Friday, March 23, 2007

George Van Eps

George Van Eps (1913-1998) came from a talented musical family; his father Fred Sr. was a famous master of the ragtime banjo and a sound engineer, his mother played the piano, and he had three brothers, Bobby, Freddy and John, who were also professional musicians. Self-taught on the banjo, Van Eps began playing professionally at 11, and after falling under the influence of Eddie Lang two years later, he learned the guitar well enough to play alongside Lang for six months with Smith Ballew (1929). From there, Van Eps worked with Freddy Martin (1931-33), Benny Goodman (1934-35) and Ray Noble (1935-36) before moving to Hollywood to become a freelance musician, author of a guitar method book, and instrument designer. After returning to Noble in 1940-41, Van Eps worked in his father's recording lab for two years before returning to the freelance arena, where, among other things, he took part in the 1950s film and TV series 'Pete Kelly's Blues'.

George Van Eps is deservedly hailed as a pioneer of the harmonically sophisticated chordal/lead style of jazz guitar playing in the 1930'ies alongside notable guitarists like Dick McDonough and Carl Kress. However, this style of guitar playing was soon eclipsed in influence by the single-string idioms of Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt. Van Eps' solution to this situation was to design a seven-string guitar in the late 1930s that adds an extra bass string. Thus, he was able to play bass lines simultaneously with chords and lead solos, a jazz equivalent of fingerpicking often referred to as playing "lap piano,".

Van Eps only made a handful of recordings as a leader or unaccompanied soloist, including 'Mellow Guitar' (Columbia, 1956) and 'My Guitar', 'George Van Eps' Seven-String Guitar' and 'Soliloquy' for Capitol in the late 1960s. Serious illness in the early 1970s, plus a 1977 hand injury that resulted in three broken fingers, reduced his activities. However, Van Eps returned to the studio in 1991 for the first of three duo albums for Concord Jazz with his former student Howard Alden, mixing standards with a few Van Eps originals, and he shared a solo guitar album with Johnny Smith in 1994.

Above info supplied from a career profile by Richard S. Ginell, All Music Guide

More info on George Van Eps at the Classic Jazz Guitar web-site

I found a video fragment of a live performance by George Van Eps playing solo. Enjoy his 'lap piano' rendition of "I've Got a Crush on You"



Blogger Durium said...

Thanks Jo for posting this great contribution to a remarkable guitar player.


6:15 AM  

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