Thursday, September 17, 2009

Heated Spots, Acoustic Jazz Guitar Duets

Only a handful of acoustic jazz guitar duets was recorded prior to WW II. The first significant jazz guitar duets on record were played by Lonnie Johnson and Eddie Lang late 1920s, mostly blues and blues-oriented originals with Johnson picking out melodies backed by Lang's robust chording, although Lang also contributed a brief solo turn occasionally. A couple of years later Lang recorded two original duets with guitarist Carl Kress ('Pickin' My Way' and 'Feelin' My way', Guitar Mania pt. 1 & 2), these duets were more complex than the Johnson-Lang collaboration, consisting of various strains in different keys. Both players have solo space, though Lang has most of the singlestring leads.

After Lang's untimely passing away in 1933 a new dimension in jazz guitar duets was introduced in 1934 with the release of Carl Kress and Dick McDonough's recording of 'Stage Fright' and 'Danzon', two original masterpieces. You may listen to the original recording of 'Stage Fright' in the inserted video below

Carl Kress and Dick McDonough later recorded 'Chicken a la Swing' and 'Heat Wave' for Brunswick in 1937, two more masterpieces of acoustic jazz guitar duets, and in 1941 Carl Kress teamed with fellow guitarist Tony Mottola to record a handful of transcription records to be used during intermission of radio programs. From then on the acoustic jazz guitar duets have been rare moments in recorded jazz, a diehard follower of the tradition, Marty Grosz, puts it this way: "By the end of World War II, as the promise of unfettered volume was seducing jazz guitarists, the sound of strings resounding on a guitar's spruce top was replaced by the stentorian tone produced by vacuum tubes housed in a trunk-sized box called an amplifier." And he adds his point of view: "Amplified guitars engender the same sort of dismay in acoustic players that electric keyboards arouse in classical pianists. The phrase, "where do I plug in?" is anathema to both groups. Is there a way to check the proliferation of artificially boosted music? Probably not, short of providing a link between amplification and terminal scrofula" (quoted from slevenotes with the cd shown below).

Marty Grosz (b.1930) is one of a handful of devoted followers of the original acoustic jazz guitar duo tradition, initially inspired by the works of Lang, Kress, McDonough a.o. and like them originally a banjoist playing tenor banjo. The transition from banjo to guitar in jazz context is a crucial chapter of the jazz guitar history seldom discussed, but one of the aspects is that some of the pioneer jazz guitar players (i.e. Carl Kress) tuned the guitar in a way like the tenor banjo at the upper four strings while the two lower strings were tuned particularily lower than normal pitch to gain a fuller sound and to support the performer in transisting from banjo fretwork fingering to guitar. This procedure also helped evolving a new way of playing the guitar using a plectrum to play complex chordal melody lines instead of singlestring leads as evolved by Eddie Lang. Combining the two ways of playing the instrument in a guitar duo you have the initial set-up of the classic acoustic jazz guitar duet as demonstrated in the video above.
Marty Grosz has earlier recorded a couple of LP albums featuring acoustic jazz guitar duets, late 1970s Grosz and fellow guitarist Wayne Wright made two albums for the small Aviva label, unfortunately never re-issued on cd. Luckily, last year a compilation of acoustic jazz guitar duets featuring Marty Grosz and Mike Peters, 'Acoustic Heat' recorded 1998-2005 was released by Sackville (CD 2-2071) containing 20 tracks of music that pays its due to the tradition featuring six titles credited to jazz guitar pioneer Carl Kress and a series of compositions by equally important early jazz and swing guitarists Eddie Lang, Dick McDonough, Carmen Mastren, and Tony Mottola. A couple of tracks has guest performance by either clarinetist Ken Peplowski playing duet with Grosz, or pianist David Boeddinghaus in duet with Peters. The remaining tracks have Grosz usually providing rhythm and chordal solo work while Peters provides the excellent singlestring leads, however, both also have a solo performance each. The repertoire of the disc sticks to classic jazz, tracklist and audio clips available by clicking picture of cd-cover above. - If you are interested in the classic acoustic jazz guitar duet formula, this cd is highly recommended. As stated in a review at AMG: "This is great music for freeway driving, weekend gardening, or immoderate consumption of food and drink among trusted friends." However, in the sleve notes Marty Grosz also gives a warning: " Do not listen to more than four tracks at one time. Overexposure to guitar duets can result in a condition known as "Plunkitis" for which no known cure exists"!

To end this I found an example of an impromptu rehearsal of "Stage Fright" as performed by Marty Grosz and fellow brother-in-arms of the acoustic jazz guitar duet formula, Bucky Pizzarelli, recorded at an informal meeting in noisy surroundings at a hospital's lounge - hope you to enjoy, anyway.



Anonymous Hans said...

Thanks Jo for this great contribution and for your help. I hope my PC (and I) will be on-line soon.


4:02 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm listening at present to "Let Your Fingers Do The Walking" by Marty Grosz and Wayne Wright on the vinyl I got in '79. Nice stuff. I'm also a great fan of Kress/McDonough, and Kress's duets with Tony Mottola and George Barnes. I have more duets on vinyl, love this style of guitar.
Dave Kirkpatrick

1:07 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home