Eddie Lang: selected works 1926-1932

The ‘Eddie Lang: selected works 1926-1932’ it’s not a commercially available Cd. It’s a compilation I made in Flac format, choosing sides that, in my opinion, are among the highlights of the ‘founder of jazz guitar’. Salvatore Massaro (his real name), son of Italian immigrants, was born in the U.S.A. in 1902. Thanks to his talent and his stylistic innovations, he ‘reinvented’ the role of guitar in early jazz. Even if other guitarists, especially among black players, had already brought the instrument to an high level of virtuosity (Lonnie Johnson as best example), in the 20’s the guitar was mainly seen as a part of the rhythm section, with very rare opportunities to get solo spots. Eddie Lang invented a new guitar style, which included not only rhythmic comping but also single note solos, counter melodies to the soloist, bass lines runs, arpeggios and solo breaks or intros. After hearing his first recordings (with Mound City Blue Blowers or Red McKenzie), a whole generation of banjo players switched to the guitar. In a few years, Lang became not only the N.1 guitar player in jazz but also one of the most busy studio musicians of that era. This because Eddie Lang was, before everything else, an absolutely complete musician, with a superlative ear and an attitude devoted to the final musical result, without any wish to ‘show off’. Even if he had all the possible chops (as witnessed by some fast runs in some intro or breaks), he always preferred to play the ‘right thing’ that could lift the musical level of the whole song or emphasize the soloist’s ideas. Besides that, no one else, during that time could cover such a wide stylistic range: Lang could play everything, from jazz and blues to waltzes and classical music (he adapted for guitar and recorded Rachmaninoff’s Prelude Op.3,No.2 in 1927; he also used to play Debussy’s compositions but unfortunately never recorded them).

The eighteen tracks of this compilation witness Eddie Lang’s art and style. Briefly, some of their peculiarities:

Track 1 – Stringing the bluesEddie Lang and Joe Venuti: the perfect pair. Friends since childhood, they had a telepathic musical interplay and a terrific swing. Their duo recordings (sometime backed by piano) are milestones of early jazz.

Track 2 – Singing’ the blues
An excellent example of Lang’s ability to create great counter melodies under the soloist.

Track 3 – Goin’ placesAs track 1, but the presence of a (quite inaudible) piano comping lets Lang more free to create bass runs and breaks. A very good example of Lang’s great technique.

Track 4 – Wringin’ an’ twistin’
As track 2 but here we have also Lang soloing in single notes, with his typical ‘trumpet’ inspired lines. Notice his ending.

Track 5 – The wild dog
Eddie Lang is the backbone of the whole quintet here, a real swing machine that allows Venuti’s flight.

Track 6 & 7 – Rainbow dreams – Add a little wiggle
Eddie Lang in full evidence on these tracks, backed with elegance by pianist Frank Signorelli.

Track 8 - No more
As said before, Lang was one of the busiest studio musician of his era. This meant for him to work with anybody, sometimes real jazz stars like Bix or Satchmo, sometimes more obscure players. Being a real professional, Lang’s musical work was of a constantly high level. Here it’s quite hard to stand Boyd Senter’s lines but Lang’s comping and single-note solo is one of his best ever.

Track 9 & 10 – Doin’ things – Wild catSame as track 3. ‘Wild cat’ is a killer!

Track 11 – It’s right here for you
Three sides of Lang in one tune: at first rhythmic chordal work and counter melody under the soloist, then a single note solo and in the end stellar rhythmic chordal work again.

Track 12 – Wild geese blues
Rarely a white musician has absorbed the real blues essence like Lang did. He was so good that blues singers very often wanted him for their recording sessions. This is an example of Lang’s blues comping work, backing singer Gladys Bentley.

Track 13 – Knocking a jugSatchmo here: this track is jazz history and could not be missing here but (i.m.h.o.) Lang’s bluesy solo is a little ‘lazier’ than his standard level.

Track 14 – Kitchen man
Still the blues side of Eddie Lang, here with Bessie Smith and Clarence Williams. A masterpiece.

Track 15 – Hot fingers
Eddie Lang & Lonnie Johnson: the sides recorded by this duo are among the things that make life beautiful. Originally issued (for racial reasons) as Lonnie Johnson & Blind Willie Dunn, very rarely guitar duos have reached, since then, such an extraordinary level of swing (for one exception to this, see track 18).

Track 16 & 17 – Runnin’ ragged – Sweet Sue, just you
Here, track 16 is a good example of how much Lang’s rhythmic drive could be fundamental for the good result of a session, while track 17 contains one of Lang’s best ‘single note-trumpet inspired’ solos of the last years of his career.

Track 18 – Pickin’ my way
As said in track 15, very rarely guitar duos have reached the level of Lang & Johnson. One exception to this is here: Eddie Lang and Carl Kress. Together, they recorded only two sides which are true masterpieces of jazz guitar. More complex in the structure and less bluesy than L&J ones, but nevertheless swinging like mad.

Eddie Lang’s life ended when he was only 31 year old, for complications following a tonsillectomy.
This compilation is dedicated to his great talent and artistry.



Oscar Aleman: the swinging man from Argentina

Oscar Aleman (1909-1980) is one of the most underrated names in the history of jazz guitar. Born in Argentina, Aleman was a professional player since his teens and, after four years of touring through South America, he came to Europe with tap dancer Harry Flaming. Then, in 1932, he settled in Paris as guitarist for Josephine Baker. At that time the artistry of Aleman was so impressive that Duke Ellington, while touring Europe in 1933, asked him to join his orchestra. Unfortunately for jazz guitar history, Josephine Baker refused to let him go. Beside that, Aleman had the bad luck to share the Parisian jazz guitar scene with the rising star of Django Reinhardt and the fame of the Manouche always put Aleman in a undeserved 'second place' position. The two were good friends and had great mutual admiration but never recorded together. Really, Aleman was even preferred to Django by someone, like famous jazz critic Leonard Feather who in 1939 wrote " ... his tone, phrasing, swing and attack are so grand that if anyone ever mentions Django Reinhardt to me again, I shall stare coldly... Aleman has more swing than any other guitarist on the Continent." Here, (continuing the 'guitar solo' spots by Django and McDonough) we can hear Aleman 'solo' in 1938. The totally personal approach is very clear form the first bars: Aleman uses a fingerstyle technique (with thumbpick) and shows a top level virtuosity which expresses a world in its own, a unique blend of American(s) and European flavours. If you don't know his records, get some of them and you'll not regret it.

(For more info about Aleman check the great blog: http://oscar-aleman.blogspot.com/)


Dick McDonough: jazz guitar virtuoso from the 30's

Dick McDonough (1904-1938) was one of the top guitarists of the 30's jazz scene. His style stemmed directly from Eddie Lang's one and he was probably the truest follower of Lang's ideas. One of the busiest studio musicians of those days, McDonough is present on dozens of recordings but (as with all the guitar players of that era) the space reserved to his solos was generally limited to eight or sixteen bars. So, in order to enjoy his great talent and virtuosity we need to listen to the wonderful guitar duets he recorded with Carl Kress. But here (1934) he is totally alone with his personal rendition of a Fats Waller's classic. McDonough was not the first one to record an unaccompanied guitar solo: both Lang and Lonnie Johnson did it around 1927/1928. But Lang's ones (we're excluding here the works with piano comping) were Rachmaninoff's Prelude op. 3 n.2 and 'A little love, a little kiss', a sort of folk-flavoured serenade while Johnson's sides were basically blues-based improvisations. So, this recording of McDonough has to be considered the first 'guitar solo' rendition of a jazz standard (it seems that New Orleans' guitarist Snoozer Quinn did the same in the 20's before everybody else: but those recordings were never issued and, until now, are considered totally lost). The 'guitar unaccompanied solo' tradition went on with (among others) Carl Kress, Oscar Aleman, Django Reinhardt, George Van Eps, Al Viola; in the 70s, Joe Pass brought it to a new level and, since then, so many others refined this particular side of guitar playing. But all of them did it after 1934, when the great Dick McDonough with his acoustic L5 gave to guitar a new dimension.


100 years of Django

One hundred years ago, a gypsy family in Belgium was celebrating the birth of a baby called Jean Baptiste Reinhardt, nicknamed Django. They didn't know then, but their baby was destined to be different from the others: he was a musical genius, who would have become one of the greatest guitar players in history. Everything has been said and written about Django and today his artistic heritage is still alive and beating. Hundreds of guitarists all over the world play in Django's style, groups inspired by the 'Quintette du Hot Club de France' are everywhere, not to mention the 'Manouche' musicians that worship him as a god. We'd like to remember him with three minutes of his 'solo guitar' music.
It is hardly possible to be more expressive, poetic and touching than this.


Lenny Breau: a timeless genius

This is another example of Lenny Breau's unique and unbelievable 'vision' of the guitar. The pianistic approach, playing melody and chord at the same time, is very clear here. This is also due to the seventh string (on top, tuned as high A) which allows him a wider range. Anyway, as we can see in the other post, this approach has been with him since the beginning, using a normal six string instrument. Every Breau's fan is waiting for a DVD release of the documentary ' The Genius of Lenny Breau' produced and created by Lenny's daughter, Emily Hughes (you can see parts of it on Youtube). For now, we have a stellar guitar meeting here. Hope you enjoy it.



As mentioned in the previous Baden Powell post, Brazilian guitar is a world in itself. Here, we'd like to remember the art of Garoto (1915-1955; born Anibal Augusto Sardinha) with a rare recording he made in 1950. Considered by many as the 'father' of Brazilian guitar, Garoto had his roots in the choro tradition and in the Thirties his work was shared mainly between radio and recordings. During his 1939 tour in the U.S.A. with Carmen Miranda, his guitar playing caught the attention of great jazz musicians like Duke Ellington and Art Tatum. As a composer, he blended the Brazilian tradition with jazz harmonies, anticipating by years the bossa nova conception. This is a brief but exquisite example of his art.


Johnny Smith: the quiet legend of jazz guitar

In the Fifties the name of Johnny Smith was synonymous of 'first class' jazz guitar. A staff member of NBC orchestra, Smith could play with equal proficiency guitar, trumpet and viola beside being an arranger and composer. His 1952 version of 'Moonlight in Vermont', with Stan Getz on saxophone, was on top of jazz charts for a long time and readers of Downbeat voted for him as 'best guitar player' in 1954 and 1955. Smith played the guitar with the approach of a composer and arranger, which explains his famous 'Johnny Smith voicings':"If I were to write this out for a sax section, it would be just like I would play it on the guitar. This is how I think of the guitar - in terms of orchestrating" he declared, without putting a big accent on how physically difficult it is to obtain these voicings on guitar. Here we have a much rarer 1959 version of 'Moonlight in Vermont', where the shimmering Smiths' guitar is backed only by George Roumanis on bass and Mousey Alexander on drums. Pure magic.


Who is George Barnes?

Chicagoan George Barnes (1921 - 1977), was the first professional electric soloist in jazz guitar. In the first half of the Thirties, using an amplifier and pickup handbuilt for him by his brother, he was already experimenting the possibilities of the electric instrument and, still a teenager, he joined the Musicians' Union as a professional player. In 1940 he recorded his first sides as a leader, which showed not only a mature and complete soloist but also a skilled and advanced arranger. Inspired by clarinet players, Barnes' style is totally personal and shows no influence deriving from Christian or Django. Barnes' career has been one of the busiest in the music business, mainly as arranger, producer and studio musician. Unfortunately, 'business' work put in shade his jazz side: Barnes' records are hard to find and only few of them are on Cd. In this video we see him in 1974 together with Ruby Braff on cornet, Wayne Wright on rhythm guitar and Michael Moore on bass (I decided to cut Braff's solo to concentrate on Barnes' one). Notice the 'old school' down picking, the way he holds the pick and the abundance of blues feeling. In case you've never heard of George Barnes, I hope this will make you want to know more about him.


A Merry and Swinging Christmas...

...from this blogger to you all!
(music by the wonderful Tuck Andress)


Baden Powell in Berlin 1967

The giant of Brazilian guitar documented in top form here. On this occasion, he was part of a guitar festival that took place in Berlin in 1967(French presentation is overdubbed) and was documented on the Lp you see on the right, unfortunately very hard to find now. Baden Powell is probably the greatest icon of the long and vast tradition of Brazilian guitar, which, by the way, is a world in itself. A world that in our culture is always associated with samba and bossa which are really only a part of it.

I hope you will enjoy these fantastic performances.

P.s.: can you recognize Steve Swallow on bass and Bob Moses on drums?


Who wrote 'Solar'?

If your answer is 'Miles Davis', you are in good company but you're wrong. One of the most popular standards of modern jazz was written by jazz guitar great Chuck Wayne. The whole story has been told by Wayne himself in this Cadence interview (page 11): Wayne wrote it in 1946, Miles Davis heard it in a jam session and, years later, recorded it under his own name. After you know this, jazz history won't be changed and Davis' importance won't be reduced but I thought it was right to remember this wonderful guitarist giving him his due credits for that song.


Rev. Gary Davis

Among the many stars of guitar universe, Reverend Gary Davis is one of the brightest. His pianistic approach to the instrument enabled him to improvise on blues and ragtime structures as few others could do. Even if his name is widely known among country blues/ragtime fans, his talent is, still today, too often ignored by the guitar fans family. As always with afro-american musicians, the rhythmic way to approach phrases and runs is terrific, resulting in a kind of 'dancing' over the basic 'two' feel.


The great master: Lenny Breau

If you really love guitar and if you really love music then you probably already know the name of Lenny Breau. If you don't, I hope this will introduce him to you. Lenny Breau (1941-1984) was a real genius, being a total master of the instrument and a visionary and infinitely creative musician. While most guitar players devote themselves to a single guitar idiom, Breau could play country, classical, jazz and flamenco with total adhesion to the aesthetics of every style. More than that, he created a new and personal language, exploring the guitar with a pianistic approach that led him to develop new techniques in order to play melody and chord at the same time, as we can hear and see:


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Welcome to all guitar lovers. This blog will be dedicated to the art of guitar playing and to the artists who use this instrument as a way to express their visions.