Is The Guitar Used In Jazz Music?

Is the guitar used in jazz music?

From Wes Montgomery to Django Reinhardt, there are many famous jazz guitarists throughout history, but is the guitar a traditional and typical jazz instrument? 

In honor of International Guitar Month, we are going to take a closer look at the role of the guitar in jazz music history. 

Early Jazz: 1880s to 1920s 

As we explored in an earlier blog post, jazz originated in New Orleans in the 1880s, where it developed from the African dance and drumming traditions of formerly enslaved peoples. 

In early New Orleans jazz, the “front line” referred to the three instruments that were played simultaneously to create a melody: the cornet, clarinet, and trombone. These instruments were used for collective “call and response” improvisation. 

During this early stage of jazz, the guitar usually wasn’t given a solo part; instead, it took on more of a supportive role. Guitars—along with drums, piano, and banjo—were used to create a steady, driving rhythm that contrasted nicely with the polyphony of the front line. 

One of the first jazz-orientated string bands was led by guitarist Charlie Galloway in 1889. Buddy Bolden’s bands also usually had a guitarist, and Nick Lucas performed the unaccompanied guitar solos in his 1922 tunes “Pickin’ the Guitar” and “Teasing The Frets.” But, the most famous jazz guitarist of this early era was definitely Eddie Lang, who, beginning in 1925 popularized the guitar as a solo instrument and is thus known as the “father of the jazz guitar.”  

Eddie Lang – I’ll Never Be The Same

Playing a Gibson L-4 guitar, Lang ultimately won the 1920s competition with the banjo, which was quickly becoming more commonplace than the guitar in jazz music. His contributions to the jazz guitar have inspired generations of musicians. 

Big Band & Swing Eras: 1930s & 40s

Although guitar had won the battle to be a consistent part of jazz, they still didn’t typically take center stage and were often drowned out by large bands. In the 1940s, Charlie Christian gave the guitar a louder voice when he electrically amplified his Gibson ES 50. The guitar was no longer just the soft steady rhythm in the background; it could be heard alongside the saxophone ad trumpet, and thus became a force to be reckoned with. 

Charlie Christian – Swing to Bop

Despite his early death at 25, Christian had a major influence on the role of the jazz guitar, especially when it came to playing intricate and impeccable solos, like this 1941 hit, “Swing to Bop.”

Innovations & Experimentation: 1950s & 60s

The 50s and 60s brought new foundations for the modern jazz guitar. Artists like Wes Montgomery, Joe Pass and Jim Hall experimented with different styles and techniques, like plucking the strings, extensive use of octaves and interactive improvisation in duos and trios. These innovators paved the way for jazz artists who were incorporating soul and R&B, like Grant Green.

Grant Green – Ain’t It Funky Now

With a unique and immediately recognizable sound that combines hard bop, soul jazz and bebop, Green’s bluesy and groovy guitar showcases the innovations of the 1960s & 70s. 

Jazz-Rock Fusion & European Styles: 1970s & 80s

Rock guitarists like Jimi Hendrix influenced the jazz guitarists of this era to incorporate rock-style signal processing effects, like distortion ad flange pedals. At the same time, the delicate and ethereal sounds of European Jazz were also impacting jazz guitarists.

John McLaughlin – Peace Piece

A British pioneer of jazz fusion, McLaughlin blends rock, world music, Indian & Western classical music, flamenco, and blues!

Songs That Are Full Of Hope

Songs That Are Full of Hope 

You know the myth: Pandora opened that infamous box, from which sprung all the misery and evil to plague humankind for eternity. However, not all was lost. She did manage to shut the box before one vital entity escaped: Hope. This is why humans are able to persevere and carry on, despite tantamount struggle.    

To feel hope is to expect a positive outcome and to trust that things will turn out for the best. Hope is important because it can ameliorate a difficult situation and motivate us to build a better future for ourselves. 

With the global pandemic, we have all become very familiar with the role of hope in our lives and world. But did you know that in 2018, a non-profit organization, Mothers in Crisis, designated April as the National Month of Hope? 

To help you celebrate the power of hope and inspire you to plant seeds of hope in your life, community, and world, we put together a playlist of exemplary songs that are full of hope. Enjoy! 

Nat King Cole – Smile

While listening to Nat King Cole’s 1954 hit, I can’t help but think of the well-known fact that it takes more muscles to frown than it does to smile. With his pure, buttery baritone, Cole reminds us to smile even if our hearts our aching and breaking. When there are clouds in the sky, you’ll get by if you smile through your fear and sorrow.  

Marvin Gaye & Tammi Terrell – Ain’t No Mountain High Enough

There’s just no way you can a list of hopeful songs without include this 1967 classic! And the production of this song actually also involved a certain level of hope on the part of Tammi Terrell. Apparently, she was a bit nervous and overwhelmed during the recording sessions because she hadn’t rehearsed the lyrics, but hope must’ve carried her through, because her vocals were excellent! 

Curtis Mayfield – Move On Up

Like most of his songs, this 1970 tune was created with firm roots in the black gospel tradition, which originated from the uplifting work songs of enslaved people. Much of Mayfield’s work also inspired the Black community to persevere, and maintain hope, on their quest toward freedom and equality. With just a little faith / if you put your mind to it / You can surely do it. 

Dinah Washington – Trouble in Mind

This vaudeville blues-style song was written by a jazz pianist, and first recorded, in the early 1920s. Since then, it has become a blues standard and been recorded by many artists in an array of styles. With its beautiful lyrics that instill a deep sense of hope, even in the very darkest of times, it’s no wonder that Dinah Washington’s 1952 rendition reached number four on the Billboard Rhythm & Blues chart.  

John DiMartino, Joe Magnarelli & Wayne Escoffery – Hudson River Wind 

With the recent unpredictable and sporadic spring weather, this is the perfect jazz song to listen to and help you gain hope for a brighter, sunnier tomorrow! This brand-new tune reminds us that no matter how hard the harsh winds may be blowing, the river of life will persist and continue flowing. 

To hear more jazz songs that merge the musical artistry of the new with the traditions of the old, check out our album, Old New Borrowed & Blue, which is available in our store and on all major music platforms.   

What is a reed? What is a double reed?

What is a reed? What is a double reed?

If you’re not a musician, when you hear the word ‘reed,’ you probably think of the tall, slender green leaf that grows and sways on the outskirts of ponds and lakes. But did you know that the mouthpieces of woodwind instruments, like the clarinet, oboe, and saxophone, are all made from the hollow stems of these plants?

Giant Reed (Arundo donax)
from Wikipedia.org

The cane of the Arundo donax, which is also known as the giant reed plant, is stripped of its leaves, and left outside to soak in the sun, resulting in a nice golden-brown color.  The canes are then dried by the wind, and aged for a few years, until they are placed inside a humidity-controlled factory where they are cut into smaller tubes and split into four thin pieces. Next, the cane is cleaned, cut, and sanded into a shape that is flat on one side and conical on the other. Finally, it’s time for the most important step—the reed-cutting process. With a blade, the red is shaved, gently and carefully, from the back toward the tip and then lastly, the very top is cut ever so precisely. 

Sounds like a lot of work for such a tiny, fragile, thin reed? Well, you’re right—it sure is a lot of work, but for good reason. The reed is what vibrates and creates sound. Without a reed, the instrument simply cannot be played. That is why many professional oboists and bassoonists will purchase cane—already sanded into a flat-conical shape—and cut their reeds themselves.

As a former oboe player, myself, I know, firsthand, how crucial, complex and finnicky a double reed can be. If you do not have a quality reed, your instrument will be out of tune, or it may even squawk like a dying flamingo! I can’t tell you how many times I showed up to band practice with a reed that had accidentally cracked in the case, and my oboe wouldn’t make a single sound at all! That is why you always pack a back-up, or two, or three. 

Anyway, you may still be wondering, what is the difference between a reed and a double reed? Well, it’s actually quite obvious when you think about it—a single reed only consists of one piece of finely manipulated cane and thus, must be attached to a mouthpiece, while a double reed has two reeds that vibrate against one another to create a sound. A double reed twists into the top of the instrument, standing alone, while the single reed is fastened directly onto the mouthpiece. 

Now, check out the song below, which features the wonderful Wayne Escoffery on saxaphone, to hear a single reed in action! 

John DiMartino, Joe Magnarelli & Wayne Escoffery – Tell Me Why

Despite the fact that a saxophone is made of metal, it uses a single reed, which classifies it as a woodwind, not a brass instrument. As you listen to the sax solo in this tune, you can think about and appreciate all the hard work that went into make the reed! 

And if you’re looking for more jazz music that merges the musical artistry of new songs with the jazz classics, check out our recent release, Old New Borrowed & Blue, which is available on all major music platforms and in our store today! 

Playful Jazz Tunes for April Fool’s Day

From whoopee cushions to huge plastic spiders, pizza made from candy to confetti on the ceiling fan, April Fool’s Day pranks may seem like a juvenile thing of the past, but really, what’s so wrong about having a little harmless fun at someone else’s expense?

Maybe you’re shaking your head right now. Maybe you’re much too mature for all this nonsense and pranks simply aren’t for you. Well, that is okay, too! You don’t have to pull a prank in order to celebrate April Fool’s Day, which, by the way has roots in an ancient Roman festival that involved disguises and the mocking of fellow citizens.

There are many ways to recognize the holiday, like listening to the playful jazz tunes that we compiled just for you! Honor that inner child of yours by tapping your toes along to these songs while you drive to work or cook dinner.

Ella Fitzgerald – I Found My Yellow Basket

We all know and love Fitzgerald’s iconic tune “A-Tisket, A-Tasket,” which was based on a 19th century children’s nursery rhyme about a girl who lost her basket, but did you know that Fitzgerald came out with a follow-up song? Co-written by the Queen of Jazz herself, this charming little tune, released in 1938, just might help to bring your childhood back to life this April Fool’s Day! I found my yellow basket / Oh yes, I really did / I found the girl who took it / I knew just where she hid.

Hoagy Carmichael – Barnacle Bill the Sailor

Inspired by a traditional folk song, this bawdy 1930 tune, which has since become a popular drinking song, tells the story of a fictional sailor named Barnacle Bill. The sailor knocks on a woman’s door and tells her, in rowdy detail, about how he dips snuff and drinks whiskey from an old tin can. I fight and swear and drink and smoke.

Cab Calloway – A Chicken Ain’t Nothin’ But a Bird

Who knew there was a jazz song out there about chicken? I sure didn’t!

All joking aside, despite its silly subject content and lyrics, this tune really showcases the rhythm and soul of the 1940s. Not to mention, it’s hard to hold back a smile listening to such a fun song. You can boil it, roast it, broil it …

Cole Porter – Let’s Do It, Let’s Fall in Love

Did you know that Porter’s first attempt at Broadway was unsuccessful and that it was only after the producer of Paris—the musical from which this song first appeared—convinced Porter to give it another try that he became famous? This 1928 hit song is precisely what brought Porter success in Broadway!

And I bet you also didn’t know that this tune is a favorite of mine because the lyrics are just so witty! With the double entendre and sexual innuendos, it almost feels like Porter is pulling a prank on the audience and listener. Oysters down in oyster bay do it / Let’s do it, let’s fall in love.

John DiMartino, Joe Magnarelli & Wayne Escoffery – Please Don’t Go

With its fast pace, upbeat rhythm and stellar trumpeting, this brand-new song will be sure to put a pep in your step this April Fool’s Day. By the end of the day, you’ll be wishing that the day didn’t go by quite so fast!

If you’re looking for more jazz songs that merge contemporary musical artistry with the timelessness of jazz classics, look no further than our new album, Old New Borrowed & Blue, which is available in our store and on all major music platforms today.