Connect with us

Jazz Guitarists

Jazz Guitar In Hot ‘Lanta

Published

on

Jazz Guitar Today guest contributor Joe Barth takes a look at the jazz guitar scene in Atlanta, Georgia.

Taking the family to experience the great outdoors at the Fernbank Natural History Museum, or maybe getting a breath-taking view from twenty stories up on the SkyView Atlanta Ferris wheel, there is no comparison to the fun exhibits (and secret recipe formula) of America’s most popular beverage, Coke, at the legendary World of Coca-Cola. Yes, Atlanta is a vibrant, exciting destination, with a cornucopia of musical culture, history, and entertainment offerings including great jazz guitar.

In the world of pop music, Atlanta is the birthplace of Brenda Lee, Gladys Knight, and country stars Alan Jackson and Travis Tritt.

In the 1960s and ’70s, Ruby Red’s Warehouse and Paschal’s La Carrousel Lounge hosted the biggest names in jazz as their travels brought them through town, and into the Underground Atlanta entertainment area.  

From the 1950s to the early ’80s Dee’s Birdcage was one of Atlanta’s earliest jazz clubs an underground bar that was a stop on the Chitlin’ Circuit. The Chitlin’ Circuit was a collection of bars in the city that provided work for touring black musicians during the era of racial segregation.  Atlanta was home to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and a major center for the Civil Rights Movement.

Great jazz pianist and bandleader Fletcher Henderson was born near Atlanta in Cuthbert, Georgia, and moved to Atlanta when he was eighteen to study at Atlanta University where he graduated with a degree in mathematics and chemistry.  After graduation, Henderson moved to New York City to pursue his career in music.  

The great jazz pianist, Duke Pearson was born and raised in the Atlanta area.  Pearson was introduced to brass instruments and the piano as a youth.  Dental problems forced Pearson to switch to working as a pianist in Atlanta and elsewhere before moving to New York in 1959.

Though born in Chicago, singer and pianist Freddy Cole, brother of Nat King Cole, made his home in the Atlanta area, playing traditional jazz, swing, and the blues. In 1968, organist Jimmy Smith recorded his classic album “The Boss” at Atlanta’s La Carrousel Club with a young up-and-coming guitarist by the name of George Benson. 


Earl Klugh was born in Detroit, Michigan on September 16, 1953, but now makes his home in Atlanta.  

He started with the piano at age three but switched to guitar at age ten. In his teenage years, Klugh saw Chet Atkins on TV playing chords and melody simultaneously with a finger-style technique and that influenced his concept of playing guitar.  At age fifteen he appeared on Yusef Lateef’s Sweet 16 album.  Earl tells how this came about, “I taught beginning guitar students at a music store when I was in high school.  Yusef would come into the store to use one of the music studios to compose when he was in town.  One day he heard me practicing and walked into my room and was surprised that someone my age would be playing so much guitar.  So, out of encouragement to me, he invited me to play at some of his gigs and to even appear on one of his recordings.  Because Yusef paid some attention to me, others began to notice me and I started to meet a lot of people when they came to town.” 

 At age seventeen he recorded with George Benson.  Earl describes it this way, “The first record I recorded with George was in 1971 on an album called White Rabbit for CTI. I was very nervous at the studio. It was like being thrown into the ‘Lion’s Den.’  Here I am, right out of high school and I find myself in the studio with Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Billy Cobham, and George.  I recorded several tunes but actually only one of the songs I’m on made it on the album.  It was still a great experience. A year or so later George invited me to tour with a bass player, a drummer, and himself.  We did very well and it was a lot of fun.

In 1974 Earl was invited to play in Chick Corea’s Return to Forever which after two months, everyone agrees was a miscast.  As Earl tells it, “I love Chick’s music.  I was very good friends with Lenny White and Stanley Clarke.  Bill’s tenure in the band ended abruptly and they had no one for their upcoming gigs.  So, I agreed to fill in.  They were, of course, a very electric band, so I, for about a month, played a Les Paul with that group…. But, it was just something that wasn’t going to work. I am too different of a player.”  

Earl Klugh met pianist/composer Bob James in 1978 and in 1981 Klugh and Bob James won a Grammy for their six-song smooth jazz album “One on One.”

Russell Malone was born in 1963 in Albany, Georgia, and started on the guitar at age four.

Russell did a lot of playing in the Atlanta area when he was a young player.  From 1988-90 he worked in jazz organist Jimmy Smith’s band, then from 1991-94 with singer Harry Connick Jr.’s big band.  From 1995-to 1999 Malone toured internationally with jazz pianist and singer Diana Krall.  Since that time Russell has toured the world as one of the signature jazz guitar players of his generation.

David Frackenpohl is a wonderful straight-ahead jazz guitarist.  An Atlanta native, he went on to graduate from the University of North Texas.  Along with his busy performance schedule, Dave oversees the jazz guitar program at Georgia State University.  

Jody Hughes performed on the prestigious stages of Carnegie Hall, the Grand Ole Opry, and the Ryman Auditorium.  He keeps busy playing jazz, pop, and bluegrass music on both his guitar and his banjo.

Grant Green Jr. was born in St. Louis in 1955 and now resides in the Atlanta area. At age fourteen he moved to Detroit with his legendary guitarist father, Grant Green, who died ten years later.  During his Detroit years, his neighbors were Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, members of the Four Tops and the Temptations as well as Gladys Knight.  Along with his solo career, Grant is a member of the group Masters of Groove with famed drummer Bernard Purdie. 

Drummer JIMMY COBB,  GRANT JR.

Trey Wright grew up in North Atlanta and currently lives in Roswell, Georgia.  He studied at the University of Georgia in Athens and later earned a Master’s degree from Georgia State University. Wright currently oversees the jazz guitar department at Kennesaw State University in the Atlanta area.  Traveling the world as a performer Trey also stays active gigging around the Atlanta area.

Trey Wright

Describing himself as a “late bloomer” on the guitar, Rod Harris Jr. was first drawn to the influential electric music of Jimi Hendrix.  When his guitar teacher introduced him to the styles of Miles Davis and Wes Montgomery, he quickly focused on developing skills as a jazz guitarist. Rod went on to study at Georgia State University.  He has worked with and traveled the world with Neo-Soul legend Musiq Soulchild.  He continues an active schedule as a performing artist. 

Rick Lollar was born in Tallahassee, Florida, and was playing blues guitar at age thirteen. Now he makes his home in Atlanta and his guitar work is blues-drenched yet stamped with the harmonic and rhythmic invention of jazz.  Rick has worked with his guitar hero, Jimmy Herring (Herring is currently on tour with jazz guitar great, John McLaughlin) as well as singer Elvis Costello.

Dan Barasza was born in Detroit but makes Atlanta his home now.  Dan received his B.A. in Jazz Composition and Arranging from Berklee College in Boston and his Master’s with a major in Jazz Pedagogy from the University of Miami.  He keeps himself busy gigging in the Atlanta area.  

Though born in New York, and playing the guitar since age thirteen, it was when he relocated to New Orleans in 1973 that Sal Gentile fell in love with jazz.  Moving to Atlanta in 1985 Sal has focused on playing traditional jazz in local establishments.

Ede Wright has lived in Atlanta since 1989, moving from Tampa, FL where he received his first guitar at age seven,  Wright was born into a musical family in  San Francisco, CA.  He is a modern jazz and fusion guitarist with incredible technique. 

For Gypsy Jazz and traditional jazz, Dan Coy keeps busy around the Atlanta area, as well as Charles Williams and his Gypsy Jazz group Bonaventure. 

Another Atlanta jazz guitar lover, Ed Benson, published the quarterly journal Just Jazz Guitar from 1994 to May 2016.  Not a professional guitarist, Benson served as senior vice president for Macy’s Department Store and at his retirement from Macy’s began the magazine at the prompting of luthier Bob and Cindy Benedetto.

JGT’s Bob Bakert

Of course, Jazz Guitar Today’s Bob Bakert has been part of Atlanta’s jazz guitar scene for many years.  Originally from Buffalo, NY, Bob’s guitar talents have graced many of the outstanding venues of the greater Atlanta area.  Bob and colleague, Joe Perry, started Jazz Guitar Today to promote a greater love and awareness of jazz guitar worldwide.


The Velvet Note in Alpharetta is an exceptional jazz club now open Thursday through Sunday.  

Mike Stern at the Velvet Note

In Decatur, there is Brew and Bird that offers great music and seven kinds of award-winning wings right in the heart of the South.

The Callanwolde Fine Arts Center is a twelve-acre park that has offered a series of jazz including their ‘Jazz on the Lawn” concerts for the last twenty-three years.  

The Third Door in Marietta is a restored 1920s filling station designed with food, music, and event rooms along with live jazz music.

The Cigar City Club is an upscale, yet relaxed establishment that offers live jazz music regularly.

St. James Jazz Club offers live jazz Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings.  

Every September Atlanta also has its own Jazz Festival which is one of the biggest free jazz festivals in the US.  

Trey Wright has a highly active jazz guitar program at Kennesaw State University with numerous jazz guitar ensembles, combos, and jazz bands.  David Franckenpohl runs an outstanding jazz guitar program within the music department at Georgia State University. Emory University has an excellent jazz guitar program that is chaired by Dan Barasza.


Dr. Barth is the author of Voices in Jazz Guitar: Great Performers Tell about Their Approach to Playing (Mel Bay) available at Amazon.com and elsewhere.  

(This article was written with research assistance from Bob Bakert, Trey Wright, Dave Frackenpohl, Rod Harris Jr., and Kathy Parker.)


Subscribe to Jazz Guitar Today – it’s FREE!

Continue Reading

Join the JGT Newsletter

JGT Playlist of the Week

Updated Each Monday

See What's On Our Radar

Click Here

Trending