Jazz is music that thrives on experimentation. Therefore, it is no surprise that many of the best jazz guitarists are those whose style was quite innovative. While it would be nearly impossible to list the best in any particular order, coming up with a few great ones is easy!
Joe Pass was one of the most influential guitarists in jazz, often using walking bass lines to hold together solos that featured chord inversions and melodic counterpoint among other techniques. Though perhaps best known for his proficiency as a soloist, Pass was also a dynamic performer in small ensembles.
Many jazz aficionados consider Wes Montgomery to be the greatest jazz guitarist of all time. He has influenced players from jazz notables like Pat Metheny to popular rockers like Jimi Hendrix. He created the Naptown Sound which uses the same note played an octave apart on two separate strings.
Freddie Green was a different type of jazz guitarist, playing primarily rhythm in a big band setting. He developed a chunky playing style that suppressed certain notes. It was this style that led to him being considered the most influential pioneer in big band guitar.
Django Reinhardt created a style of playing sometimes known as “hot jazz guitar”. The virtuoso player became important in the jazz world despite an injury when he was 18 years old that left him with two partially paralyzed fingers on his left hand.
Charlie Christian had an influential role in the development of the jazz styles known as bebop and cool jazz. It was his style of playing that helped transition the guitar from a rhythm instrument to a solo instrument. His influence went beyond other guitarists with musicians such as trumpeter Miles Davis even citing him as an influence.
When discussing the greatest jazz guitarists, it is easy to focus on the past and miss some of the more contemporary players. George Benson is one such modern player. He has won ten Grammy Awards, sold million of albums and released the first jazz album ever to be certified platinum. And the man is still going strong!
These jazz guitarists are just a few from a long list of players who made their mark on jazz and music in general. It is wonderful to think of all this talent from the past and present knowing there is even more to come in the future!