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!

This post was written by Blog Editor, Jacqueline Knirnschild.

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.

This post was written by Blog Editor, Jacqueline Knirnschild.

What fruits and vegetables are harvested in September?

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic led to a record number of Americans planting a vegetable garden for the first time. I guess the idea was, if you’re stuck at home and trying to avoid public places, like grocery stores, why not just grow your own food? There’s also nothing more peaceful, energizing, and therapeutic than planting a seed in the dirt, and waiting for new life to take root and literally emerge from the soil. 

So, now, after all your patience and hard work, comes the fun part: harvest time. There are so many delicious fruits and veggies in season for September, you’ll be smiling and singing as you stroll through your garden, or the local farmer’s market, picking out produce for a scrumptious meal with family and friends. And since no meal is truly complete without the perfect ambience, we put together this playlist of songs to match some of our favorite seasonal September produce!   

Carrots – Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise by Abbey Lincoln

With their slightly sweet flavor and rich levels of vitamin A, carrots are a well-loved and versatile root vegetable that can be used in a variety of fan-favorite dishes, like chicken noodle soup, ginger-carrot cake, and Shepherd’s Pie. Similarly, Abbey Lincoln, a singer-songwriter from Chicago with a career spanning from the late 50s to the early 2000s, also has an extremely versatile voice that excels in not only mainstream jazz but also in more alternative, avant-garde music. 

Broccoli – Sister Sadie by Horace Silver

The thick stalks and round green florets of broccoli have a grassy, mildly bitter, and earthy flavor, reminiscent of the hard bop music of Horace Silver, who was hailed by the New York Times as the master of earthy jazz. During the 1950s, when the soft sounds of cool jazz were soaring the airwaves, Silver came out with tunes that brought jazz back to its basics, with a focus on simple rhythms, blues, and gospel. 

So, why not go back to the basics this September with a tasty broccoli dish like garlic parmesan roasted broccoli or a broccoli bacon salad. 

Blueberries – Don’t It Make My Brown Eyes Blue by Janis Siegel, John Di Martino & Lonnie Plaxico

Contrary to what you may think, blueberries pack a punch—yes, they’re small, juicy, and sweet, but they do also have a bit of a sour, acidic bite to them, especially if they’re not completely ripe. In the same way, this new, jazzed-up rendition of Crystal Gayle’s 1977 slow, crooning tune has a surprising kick at the end that you won’t want to miss.  

Plums – Duke and Billy by Lorca Hart Trio

These juicy and tart stone fruits can be eaten fresh, made into jam, fermented into wine, or even added to desserts and salads. They’re full of vitamin C, which is great for your eyes, and they can have red, purple, green, yellow, or orange skin. The most common color, and probably the most memorable, however, is the deep purple hue of the plum, which reminds me of Lorca Hart Trio’s new song “Duke and Billy.” This tune represents a pleasant conversation between Duke Ellington and Bill Stahan and signifies the rich and royal color purple. 

If you’re looking for more jazz tunes to hum along to while you harvest September produce and cook up some farm fresh meals, check out our albums Cryin’ in My Whiskey and Colors of Jazz, which are both available in our store and on all major music platforms.  

This post was written by Blog Editor, Jacqueline Knirnschild.

“Who is Singing Tonight?”

It all happened one week before a private donor appreciation event.

Musician and bandleader Bill Cunliffe was scheduled to perform with a vocalist and eight-piece band. Months of planning had gone into making sure the event would be as successful as possible, and announcements were distributed electronically and via snail mail by the Night is Alive Productions team. The vocalist had provided recordings featuring herself and Bill on Youtube and other social media as a preview for the honored guests. All was going according to plan.

The event was highly anticipated by all involved, as it was their first time in Akron, Ohio and the first time Oliver Nelson’s music would be performed, reimagined, almost 50 years after its original release. Tunes like “Stolen Moments” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yYl2HZ9_Zvs&list=RDyYl2HZ9_Zvs&start_radio=1&t=0) would have new life breathed into them by Bill and his group.

On the Thursday one week before the donor appreciation event, I was out of town on vacation. As Bill’s manager, I left town believing all was under control and running smoothly. He had booked his musicians and vocalist. The music was written and scored. The venue was secured. Little did I know, Bill was leaving messages on my cell phone with unhappy news: the vocalist was sick.

By the time I received the voicemails, it was Saturday and the date of the gig was inching closer. During times like these, one of my most important managing mottos comes into play: “It is not what you know, but who you know and what they think of you.” Bill, being a two-time Grammy award winner, is highly respected in the jazz world, and musicians are (thankfully) eager and willing to join him on the band stand. He reached out to fabulous vocalist Jane Monheit, who graciously agreed to perform on short notice and flew in on the red eye the evening before the event.

A testament to her world-class musicianship, Jane performed cold with barely any preparation and wowed the crowd with her poise and grace. Bill and the musicians in the band were also exceptional, their flexible professionalism leading to a successful and enjoyable event. In the days following the performance numerous phone calls from audience members flooded in, praising the ensemble and conveying heartfelt appreciation for Jane’s willingness to take over for the vocalist who fell ill.

Though such star power usually warrants multiple gigs, this particular group was only scheduled to perform two nights. The second performance was a ticketed event in Cleveland which completely sold out thanks to the Night is Alive Productions team (“We fill the seats!” Use Night is Alive Productions for your events: http://nightisalive.com/).

“Who is singing tonight?” is not a question you want to ask in the moments leading up to a gig. But if you do your job well and work with good people who are willing to help you out in a pinch, the rest will follow. In the end, the music itself is what brings people together and builds a loyal following. The music is the reason why we are here.

Read more about Bill’s tribute to Oliver Nelson here: https://billcunliffe.wordpress.com/2010/12/13/a-tribute-to-oliver-nelson-and-%E2%80%9Cthe-blues-and-the-abstract-truth/)

For more information about Managing Director Kathy Moses Salem and Night is Alive Productions, please visit our web page (http://nightisalive.com/) or contact directly via phone.

Article by Kathy Salem, Managing Director, Night is Alive
Revised and Transcribed by Elizabeth Carney, Content Editor, Night is Alive