The Music Plays On — Joe Pass

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There are only a handful of artists for which their qualities of talent, dedication, and perseverance are so uniquely tied together and overwhelmingly in abundance that their contribution to an artform is its own category. The jazz guitarist, Joe Pass, is one of those artists.

Joe Pass (1929–1994) was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey, and by the age of fourteen was working as a professional guitarist. Unfortunately, like so many jazz artists of the time, he developed an addiction to heroin and spent much of the 1950’s in prison. When he finally emerged, he began recording a series of albums for Pacific Jazz Records including,

Catch Me (1963)

For Django (1964)

Simplicity (1967)

During the Sixties, Pass steadily worked as a studio musician in LA and as a member of various touring jazz groups. But, Pass had to make up for lost time and this decade, to me, is one of hard work, refinement, and discovering his inner voice.

When Pass was signed to Pablo Records in 1970 by the great Norman Granz we start to hear something completely original. Through his incredible knowledge of music theory, he could provide a walking bassline and chords while simultaneously playing a solo. This had really never been done before, especially at this extraordinary level. You can hear this amazing feat in his 1974 album,

Virtuoso

And this incredible live performance of Stella by Starlight.

And in one of my all-time favorite album (and the album that clued me in to him when it was released,

Blues for Fred (1988)

There are two collaborations for which we can all be thankful for existing. The first is a trio that was formed with Pass, the great Oscar Peterson on piano, and Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen on bass. Their first recording won the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Performance by a Group in 1975.

The Trio (1973)

Here’s an incredible video of the trio on BBC with the drummer, Martin Drew, playing Just Friends.

Perhaps Pass will be best remembered for his duo partnership with the great Ella Fitzgerald, made during the Indian Summer of her career. They recorded six albums together, from Take Love Easy (1973).

One of my all-time favorite albums, Again (1976)

To their last album Easy Living (1986)

I’ll end with this incredible video of the two of them performing together in Hannover in 1975.

Written by

Music Director of the California Symphony and Las Vegas Philharmonic

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