My personal list of the top 20 guitarist ever (in reverse order)
After revisiting my list, I realized that there were some glaring omissions. It is a list of popular guitarist that influenced or inspired my playing. Missing was the late Frank Evans 1930-2007. I was never one of his students, but I would hear him often at his residencies around Bristol when Dad would dep for his regular bass player. On a number of occasions he came around the house to rehearse for a BBC up coming broadcast. I remember wondering at the time why he was not better known, but I later found out that he did not like the London scene and refused to fly, cutting off a huge audience in the US.
I was lucky enough to sit in with Frank on a number of occasions and he is sadly missed by myself and his fans who keep a tribute page going for him on Facebook. I would dearly love to hear him again, but a trawl of Youtube brought nothing. I remember him playing a battered old blonde es175 with the scratch guard removed because his hands were too large to play it comfortably. He left behind many arrangements. I recall seeing him playing Nuages on the Spanish guitar. The sound was sweet and melancholy and the memory of it still makes me feel tearful. R.I.P. Frank.
Another omission from the original list was Pat Metheny. I have received so much mail about this, but in truth, I never really liked his playing. I don’t know why. He seemed to press the right notes but I just felt unable to connect with the music emotionally. On the other hand Pat Martino truly did make me want to hear more. I don’t know why he was not included. Probably because I did not start listening to him until much later. However, he is someone who by any measure shows truly remarkable talent.
There is also the talent of Howard Roberts. I remember wondering what he must sound like, when I was a student, as I had one of his books that illustrated near impossible scales and harmonic constructions. At the time the most expensive guitar in the Gibson Catalogue was a Howard Roberts Special. I later discovered some tracks by Howard on Youtube. Fascinating…
I have not mentioned my instructors in this list. For the most part, the are not well known, but they deserve more success than they are credited with. They include my great friend Mike Britton as well as Jack Toodood, Mike Watson and Dave Godden. I am deeply appreciative of the time they spent trying to teach me to play better than I did.
The final omission from the original list was the fact that no women were included. It is true that the world of guitar is dominated by men, but there are talented ladies also. Here is an attempt to redress the balance.
Best female jazz guitarist:
|Emily Remler I still feel a little sad when I think of what could have been had Emily not died of a heart attack aged 32. She is loved and remembered by her fan club who still keep a torch burning for her on the web. Photo, courtesy of www.allthingsemily.com Here she is playing one of my favourite tunes|
My all time top 20 most influential guitarists:
|20 Paco de Lucia 1947 – 2014, Winner of the prestigious 2004 Prince of Asturias award for the arts and sorely missed by music lovers the world over. Loved by me for his recording of Rodrigo’s Concierto de Aranjuez, for which he had to learn to read music. Unloved by Spanish guitarist Narciso Yepes, who called it “terrible” and “lacking technique“. Not so, the performance is brilliant and in the spirit of the original composition, as confirmed by Rodrigo, who was in the audience at the time. See if you agree|
|19 Bill Connors, Pictured here playing an L5!!! The first rock guitarist that really turned me on to Jazz. I heard Bill in 1974 with Chick Corea’s Return to Forever band. If your nerves can take it, check out this recording of Layla, stick with it to hear some lunatic guitar work at the end. Definitely not the ‘Slow Hand’ Eric Clapton version!|
|18 Martin Taylor, “One of the most awsome solo guitarists in the history of the instrument”. (says Pat Metheny). By the way, sorry you did not make it to my list Pat, another legend, but not an influence on me. You can see from the diary, Martin likes to keep busy (when does he find time to practice?) Stomping at the Savoy …|
|17 Kenny Burrell, playing it cool for years, a distinct style, I especially like the nylon string guitar recordings as featured on Moon & Sand from 1979 for 32 Jazz.|
|16 John Pizzarelli, This guy sings as well as he plays guitar. I hate him for it. 🙁 IMHO an utterly brilliant guitarist and son of the infamous Bucky Pizzarelli who is also no slouch.Check out this live version of I Got Rhtythm Holy crapppp!!!|
|15 Django Reinhardt, arguably the most influential guitarist of all time. Famous for the Hot Club of France gypsy style of jazz with violinist Stephane Grappelli. Notice the tweed jacket. Did John Pizzarelli (pictured above) inherit it? Django overcame a crippling hand injury to become the most famous guitarist of a generation.|
|14 Jim Mullen, the most beloved British Fusion Jazz Guitarist. Playing with his thumb instead of a pic and at amazing speed. I especially love his early recordings with Dick Morrisey as well as the Organ Trio. He just keeps getting better and better. Check the fluid and confident phrasing, as he plays on If you read music, follow the score here…|
|13 Andres Segovia, the master. I was lucky enough to hear him play in my home town when I was 14. Heiter Villa Lobos dedicated his famous 12 etudes after the 1928 US tour. Early recordings of his Bach transcriptions were inspirational for me. Whilst there are many fine Spanish guitarists playing today. The most evocative sounds ever made on the guitar remain those of this gentle genius.|
|12 Tal Farlow, I was lucky enough to hear Tal playing in Cardiff on his last tour of UK. My father was on Bass and he was accompanied by Mike Britton. Tal Played some very strange sounding lines, but it was great to see and hear this icon of the Jazz guitar playing live. Sadly he died in 1998 🙁|
|11 Baden Powell de Aquino, not the Scout Master, just one of the great Brazilian guitarist. Once you have heard this, there is no going back.I love his rhythmic vibrant style, which is hard to imitate. The world is a poorer place without him.|
|10 Johnny Smith, Harmonic genius of the Cool School and one of my all time heroes! You need fingers two feet long to imitate the closed-position chord voicings which characterize his playing. Best known for his critically acclaimed 1952 Moon Light in Vermont album featuring Stan Getz. The Johnny Smith sound, inimitable…|
|9 Yamandu Costa, right now arguably the finest guitarist in Brazil today. Brutally fast, melodic, accurate and a true prodigy. He plays a 7 string guitar and exploits the extended range with technical brilliance to produce a distinctly Brazilian sound. Hearing Yamandu changed the whole way I think about guitar. Check out his version of Disparada…|
|8 Louis Stewart, pictured here with Bobby Wellins. Some have said that he is one of the finest bebop guitarist alive. Don’t take my word for it, check this out…|
|7 Charlie Christian without doubt the most influential jazz guitarist to ever have lived. Died aged only 25 . A swing guitarist of the Benny Goodman era, energetic and inspiring. I never get tired of listing to Swing to the Bop from the jam sessions recorded at Minton’s Playhouse NYC 1941.|
|6 Jim Hall makes playing the guitar sound easy. It’s not. I love his sensitive and thought provoking style of playing. Its deep! The recordings with Paul Desmond are my favourite. Here he is playing with the awesome pianist Petrucciani, who is sadly no longer with us. Beautiful Love|
|5 Herb Ellis, a seriously influential guitarist for me. I especially liked the recordings with Joe Pass. I recall he was difficult to work with when I engineered sound at a Bristol concert years back. Probably jet-lag. The session included an arrangement of Georgia, which I still play 😉 Image thanks to Vernon Hyde . Here is the cantankerous old bugger strutting his stuff …|
|4 Wes Montgomery if you have never heard of him, what planet have you been living on? Played with his thumb instead of a plectrum, giving a smooth rounded sound. My favourite album is the 1960 Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery as quartet with Tommy Flanagan on piano. Here he is playing Round Midnight|
|3 Barney Kessel, the guitarist who most influenced me on plectrum guitar. A great session musician who recorded for the Beachboys as well as The Monkeys. My favourite Kessel album is the 1957 Poll Winners with Shelly Manne and Ray Brown. Here he is on an old video playing Autumn Leaves voicing some of the bass notes in the left hand with his thumb. True five fingered playing… (Emily Remler did not approve of this style, saying that it was “playing like Jimmy Hendrix”)!|
|2 George Benson funky and brilliant, can sing a bit 😉 When I heard him at the Birmingham NEC a few years back, a woman next to me said “I did not know he could play guitar “. Hell yes!!! I learned later that he spent a day playing with local hero Frank Evans after playing a concert at the Colston Hall. I would have loved to have heard that! For me, his greatest album remains Weekend in La, I especially love his rendition of Broadway.|
|1 Joe Pass the most influential and for me personally, the greatest guitarist of all time. Others have imitated his style, but he was the first and still is the best IMHO. Immaculate, precise pick work and finger-style jazz guitar. I saw him play at Ronnie Scott’s in 1985. At the time there were notices in Ronnie’s asking guests to keep their voice down during the performance.A couple in front (who had no interest in the music were loudly quaffing Champagne. Joe played for a while and then calmly stood up whilst continuing to play. He glided towards the noisy couples table genially playing the ballad, Here Comes That Rainy Day . Everyone in the room held their breath, as it was known that Joe could have a bit of a temper.
The couple continued with their banter failing to notice a towering balding guitarist, who at this stage was menacingly leaning over their table. All of a sudden Joe thrust the neck of the guitar between them and hammered out a sequence of deafening flamenco chords. The couple sprang apart as if a bucket of iced water had been thrown over them. The whole audience erupted into a chorus of cat calls, cheering and wild applause. Joe returned to his chair still playing and said nothing… Here he is playing Satin Doll
What started off as 10 minutes of fun, posting a few lines about my favourite guitarists turned into a bit of a marathon. However, in doing so I am reminded of my place in the order of things. I have really enjoyed putting together this list and revisiting some of the music I grew up with.
Let me know who you would vote for.