The Book Of Jazz - online reference book

Its Nature, Instruments, Sources, Sounds, Development & Performers

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The Guitar
man in the last decade of the nineteenth century he was one of countless Negroes who, in the post-slavery years, were able to make their own living out of music. Leadbelly, who without urbanizing his style became a successful night club attraction in the North before his death in 1949, was one of the last survivors of an era in which the instruments that told a primitive and potent blues story grew side by side with ragtime and the brass band, interlocking more and more frequently until jazz was born.
In the earliest years of recorded jazz the two parallel forms, ragtime on the banjo and blues on the guitar, were preserved respectively in the work of Fred Van Eps, playing in the minstrel show style typical of the early 1900s, and of Blind Lemon Jefferson, a contemporary and frequent associate of Leadbelly. Both can be heard in the "Backgrounds" tracks of Riverside's History of Classic Jazz; they were recorded not long after World War I.
Little change was effected in jazz banjo during the early 1920s; the guitar for the most part was quiescent. Every band had its banjo man: Will Johnson or Bud Scott with Oliver, Charlie Dixon with Henderson, Freddy Guy with Ellington, Lew Black with the New Orleans Rhythm Kings, Johnny St. Cyr with the early version of Armstrong's Hot Five. Their four-to-the-bar strumming threaded the rhythm section together but added little or nothing of durable solo value. Lonnie Johnson, a guitarist who had played on the Mississippi riverboats with Charlie Creath, became a recording artist in 1925 and soon had to his credit the luster of disc associations with Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong. With him came the first signs of melodic continuity and tonal depth, of a maturation beyond the metallic plunking that had characterized so many of his predecessors.
Eddie Lang was the first to elevate the guitar to the stature of horns and piano as an adult jazz voice. Lang could play the blues with an earthy feeling that, for some Southern-oriented skeptics, belied his Philadelphia background; but he could also do for the guitar what Bk was doing for the comet and Venuti for the violin, in the sense that all three combined unprecedented tonal purity with the gently swinging grace of an aeriaHst. In