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Top five most influential jazz guitarists

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Top five most influential jazz guitarists

I’m by no way an expert on jazz, let alone jazz guitarists. I’m fortunate that as a kid, I was surrounded by music from all genres; my Mum was firmly into Motown, my sister was banging out AC/DC , Pink Floyd (Barrett era) and Iron Maiden at a very early age whilst my dad tried his best to enlighten me to essential jazz artists such as Dizzy Gillespie & Charlie Parker.

Recently I’ve grown to appreciate jazz more. Dad thrust an old 1950’s jazz guitar tuition book in my hand that he’s had stashed since he gave up playing the guitar when he was a kid. It has to be said, if I manage to learn even the first page of that book I’d feel a huge sense of achievement – those old jazz guitarist were simply stunning players.

So yesterday, over a bowl of pasta, my old man shared with me his opinions on who should be in the running to be labelled in the top five most influential jazz guitarists. You may have different opinions, in which case I’m all ears…

Charlie Christian:

Played as a member of Benny Goodman’s Orchestra and helped to launch the guitar from being a rhythm to a solo instrument. As long as I can remember, my dad has kept on about a particular recording he has on vinyl, where Charlie is playing at Minton’s Playhouse, New York, where his ability to jam and improvise is second to none. Is Charlie Christian the godfather improvisational guitar showman?

Charlie Christian Live – Stompin’ at the Savoy 1941:


Django Reinhardt:

A name I’ve been familiar with for years, not so much from my dad’s influence, but more so from my interest in Black Sabbath. It’s rumoured that when Tony Iommi severed his fingertips in a factory accident on the cusp of Sabbath’s career, Tony’s foreman thrust a Django Reinhardt record in his hand to encourage him to pursue his guitar playing dreams.

Django, a French Romany Gypsy, lost the use of two fingers during a house fire at an early age and subsequently re-taught himself to play with just the first two fingers on his left hand. My dad was quite adamant in saying his “pre World War II material” is by far his best work.

Django Reinhardt Guitar Solos:


Barney Kessel:

Barney Kessel is recognised more for his post-war influences and his work within the film industry. He also carved a career as a session musician for leading artists and bands during the 1960’s. My dad had the opportunity to see Barney live in 1975, bizarrely at Blandford Jazz Club in Dorset, UK, where Barney kindly signed the record sleeve of the “Some Like It Hot” album.

Barney Kessel – “Gypsy in my Soul”:


Wes Montgomery:

All my dad had to say (in a very frank manner) is Wes Montgomery was simply one of the best jazz guitarists ever. He didn’t go into details why, he just simply told me to go away and listen to his playing, then listen again!

My dad did mention that he’s not a fan of Wes Montgomery’s later work, saying Wes “went commercial” in the latter stages of his career.

Wes Montgomery – “Round Midnight”:


Eddie Lang:

Finally my dad finished with Eddie Lang and you could argue he left the best till last. Eddie is seen as one of the founding fathers of jazz guitar. My dad’s only hang up is that Eddie’s recordings with violinist Joe Venuti are often poor quality, due to the early developments of sound recording techniques back in the 1920’s. If you can handle the poor recordings, you’ll be a witness to some stunning jazz guitar.

Eddie Lang – “Eddie’s Twister”:


Who’s in your top five most influential jazz guitarist list? Do you agree with the choice above or would you like to suggest alternative guitarists? Please comment below…

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About the author:

Sam is passionate about talking all things guitar related and started GuitarJar.co.uk to help encourage all guitarists in their guitar playing journey.

4 Comments

  • Django is the king!

    Came in 30 -40 years ahead of time itself.

    Wish he’d played with the JB’s. I’d be Totally Fused.

  • Ray Crawford: Started as a Sax player in the Fletcher Henderson band then switched to guitar when he got TB. Played in the early 50’s with Ahmad Jamal and was the guitarist on the Poinciana tune. He did the guitar bongo effect before Herb Ellis and Tal Farlow. His lines were understandably a little more horn like in terms of phrasing and articulation. In the late 50’s he was the guitarist on Gil Evans Out of the Cool record and played and recorded with Jimmy Smith. LP as a leader was recorded in the 60’s but not released until many years later.

    His soloing and comping have a great time feel and his playing is very melodic.

  • Really interesting comment Warren, thanks. There’s a few names there I’m going to Google! Especially liking what you said about Ray Crawford having more “horn like phrasing” and loving what you said about the “guitar bongo effect”. Thanks for sharing your thought and knowledge.

  • If you like a bit of funk and blues in your jazz licks, Grant Green is the man.

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