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A Tribute To Guitarist Ed Bickert



November 29, we celebrate the 90th anniversary of Ed Bickert’s birth. JGT contributor Joe Barth has compiled comments from other guitarists about his playing.

Ed Bickert is known for his velvety tone and sophisticated chord voicings on his old Telecaster guitar played through a Standel or Polytone amp.  Referred to as “the Canadian Jim Hall,” Ed is one of the jazz guitar greats all on his own.  When Paul Desmond called Ed to play on his Pure Desmond and the album later won a Grammy award, Ed’s reputation suddenly got much larger.

November 29, we celebrate the 90th anniversary of Ed’s birth.  In my twenty-five years of interviewing jazz guitarists, the topic of Ed Bickert has come up many times.  For this article, I have compiled and brought together many of the things that these great guitarists have said about Ed playing.

His Sound

Steve Abshire – I first heard Ed Bickert when I worked in a steady gig in Georgetown in the mid-1980s.  The bass player on the gig brought this recording in and the tone of the guitarists on the record was so warm and his voicings tight and right on the mark.  The bassist then said this guy is playing a Telecaster (laughter) and I could not believe my ears.

Peter Bernstein– He kind of comes out of a Jim Hall thing but it’s his own personality. Ed with his Telecaster is a testimony to the fact that the sound begins in your head and ears and then you can make any instrument work for you.  But you need the sound first in your head.  

Paul Bollenbeck – What a great sound and from a Telecaster!  When I lived in Washington DC I gave Ed a ride back to his hotel.  I opened the trunk of my funky Ford Pinto and Ed just threw his guitar, in a leather gig bag, into the trunk of my car.  I asked aren’t you worried about the guitar?  And he said, “That’s just a piece of junk.”  But that Tele served him well for a lot of years.  Ed is also one of the most melodic players.

Joshua Breakstone – Ed is a complete guitar player.  He can do it all and he gets such a great sound from his Telecaster.  Whether it is stating the melody, soloing, or comping, Ed does it all well. He can do anything.

Jimmy Bruno – He has a nice feel.  He is really swinging.  The only time I heard Ed Bickert was with the Boss Brass and he always sounded great.  He has such a great feel on this and such a strong sense of swing.  He is a great player.  

Rod Fleeman – The tone he gets out of a Fender Telecaster is unbelievable.  It is such a warm sound.  It just goes to show that it is not always about the equipment.  It is what the person is hearing in his head.  In the right hands, a 2×4 with some chicken wire sounds good (laughter)!  He is hearing all those beautiful sounds in his head and makes them come out of his fingers.

Jonathan Kreisberg – Wow, I can’t believe that is a Telecaster!  That’s the most hollowbodyish tone I have heard out of Telecaster.   Ed’s feel is a little different than Jim’s (Hall), but cool too.

John Pizzarelli – I love the sound of Ed’s Tele guitar through a Polytone amp. He comps wonderfully behind Rosemary Clooney.  It is some of Ed’s best playing. I don’t know if my dad (Bucky Pizzarelli) had much contact with him.  He is just a great player.

His Comping

Steve Abshire – I love the recording with him and Bill Mays (piano) as a duo.  Everything he does is so logical, economical, and thought out to support the soloist.  Ed is so musical with so much musical content in his solos.  More than with any other player, when I hear Ed comp I try to visualize in my mind how he is voicing and fingering those chords.

Steve Khan – It is amazing that he can get that sound with a Telecaster. Guys here referred to him as the Canadian Jim Hall. He has great dignity and a higher aesthetic in his playing. He comes from a place of having real respect for the song. There’s a love for melody, a love for harmony, a love for space, and this is a very beautiful recording. Sometimes, when you have these three instruments, a trombone, a guitar, and an acoustic bass, with no drums, you will have a very dry and sterile sound. A stiff, chunk, chunk, chunk, four to the bar feeling, but the approach from these great players was very warm and fluid.

Peter Leitch – It does sound like Ed’s approach of just playing behind the melody of the head.  We’ve done a couple of gigs together.  I love his playing but I didn’t want to play like him in terms of how he voices his chords.  I didn’t think I could, so I went a different way.

His Voicings

Peter Bernstein – I love his chordal playing, so clear in his voicings. Every note in his chord is not the same volume.  He has such control. I love his phrasing.  In this context, a duo with a horn is the hardest to solo on.

Anthony Wilson – In his comping, he uses all these voices that are darker and have 3rds and 7ths in the bottom and rootless which are more like left-hand piano voicings that Bill Evans would use.

How he conceives his lines

Jimmy Bruno – He always plays tasty solos whether they are short or long.  Always just the right stuff.  I like that. He always knocks me out.  Always classy playing.

Rod Fleeman – What a beautiful player, one of my favorites.  It’s a beautiful tune.  The first time I heard Ed was years ago on that live recording with Paul Desmond.  He is such a melodic player.  I love his lyrical approach.  

Peter Leitch – I love the live album Ed did with Desmond which was recorded in Toronto at Bourbon Street.  It has that great opening song called “Wendy” which was written for Wendy Cunningham, the wife of Bradley Cunningham.  After Bradley died, Wendy kept it going and Paul wrote the tune for her.  She still has a handwritten copy of the music.  She just lives around the corner from me.

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