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JGT Series: Acoustic Flattops in Jazz #4, Iconic Jazz Guitarists

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Jazz Guitar Today contributor Marc Silver continues the ‘Acoustic Flattops in Jazz’ series by featuring a number of iconic jazz guitarists.

In this fourth and final installment of my “Acoustic Flattops in Jazz” series, rather than focusing on a single artist, this time around I’m going to feature several iconic jazz guitarists who have incorporated acoustic guitars into their recordings and live performances.

We’ve got a lot of ground to cover, so let’s get started…

Django Reinhardt – Minor Swing

Django Reinhardt was one of the early pioneers of jazz guitar as a master technician and adventurous improvisor. Because of a fire that almost took his life as a young man, Django’s third and fourth fingers of his left hand were so badly burned that he had to re-learn how to play guitar with just his index and second fingers for most of his career. He was known primarily to play a Selmer-Maccaferri flattop acoustic steel-string. This song, Minor Swing, is one of Reinhardt’s most well-known compositions.


Gabor Szabo – My Foolish Heart (Spellbinder)

Hungarian guitarist Gabor Szabo came to prominence in the 1960s playing his unique flavor of jazz on a Martin acoustic with a DeArmond magnetic soundhole pickup. One of the hardest things for any musician to accomplish is developing their own voice on the instrument. Szabo successfully created his own unique voice and style of interpreting melodies and playing improvised solos.


Kenny Burrell – Lotus Land (Guitar Forms)

Kenny Burrell on a flattop? Yes, you heard that right. Kenny is from Detroit and studied classical guitar with Joe Fava at Wayne State University. I know this because I also studied classical guitar with Mr. Fava many years later when I attended WSU. Even better, I got to see Kenny play live numerous times at Baker’s Keyboard Lounge in Detroit and he would always put down his blonde D’Angelico New Yorker to play a tune or two on his classical guitar. This incredible song from his Guitar Forms album is arranged and conducted by the great Gil Evans, and is reminiscent of the arranging Evans did for several of Miles Davis’ landmark records.


Earl Klugh – Vonetta (Earl Klugh)

Also from Detroit, Earl Klugh was turning heads as a young teen with his prodigious improvisation chops and ability to perform a wide variety of musical styles. He recorded with Yusef Lateef when he was just 16. A year or so later, Earl recorded the tune El Mar on George Benson’s very popular White Rabbit album and then went on the road with Benson playing fingerstyle nylon string. Very few people know that Klugh was also in Chick Corea’s Return To Forever band shredding on electric guitar. Earl never recorded with RTF and after leaving Chick he settled back into his first love… playing fingerstyle jazz on classical guitar. He hasn’t looked back since. This song is from Earl’s debut LP and showcases his fire, feel, and funk as a player, improvisor, and composer.


Al Di Meola – Mediterranean Sundance (Elegant Gypsy)

Al Di Meola became a widely-known guitar phenom when he joined Chick Corea’s Return To Forever band in the mid-70s. His extraordinary chops and tone launched him into guitar stardom in one of the most important fusion groups of the 1970s. When RTF broke up, Di Meola’s career as a solo artist went to the next level. This now-classic tune from his second album is a burning duet featuring Al and flamenco guitar master, Paco de Lucia. I remember the first time I heard Di Meola play his perfectly-picked, lightning-fast, palm-muted run on his Ovation acoustic during this solo… unforgettable.


Larry Coryell – Ju Ju (Two For The Road)

Larry Coryell is one of the most innovative and courageous guitarists of our time. He was in the Gary Burton Quartet that inspired Pat Metheny. He was a founding member of The Guitar Trio with John McLaughlin and Paco de Lucia, only to be replaced by Al Di Meola. He even arranged and recorded a solo guitar version of Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring! Who else would even think to undertake such an impossible task? This Wayne Shorter tune is from Coryell’s 1976 Two For The Road tour (and album) with fellow guitarist, Steve Khan. My band had the honor and pleasure to open for them when they came through Michigan on this tour.


Steve Khan – Peace (Evidence)

While Steve Khan is more well-known for his electric guitar exploits in the studio and iconic recordings with the likes of Steely Dan, his album Evidence is truly evidence of his deeply honed improv skills. On this album, Khan skillfully and beautifully navigates through some very beautiful tunes with challenging changes. He also plays all of his own accompaniment on the record.


John Scofield – Tulle (Quiet)

John Scofield’s totally unique guitar voice makes its way to the nylon string for this equally unique set of tunes, all but one composed by Sco. Throughout the Quiet album, he skillfully employs an eclectic horn section reminiscent of the horn arrangements on Herbie Hancock’s captivating Speak Like A Child album. Scofield did all these beautiful arrangements here and uses the horn section in a deeply personal way, accompanying himself through each tune. This Sco composition showcases yet another dimension of his masterful playing and writing.


Wolfgang Muthspiel – Cambiata (Live At Konzerthaus)

Equally proficient as an improvisor on electric and classical guitar, Muthspiel’s flawless technique, advanced harmonic sense, and the ability to musically and emotionally draw you into his six-string universe makes him a player you will want to get to know better… much better. When I hear Wolfgang play the nylon string, I can’t help but hear the influence of his predecessor, Ralph Towner. In the same breath, I would be sure to say that Muthspiel has fully developed his own voice on both the nylon string and electric guitar.

Final word…

My motivation for this extensive 4-part series was to hopefully help open your ears to the beauty, subtlety, and emotion of using flattop acoustic guitars in recording and live performance in a jazz improvisation setting. At the very least, my hope is that you have been exposed to acoustic jazz guitar music and artists that have inspired you to explore further.


Marc Silver is a guitarist, composer, and author, best known for writing the classic instruction book Contemporary Guitar Improvisation (Utilizing the Entire Fingerboard), which has been teaching guitar players around the world how to improvise since 1978. Visit online at MarcSilverGuitarImprov.com

Flattop Acoustics in Jazz? Absolutely!

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