Joe Pass

From Academic Kids

Joe Pass (born Joseph Anthony Passalaqua, January 13, 1929, New Brunswick, New Jersey, USA, died May 23, 1994, Los Angeles, California, USA), was a virtuoso jazz guitarist.

Missing image
Joe Pass from the cover of "Live at Donte's"

One of the greatest solo jazz artists of all time, Joe Pass also ranks as one of the great guitarists not only for his knowledge of the instrument and technical prowess, but also his compositional and improvisational skills.

Born into a non-musical family, Joe started to play the guitar when he was 9. He remembers his father Mariano, a steel mill worker, recognising early that his son had "a little something happening" and pushing him constantly to pick up tunes by ear, play pieces not written specifically for the instrument, practice scales (including whole-tone, chromatic and diminished) and not to "leave any spaces" - that is, to fill in the sonic space between the notes of the melody.

As early as 14, Joe started getting gigs and soon was playing with bands fronted by greats such as Tony Pastor and Charlie Barnet, honing his guitar skills and learning the music business. He began spending significant amount of time away from his home, traveling with small jazz groups and eventually moving from Pennsylvania to New York City. He did not pick up drinking and other bad habits from the musicians directly, but, in his words, "it was part of the whole scene". In a few years Joe fell victim to drug abuse, and spent much of the 1950s in relative obscurity.

Pass managed to emerge from it through a two-and-a-half-year stay at a (since discredited) drug rehabilitation program, Synanon. During that time he at first abandoned the instrument completely, and returned to playing very slowly. His first "comeback" record in 1962, titled "The Sounds of Synanon", finds him playing a solid body rock guitar donated to the program.

Pass recorded a series of albums during the 1960's for the Pacific Jazz label, including the early classics "Catch Me," "12-String Guitar," "For Django," and "Simplicity." In 1963, Pass received Downbeat Magazine's "New Star Award." Pass was also featured on Pacific Jazz recordings by Gerald Wilson, Bud Shank, and Les McCann. Pass toured with George Shearing in 1965. Mostly, however, during the 1960's he did TV and recording session work in Los Angeles. He was a sideman with Louis Bellson, Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughn, Joe Williams, Della Reese, Johnny Mathis, and worked on TV shows including the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, the Merv Griffin Show, The Steve Allen Show, and others. In the early 1970's, Pass and guitarist Herb Ellis were performing together regularly at Donte's jazz club in Los Angeles. This collaboration led to Pass and Ellis recording the very first album on the new Concord Jazz label, entitled simply "JAZZ/CONCORD" (#CJS-1), along with bassist Ray Brown and drummer Jake Hanna. In the early 1970's, Pass also collaborated a series of music books, and his "JOE PASS GUITAR STYLE" (written with Bill Thrasher) is considered a leading improvisation textbook for students of jazz.

It was Norman Granz, the iconic producer of "Jazz at The Philharmonic" and Verve records, who, upon hearing Pass in 1970, immediately recognised the "new talent" and signed him to Granz's new Pablo Records label (named for Granz's friend Pablo Picasso). In 1974, Pass released his landmark solo album "Virtuoso" on Pablo Records. Also in 1974, Pablo Records released the album "The Trio" featuring Oscar Peterson, Joe Pass, and Niels-Henning ěrsted Pedersen. "The Trio" won a Grammy award for best jazz performance. As part of the Pablo Records "stable," Pass also recorded with Benny Carter, Milt Jackson, Herb Ellis, Zoot Sims, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, and others.

In addition to his ensemble performances, the jazz community regards Joe Pass most significantly as a peerless solo guitarist. His solo style is marked by a sophisticated harmonic sense, counterpoint between improvised lead lines, bass figures and chords, spontaneous modulations, transitions from fast tempos to rubato passages, and a total command of the instrument. Pass's early style (influenced by guitarist Django Reinhardt and saxophonist Charlie Parker), was marked by fast single-note lines and a flowing melodic sense. Pass had the unusual lifelong habit of breaking his guitar picks in half and playing only with the smaller part. As Pass made the transition from ensemble to solo guitar performance, he preferred to abandon the pick altogether, and play fingerstyle. He found this enabled him to execute his harmonic concepts and counterpoint more effectively. His series of solo albums, "Virtuoso" (volumes 1 through 4), is a must-have for any serious jazz collector.


Selected discography

Solo albums

  • The Stones Jazz
  • Virtuoso
  • Virtuoso II
  • Virtuoso III
  • Virtuoso IV
  • Virtuoso Live!
  • At Montreux Jazz Festival
  • Montreux '77 - Live
  • I Remember Charlie Parker
  • University of Akron Concert
  • Blues for Fred
  • What Is There to Say
  • Songs for Ellen

With Oscar Peterson

  • A Salle Pleyel
  • Porgy and Bess
  • The Good Life (with Niels Pedersen)
  • The Trio (with Niels Pedersen)
  • The Paris Concert (with Niels Pedersen)
  • The Giants (with Ray Brown)
  • If You Could See Me Now (with Niels Pedersen, Martin Drew)

With Niels-Henning ěrsted Pedersen

  • Chops
  • Northsea Nights
  • Digital at Montreux

With Ella Fitzgerald

  • Take Love Easy
  • Sophisticated Lady
  • Fitzgerald and Pass... Again
  • Speak Love
  • Easy Living

With other guitarists

  • For Django (with John Pisano)
  • Joe's Blues (with Herb Ellis)
  • Jazz Concord (with Herb Ellis)
  • Seven Come Eleven (with Herb Ellis)
  • Two for the Road (with Herb Ellis)
  • Ira, George And Joe (with John Pisano)
  • Summer Nights (with John Pisano)
  • Appassionato (with John Pisano)
  • Duets (with John Pisano)
  • Live at Yoshi's (with John Pisano)
  • My Song (with John Pisano)

Selected bibliography

External links

nds:Joe Pass


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