Jazz Guitarists You Need To Listen To (right now!)

21 Jazz Guitarists You Need To Listen To (right now!)

Back in the days before guitars were electrified, the jazz guitarist was almost forgotten about. The gentle melodies overshadowed by the loud, brashness of the horns and drums. The guitarist had to be content to just strum out the rhythm in the background and virtually play for their own pleasure. But with the advent of the hollow bodied electric guitar that all changed.

The guitarist could suddenly be heard above the other instrumentalists which meant they could receive greater recognition for their work. So let’s look at some of the best jazz guitarists you really should listen to. In no particular order

Charlie Hunter

A slightly unorthodox one to start off with, Charlie Hunter plays a seven or sometimes eight string guitar which gives him extra range on the bass line. He started his career as a member of “The Disposable Heroes Of Hiphoprisy” until going solo. He fuses jazz, R & B, Funk, pop, rock and blues.

 Eric Gale

This predominantly blues guitarist also added R & B and funk to his jazz guitar work. His sound was much like a jazzed up BB King.

Herb Ellis

Famous as the guitarist in the “Oscar Peterson Trio” in the 1950s, Herb hailed from Texas and that twangy guitar sound was ever present in his guitar work. He went on to form the supergroup “The Great Guitars” along with  Joe Pass, Barney Kessell and Charlie Byrd.

Charlie Byrd 

With his familiar acoustic nylon stringed guitar, Charlie Byrd studied under the great Andre Segovia before rising to fame towards the end of the 1950s. Probably best known for his album “Jazz Samba” along with Stan Getz the famous saxophonist in which they fused Brazilian samba with jazz.

Gabor Szabo

Gabor had a huge influence on Carlos Santana and was a member of Chico Hamilton’s jazz group during the start of the 1960s until striking out on a solo career. He mixed many influences including jazz, Indian ragas, psychedelic and Hungarian Gypsy folk music.

Joe Pass

Joe first picked up the guitar at the age of 9 and was gigging in front of a live audience at the age of 14. He spent many years with Oscar Peterson and also accompanying Ella Fitzgerald.

George Benson

George Benson is a well known vocalist as well as a superb jazz guitarist and was mentored by the great Wes Montgomery. His soul-jazz style is instantly recognisable and was very prominent during the 1970s when he crossed over into popular music charts with hits like “Give Me The Night”.

Django Reinhardt

Without Django’s contribution there would have been no “hot jazz”. He only used his thumb and two middle fingers as the other fingers were damaged in a fire. This never hindered his playing at all. He combined speed, dexterity and  precision along with an emotive style and strong imagination.

Wes Montgomery

Considering Wes was unable to read music at all, his playing technique and style were second to none. A major influence to many generations of jazz guitarists, Wes himself was inspired by Charlie Christian.

Charlie Christian

Charlie was a major player in the development of cool jazz and bebop. He found fame as a member of “The Benny Goodman Sextet”. He played using a single string technique and with the use of amplification he brought the guitar to the forefront of the jazz band sound. It is said that Charlie was the first lead guitarist of the jazz genre.

Barney Kessell 

Barney was a member of the infamous “wrecking Crew” of session musicians from Los Angeles California. He became famous during the 1950s, as a band leader and accompanist. He worked with many of the top names of his time including; Billie Holiday , Sonny Rollins and Julie London.

Jim Hall

Jim started playing the guitar when he was 10 and on his first hearing of Charlie Christian, Jim changed his style to the way Charlie played. He had a warm sound and utilised many tonal contrasts.

Kenny Burrell

A blues inspired jazz guitarist, Kenny was a key player of the “Hard Bop” style of jazz and can play mellow, soulful jazz as well as hard swing. He has played with some of the industry’s best including; Tony Bennett, Donald Byrd, Sonny Rollins and Billie Holiday.

Tal Farlow

Tal taught himself to play guitar by ear and built his own electric guitar after hearing Charlie Christian playing with the Benny Goodman band. He found fame in the 1950s and earned the nickname “The Octopus” due to his lightning hand speed and large hands.

Jesse Van Ruller

This Dutch jazz guitarist and composer won the Thelonious Monk International Jazz Guitar Competition in 1995. 

Peter Bernstein

Peter was a pianist until the age of 13 when he switched to guitar. While he was a student at the new school in New York City, he met guitarist Jim Hall who invited him to play at the JVC jazz festival in 1990. In 2008 he became guitarist with the “Blue Note 7”. He mainly plays a Zeider archtop guitar made in 1981.

Mary Halvorson

Mary Halvorson was awarded a MacArthur “Genius” Grant for music. She started life as a violinist before discovering Jimi Hendrix when she was 11, she started learning the guitar from then on. She’s classed as a jazz guitarist but her music has many other influences like; flamenco, psychedelia and rock.

Lionel Loueke

Lionel started playing the guitar at 17 and his influences include; Wes Montgomery, George Benson, Kenny Burrell, and Joe Pass. he has played with many famous musicians including; Terence Blanchard, Angelique Kidjo and Herbie Hancock.

Kurt Rosenwinkel

Kurt cites influences including; Bill Frisell, John Scofield, Alex Lifeson, Joe Henderson, Charlie Parker, Keith Jarrett and David Bowie. 

Lage Lund

Lage Lund comes from Norway and has been playing the guitar since he was 13. He won the  Thelonious Monk International Jazz Guitar Competition in 2005.

Who’s Your Favourite?

That’s our 21 jazz guitarists we think you need to listen to, did we include your favourite? Let us know in the comments.

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