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Jazz Guitar In Dallas



Jazz Guitar Today and JGT contributor Joe Barth take a look at the players and the jazz guitar scene in Dallas, Texas.

Dallas is the modern metropolis in the north-central segment of Texas.  It is filled with iconic cowboy culture, cattle yards, great places to get delicious Tex-Mex cuisine, and the wonderful Arboretum and Botanical Gardens. Dallas also boasts of a vibrant arts scene including jazz guitar.

Dallas is well known for its Deep Ellum district. Starting around 1873 the area east of downtown around Elm Street was filled with establishments that were open to all immigrant communities.  By the 1920s the nightclubs, cafes, theaters, and domino parlors were where the greatest jazz and blues artists of the day performed.  Artists like Blind Lemon Jefferson, Robert Johnson, “Leadbelly” Ledbetter, Lightin’ Hopkins, and Bessie Smith graced the thirty-plus music venues of the area.

 Musicians from the greater Dallas area are saxophonist David “Fathead” Newman, King Curtis, Ornette Coleman, and Dewey Redman as well as pianist-singer Norah Jones and trumpeter Roy Hargrove.

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The great pioneer of jazz guitar, Charlie Christian, was born in 1916 in Bonham, Texas just north of Dallas but grew up in Oklahoma City when his family moved there when he was a small child.  Charlie wanted to play the saxophone in the school band but was forced to play the trumpet which he did not enjoy. He quit the trumpet to pursue his interest in baseball at which he excelled. Taking up the guitar at age twelve he was instructed by a local guitarist to improvise on three songs, “Rose Room,” “Tea for Two,” and ‘Sweet Georgia Brown” to which some of the local band leaders were surprised how well he could play. In 1939, record producer John Hammond recommended Charlie to Benny Goodman who hired him and took him to New York.  

Charlie was one of the first guitarists to play the instrument electrified so his solos could be heard above the band. He approached soloing as the saxophonists of his day would.  In New York, after the Goodman band did their show, Charlie would go the after-hours sessions at clubs like Minton’s in Harlem where he would play these electrifying solos that impressed musicians such as Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, and drummer Kenny Clarke.  Sadly, he died of tuberculosis at age twenty-five. Because of his imaginative bebop improvisions, Charlie Christian influenced every jazz guitarist who followed him, namely, Barney Kessel, Jim Hall, Tal Farlow, Herb Ellis, and Jimmy Raney. 

A short distance south of where Charlie Christian was born, Herb Ellis was born in Farmersville, Texas in 1921.  Herb fell in love with the guitar as a child listening to George Barnes on the radio.  Majoring in music at North Texas State University he had to focus on the bass because there was no guitar major.  Dropping out of college, he began traveling as a musician in bands until he joined the Jimmy Dorsey band in 1945. After three years he formed his own trio, the Softwinds, patterned after the Nat King Cole Trio, and played in it until 1953 when he replaced Barney Kessel in the Oscar Peterson Trio, that also included bassist Ray Brown.  Since that time Ellis became one of the busiest jazz guitarists on the international jazz scene.  Tiring of all the travel Herb worked as a studio guitarist in Los Angeles in his later life.  He died in 2010.

Phil Aelony keeps himself busy both as a film/gaming composer as well as guitarist in the fusion group the Funky Knuckles. Tim Bauckman and Jason Bucklin also keep themselves busy playing around town.

Having done his undergraduate work at the University of South Dakota Tom Burchill moved to the Dallas area to work on his master’s degree at the University of North Texas.  Tom is a member of Brasuka, a Brazilian group committed to music in the style of Sergio Mendez and the Brazil ’66.  Christine DeRose is busy teaching jazz guitar and local performing including being the first-call guitarist for the Dallas Symphony in their Pops performances.  Ethan Ditthardt is also busy playing around town and shares the guitar chairs with Phil Aelony in the Funky Knuckles which is a little big band, jam band, and funk band carrying on the Miles Davis electro funk mode to a new level.

Born south of Dallas in Port Arthur, Texas in 1937 Ted Dunbar started on guitar at age seven and was playing gigs as a teenager. Majoring in pharmaceuticals in college he worked his entire life as a pharmacist and as a guitarist.

Cornell Dupree was born in Fort Worth in 1942, self-taught on the guitar, and as a teenager became a working musician.  Moving to New York, he became a member of King Curtis’ band. Playing primarily R&B and soul music, he did over 2,500 recording sessions including Aretha Franklin, Bill Withers, Donny Hathaway and others.  He also did bluesy jazz dates with his group Stuff and later the Gadd Gang (both with drummer Steve Gadd).

Fred Hamilton spent his formative years in Denver, CO under the influence of Johnny Smith, he later taught in Bowling Green, Ohio, in Nova Scotia and Montreal before becoming a professor of Jazz Guitar at the University of North Texas near Dallas. A wonderful player, he is best known for his teaching and instruction books he wrote.

Born in San Antonio, Terry Hankins came to the Dallas area to study at North Texas State University where he now serves as an adjunct faculty member. Terry also is busy as a player in the Dallas area and has recently released a solo guitar album. 

Though Al Hendrickson (1920-2017) grew up in Los Angeles, he was born in Eastland, Texas. By age twenty, he was playing in the Artie Shaw Orchestra, he became a “behind the scenes” guitar player, working in the recording studios.  He did over 15,000 recording dates and played on over 5,000 movie soundtracks.

Derrick Horne is a first-call guitarist who appears on over 600 recordings.  He teaches at his alma mater SMU and lives in Plano, Texas. Noel Johnston earned his B.M. degree from USC in Los Angeles, he then returned to Sydney, Australia teaching for a while before moving to Dallas to study at the University of North Texas. Currently busy playing and teaching in the Dallas area he founded the Lone Star Music Academy and is active in the worship band of his church in Fort Worth.   Gerhard Kraus was born in Southern Germany and has lived in the Dallas area for several years. He has performed with Hank Jones, Joe Pass, Lynn Seaton, and many others.

Guitarist Mark Lettieri. Photo credit: Francesco Luongo

Bob Lanzetti and Mark Lettieri both perform in the contemporary jazz group Snarky Puppy. Bob, from New Jersey, came to Dallas to study at the University of North Texas where he met the musicians who would form the core of Snarky Puppy. He continued with the group but returned to New York in live. Mark lives in Fort Worth and in addition to Snarky Puppy is busy as a session guitarist and composer in the area. Mark is also the founding member of the jam-band The Fearless Flyers. Add to them Chris McQueen who also is a guitarist in Snarky Puppy family of musicians. Chris grew up in Austin, Texas attended the University of North Texas in Dallas but moved back to Austin.

Richard McLure is partial to the sound of Contemporary Jazz and Jazz Fusion, busy as a performer, and teaches at Dallas County Community College.

Guitarist Davy Mooney

Originally from New Orleans, Davy Mooney moved to New York City for six years after Hurricane Katrina then moved back to New Orleans to work on his doctorate at the University of New Orleans where he was also an adjunct professor. In 2017 Davy was appointed professor of jazz guitar at the University of North Texas.  Davy’s dissertation at the University of New Orleans was on Joe Pass’s album “For Django.”  Davy says of this 

“…his early Pacific stuff and especially “For Django” are masterpieces as well. I wanted to analyze all the songs on “For Django” and discover the motifs he would develop in his solos.  I discovered that he would state a motif and then in his phrasing answer it.  Then (he would use) … this question and answer approach in developing his solo.  Other musicians do that too, such as Wes.  Joe’s solos are so compositional.  He wasn’t just playing licks.”

Check out Davy Mooney’s Jazz Guitar Today Video Lessons

Mooney has recorded seven CDs as a leader, and many others as a sideman. Hope of Home is his latest release, on Sunnyside Records, and features the talents of Brian Blade, Jon Cowherd, John Ellis, and Matt Clohesy, who also played on Mooney’s 2012 Sunnyside release Perrier St.

Paul Metzger started playing guitar in the late 1970s focusing on the pop-rock groups of that era.  Pursuing the sounds of George Benson, Steely Dan, and James Taylor, he quickly found himself in a musical rut.  Enrolling at the University of North Texas his focus was straight-ahead jazz and his abilities quickly enlarged.  Currently, he is teaching guitar at the University of North Texas and is busy as a performer in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Noah Myers attended the University of North Texas and continues to keep himself busy around the Dallas-Fort Worth area.  Tommy Nash can be heard playing country guitar around the Dallas area but is also a very capable jazz player. He also tours with the (Dixie) Chicks.  Another busy guitarist in the area is Todd Parsnow.

Born in Elk City, Oklahoma in 1933 then at age five his family moved to Denton, Texas, Jack Petersen started on the guitar at age fourteen but soon was playing rhythm guitar professionally in Western Swing bands.  In 1951 he started to study at North Texas State Teachers College. In 1958 Jack was doing studio work around Dallas until 1962 when he moved to Boston to begin the guitar department at Berklee College of Music.  In 1965 he returned to the Dallas area to work as a player but also teaching at North Texas State University.  In 1986 he was hired to begin a guitar department at the University of North Florida in Jacksonville and was there until 1999 and since has moved to Prescott, Arizona.

William Peters-Seymour did his senior recital at the University of North Texas in 2023 and has been making a name for himself as an up-and-coming guitarist in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Studying with the great Howard Roberts when he was nine years old, Clint Strong was a powerhouse of a player in jazz, country, and any other style he put his mind to. He played in Merle Haggard’s band for about six years.  Sadly in 2023, he suffered a major stroke that left his entire left side paralyzed.  

Andy Timmons made a lot of money playing for his glam band Danger Danger touring the world with the likes of Alice Cooper and Kiss as well as later being music director for Olivia Newton-John. Then from 1997 to 2015 Timmons played energetic jazz fusion with drummer Simon Phillips.  Born in Evansville, Indiana, majored in jazz guitar at the University of Miami, today he makes his home in McKinney, Texas.

Thomas Van Hoose has the largest private collection of Gibson Super 400 guitars and is the author of the book on that model. He is now a vintage guitar dealer operating from his home in Carrollton, Texas.

Bob Willis, the King of Western Swing, was born in Kosse, Texas in 1905 and died in 1975 in Fort Worth, Texas.  Though a fiddle player and singer he had a number of guitarists in his swing band. Guitarist Eldon Shamblin played with Willis from 1937-1943 and 1946-1955.  Shamblin was known as “The Chord Wizard” and is credited with modernizing the band’s sound with his sophisticated technique.  Shamblin’s improvised solo lines were referred to as “lean and terse.”  Bob Willis lived in numerous places in his life including California.  He opened and maintained, for a while, his club, The Bob Willis Ranch House in Dallas in 1949.  He and his band, the Texas Playboys, were instrumental in this style that incorporated jazz swing comping into country music.

Deep Ellum district of Dallas continues to have an exploding music scene, with a reborn Trees and Club Dada in addition to venues like the nearly 100-year-old Sons of Hermann Hall, Adair’s Saloon, The Bomb Factory, Ruins, Three Links, Reno’s, the intimate All Good Cafe, the funky trailer-park meets live music scene at Double Wide and a dynamic jazz and blues destination at The Free Man.

The Library Bar in the Warwick Melrose Hotel has a great lounge with live music.

Sandaga 183  outside Fair Park in South Dallas always has good music with good people.

Chocolate Secrets on Oak Lawn Avenue is a perfect place to have a glass of wine and a piece of chocolate while listening to live jazz on Wednesdays through Saturdays.

The Balcony Club in east Dallas has jazz seven nights a week.  Also in east Dallas, The Goat is an electric jazz bar.

The Scat Jazz Lounge on 4th Street in Fort Worth has live music from Thursday to Saturday.  

Steve’s Wine Bar on Industrial Street in Denton is a great place for wine and jazz.  

Pinky’s Champagne Room on Jennings Ave in Ft. Worth is a prodigious place for bubbly and great jazz.

University Jazz Programs 

The University of North Texas has one of the best guitar jazz programs in the country with Davy Mooney, Noel Johnston, Paul Metzger teaching jazz guitar, and Bokyung Byun and Arash Noori teaching classical guitar.

Thomas Burchill teaches jazz guitar at The University of Texas at Arlington as well as at Texas Christian University.

Derrick Horne teaches jazz guitar and is director of the jazz orchestra at Southern Methodist University.

This article was written with research assistance from Paul Metzger and Davy Mooney.

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