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Getting Into Jazz Guitar: Ryan's Listening Guide

Wes Montgomery - The Wes Montgomery Trio (1959)

The first time I heard the smoky opening notes of "Round’ Midnight", I was hooked on this album. "A Dynamic New Sound: The Wes Montgomery Trio" is Wes Montgomery’s debut album as a leader, yet his sound is fully matured and everything great about Wes’ playing is present here. I particularly love the supporting organ’s ghostly backing with Wes’s dark (yet surprisingly clear) guitar sound floating above. The reverberant, atmospheric quality draws me into the world of the musicians. There are many medium tempo tunes on this album and that make it an excellent choice for those who are new to jazz music and not accustomed to faster, more aggressive playing. This is an absolute classic and one of my go-to jazz guitar albums.

Pat MartinoEl Hombre (1967)

When I was in college, this album was passed around among all the guitarists. We all learned Pat’s famous solo on "Just Friends" and would take turns jamming through the song trying to sound as clean as Pat. This was my introduction to faster hard-bop/bebop playing on the guitar and it has since become the standard that I aspire to. This is another jazz guitar & electric organ record with a cool atmosphere that gets your toes tapping. Pat Martino was very young when "El Hombre" was recorded, but it represents some of his best playing. I think every jazz guitar player should check out this album.

Kenny BurrellMidnight Blue (1963)

This is a classic and widely known album from the famous Blue Note record label. Kenny Burrell plays in a bluesy style mixed with Latin percussion. This record makes a great introduction to jazz guitar for blues fans. Kenny Burrell recorded widely with a variety of artists and he is still playing to this day!

Django ReinhardtAll-Star Sessions (1935-1939)

Django Reinhardt was the first jazz guitarist I got into. His iconic guitar playing almost single-handedly formed the style known as “Gypsy jazz” that is very popular in Europe today. There is something very romantic and sentimental about Django’s guitar playing. He is a virtuoso player, so sometimes you have to dig for the right recordings that present his more sensitive side. Django recorded mostly in the 1930s and 40s and at that time the LP record “album” hadn’t been invented yet. So, you have to find a good compilation album that draws from his best recording sessions. He famously played with a band of two other guitarists, an upright bass, and a violin. However, I usually recommend his recordings with popular American swing bands. These are collected on the album "All-Star Sessions", though I also recommend his recordings with Duke Ellington. Did I mention he played with only three functional fingers on his left hand!?

Grant Green - Idle Moments (1965)

Grant Green also recorded on the Blue Note label in the late 50s and 60s. He plays with a punchy tone inspired by blues, r&b, and hard-bop jazz. Idle Moments features some longer tracks where he is allowed time to develop his solo ideas. His blues/soul influence and brighter sound make his playing easily recognizable and very approachable. He mostly plays single note solos with little use of chords. Grant Green recorded many albums so there are plenty of great cuts to choose from!

Jim HallJazz Guitar (1957)

I discovered this album after I began teaching guitar lessons and I think it is an excellent entry point for guitarists who want to play jazz. Jim Hall's playing here sits between traditional and modern, and there are a lot of universal musical lessons to be learned from it. Jim Hall has a beautiful melodic style that is nice way for students to learn about phrasing, playing chord changes, etc. This was Jim Hall's debut album, so his playing here is simpler compared to some of his later work. This is a trio album with piano, bass, and guitar, so there is plenty of room to hear how the guitar and piano interact, which is also an important subject for guitarists.

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