes was the biggest influence on his playing.  Kenny played the classical guitar with the skill of a great master but he came home to his roots when he started playing jazz and the blues. Who was the best between Wes and Kenny?  I can't call it.  It's to close to call but both were great and unique like Grant in their own style of play.

5. Georgie Benson- My homeboy who could play and do anything with the guitar and who was influenced by Wes, Charlie Christian, Aaron T- Bone Walker and the one and only the great of greats, Robert Johnson.  Georgie is still going strong recording and singing.  In 1968 George Benson played Pat Martino off the same stage.  Pat Martino also plays the guitar and is very accomplished.  My home boy Georgie Benson at the age of 15 taught the great James ( Blood) Ulmer how to play without using a pick.
My homie started out playing at the age of eight in the Hill District section of Pittsburgh, PA and made his first professional recordings at 11.  He took up the guitar in his teens when he formed an R and B group.  He played a guitar his stepfather had built for him.  Most teenagers who grew up in the Hill District section of Pittsburgh in the 1950's and 1960's were in an R and B singing group whether it was just singing on the block or in the restroom of Herron Hill Junior High School, Schenley, Fifth Avenue High or in the numerous recreational centers such as Hill City Youth,  etc.  The Hill District was also the mecca for jazz in Pittsburgh having produced such outstanding talents as Stanley and Tommy Turrentine and the greatest bassist in jazz history, Ray Brown, who is the brother-in law to my Aunt Lorraine Robinson Brown.  Another great Hill District jazz musician was the incomparable Art Blakley whose Jazz Messengers were known world-wide.  My late aunt, Esther Brooks Austin would tell the story of how Art would just beat on the desks with pencils with great rhythmic feeling at Herron Hill Junior High School.  My aunt maintained that once you heard the beat of those pencils on the desk, you knew Art was headed for fame.
Georgie listened to records by Charlie Parker, Charlie Christian, and Wes Montgomery which got him into jazz.  He was playing for organist Jack McDuff while still a teenager.  Georgie formed his first jazz group in 1965, and was discovered by the legendary record producer John Hammond.  Gerogie did several albums of his own and he also recorded with Miles Davis and other cats.  In the late 1960's, Georgie was seen as a possible successor to Wes Montgomery after the latter's sudden death.
Jazz record producer, Creed Taylor recorded Georgie for A&M and CTI, but after Georgie went to Warner Brothers he concentrated on his singing and had a Top Ten crossover hit with" Masquerade."  After a number of pop-jazz albums, he showed  that he was capable of a more straight-ahead style with a standard album with the Count Basie Orchestra and as a guest on the Jon Hendricks album, "Freddie Freeloader."  My homie continues to record and perform in both pop and straight-ahead jazz styles.  George Benson has influenced all of the young jazz guitarist of today.
Georgie was light years ahead of most of the cats of his generation.

6. James Blood Ulmer-Blood was from South Carolina but later moved to Pittsburgh, PA and that's when he and Georgie Benson struck up a relationship in the Burg.  Blood played with Art Blakey in 1973 and also played with Joe Henderson and many other famous jazz musicians of his era.  Blood hooked up with the great Ornette Coleman and could make his guitar talk back in a very rhythmic stylistic fashion that complimented the tough improvisations of Ornette.  Later Blood put in a lot of work in the 1970's and 1980's in the post fusion era where his talents were known to all the greats of his day.

7. Kevin Eubanks- This young buck from Philly who is still on the rise and who has recorded with all the great pop, jazz and other genres of music. Kevin is a skilled technician whose mastery of the guitar reminds me more of Kenny Burrell than Wes Montgomery.  Check out Kevin's CD's: "Elektra", "Sundance", "Promise of Tomorrow", "Turning Point", "Like At Bradley's", "Zen Food", "Acoustic" and "Live Blues Jam".  Kevin also played with the great Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers in the 1980's.  Kevin has been the feature musician on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.

8. Mark Whitfield- Another highly talented young buck.  Mark even looks a little bit like the great Kenny Burrell.  Mark is also a very accomplished classical guitarist, similar to Kenny Burrell.
Mark is a master who has played with many of the great jazz and pop artists of this era.  Check out Mark Whitfield's "Early Autumn", "Signed Sealed Delivered", "My One and Only Love", "That Girl", "Do I Do", "Isn't She Lovely", "Superstition", "Send On Your Love", "I Wish", "Ribbon in the Sky", "Harlem Nocturne" and "Blues For Alexander".

9. Aaron "T-Bone" Walker- This Texas native learned how to play guitar and other string instruments from his stepfather who was a professional bassist.  As a child, he helped legendary guitarist Blind Lemon Jefferson get safely from one job to another. He recorded his first 78 at the age of 19, and worked with a young Charlie Christian who would soon change the sound of the jazz guitar. Much as Christian caused a revolution by using the electric guitar in jazz, Walker caused a sensation by bringing an electric sound to the blues in addition to being an excellent blues singer.  T- Bone's work was a huge influence on such younger cats as B.B. King, Albert King, Chuck Berry, Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown and many other blues and jazz guitarists.

10. Grant Green Jr.-This is the son of great legendary jazz artist Grant Green Sr.  He sounds a little like his dad but he has his own style which is a little more funky than his famous dad.  Grant Green Jr. style is very soulful and he shows true mastery of the guitar. Check out the following great melodic soulful tunes such as "Jungle Strut", "Love Bug", "Flavors", "Masters of Groove Meet Dr. No", "Godfathers of Groove", "Movin On", and "When It's Warm".

* Kevin Eubanks, Mark Whitfield and Grant Green Jr. have already made tremendous contributions to the field of jazz which have kept alive the hard work of our  legendary Titans, Georgie Benson, Kenny Burrell, Charlie Jolly Christian, Grant Green Sr. and Wes Montgomery. 

Black Buzz News Service acknowledges some background information was obtained from WAER 88.3 an NPR station.

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