Down Memory Lane: a personal sound portrait of Joe Pass


I stumbled upon some old cassette tapes when going through some stuff. For the younger reader: a cassette is some old fashioned thingy that was used in between the golden days of vinyl records and CD’s “a long time ago in a galaxy far away.” In any event I stumbled upon some old tapes of Joe Pass, one of the guitar players, besides Django Reinhardt, Herb Ellis, an many more that have been very influential for my own playing. Great old memories came back again. As far as those tapes go, they have been played more than was good for them.

Joe Pass

Joe Pass did the near-impossible, ably playing up-tempo versions of bop tunes such as “Cherokee” and “How High the Moon” unaccompanied on the guitar. Unlike Stanley Jordan, Pass used conventional (but superb) technique.  His Virtuoso series on the Pablo label still sounds incredible even though we are decades down the line.

Joe Pass had a false start in his career. He played in a few swing bands before graduating from high school, and was with Charlie Barnet 1947. But after serving in the military, Pass became a drug addict, got caught and served time in prison. He came back on the scene in 1962 and recorded both solo and with several well known players.  In general he kept a low profile in Los Angeles until he was signed by Norman Granz to his Pablo label. In 1973 he recorded Virtuoso which made him a star and he recorded a number of prolific albums for Pablo, unaccompanied, with small groups, on duo albums with Ella Fitzgerald, and with such masters as Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Oscar Peterson, Milt Jackson, and Dizzy Gillespie. Pass remained very active up until his death from cancer in 1994.

As usual You tube did not disappoint.

Joe Pass on improvisation

This may seem like a casual talk, actually it is but it has some important lessons in there:

  • just go out and do it;
  • focus on what you are playing don’t think about what you are going to play next;
  • playing beginnings and endings and most of all
  • LISTENING IS JUST AS IMPORTANT AS THE PLAYING ITSELF

Whatever you learn, technically and theoretically: “it don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing” and I found that the seemingly simple tips above are so important for that.

Joe Plays the Blues

And here is how that works out ion a solo performance (just go out and do it)

Or listen to this Blues for Sitges.

Joe & Ella, Joe & NHOP, Joe, NHOP & Oscar Peterson

To me, despite all the other music he recorded and played the duo with with Ella Fitzgerald always kept a special place. Many times I have drawn on Joe Pass for duo gigs with singers. Perhaps the video below will make it clear why I am so fond of this setting and his playing.

Joeplayed  Pass did the near-impossible. He was able to play up-tempo versions of bop tunes such as “Cherokee” and “How High the Moon” unaccompanied on the guitar. Unlike Stanley Jordan, Pass used conventional (but superb) technique, and his Virtuoso series on Pablo still sounds remarkable decades later.

Joe Pass had a false start in his career. He played in a few swing bands (including Tony Pastor’s) before graduating from high school, and was with Charlie Barnet for a time in 1947. But after serving in the military, Pass became a drug addict, serving time in prison and essentially wasting a decade. He emerged in 1962 with a record cut at Synanon, made a bit of a stir with his For Django set, recorded several other albums for Pacific Jazz and World Pacific, and performed with Gerald Wilson, Les McCann, George Shearing, and Benny Goodman (1973).

However, in general Pass maintained a low profile in Los Angeles until he was signed by Norman Granz to his Pablo label. 1973’s Virtuoso made him a star and he recorded very prolifically for Pablo, unaccompanied, with small groups, on duo albums with Ella Fitzgerald, and with such masters as Count Basie, Duke Ellington, Oscar Peterson, Milt Jackson, and Dizzy Gillespie. Pass remained very active up until his death from cancer.

His playing with Niels Henning Orsted Pedersen is also something to be looked out for. No matter how old this is still so incredible. Just listen to their Donna Lee version.

And finally a live recording with Oscar Peterson and Niels Henning Orsted Pedersen. The trio setting without a drummer, made so popular by Nat King Cole.

I hope you’ll enjoy listening to these videos as much as I did.

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