A List of Jazz Guitarists

Thomma Lyn Grindstaff
Playing guitar

Throughout the decades, an impressive roster of jazz guitarists have been making music for their fans. After getting its start in the late 1800s in New Orleans, jazz readily caught on as a distinctive art form in the early 1900s and has developed in brilliant, multi-faceted directions by means of talented artists whose musical gifts continue to bring new life and fresh dimensions to the genre.

The 1920s

The decade of the 1920s is called the Jazz Age for good reason. Jazz was brand new and gaining steam, moving across the country to New York, Chicago, and Kansas City. Great guitarists emerged and started to shape and define the genre.

Eddie Lang

Also known as Blind Willie Dunn, Eddie Lang is considered the first virtuoso on jazz guitar. He went professional in 1924 and played with the Mound City Blue Blowers. On the guitar, Lang was gifted both as a rhythm guitarist and as an accompanist for which he played European-inspired chord patterns. He developed a trailblazing style of soloing, combining runs with bright harmonics and distinctive chording. As Blind Willie Dunn, Lang played blues with Lonnie Johnson in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Lang also played with Bing Crosby and appeared alongside him in a film called The Big Broadcast.

Eddie Durham

In addition to playing the guitar, Eddie Durham was a gifted composer, arranger, and trombonist. He worked with various well-known orchestras, including those headed up by Count Basie and Bennie Moten. He developed an expressive soloing style that expanded the role of lead guitar in jazz. Durham was the arranger of Glenn Miller's famous song In the Mood, and he also co-wrote Topsy, which Benny Goodman turned into a hit. He got his start in 1924 with his own band and remained active through the 1980s, playing with the Harlem Blues and Jazz Band and touring Europe.

George Van Eps

George Van Eps pioneered the use of the seven-string guitar, which he called his "lap piano." He innovated a playing style in which harmonics played a significant role, and his liberal use of the seventh string brought solid bass lines to his solos and chords. Van Eps turned professional in 1924 and started working with the seven-string guitar in 1938. He played with Ray Noble, Freddy Martin, and Benny Goodman. He stayed active throughout the 1940s, '50s, '60s, and '70s, and after a break in the 1980s, he recorded albums for Concord Jazz in the 1990s.

The 1930s

Like the rest of the country during the Great Depression, the jazz genre struggled in the 1930s. Despite the hard times, talented musicians still made music. Halfway through the decade, swing music emerged and, inspired by its popularity, more and more bandleaders turned to jazz.

Django Reinhardt

Belgian-born Django Reinhardt is one of jazz's most important guitarists. Of Romany ancestry, he created a brand new sound known as Gypsy jazz. He lost two fingers in an accident that occurred in 1928. Though he had to modify his playing technique, he didn't let the loss of those fingers slow him down. His career took off in the middle of the 1930s when he formed the first major jazz band in Europe. He toured with Duke Ellington in the 1940s and remained active on the music scene until his death in 1953.

Oscar Moore

Oscar Moore found his musical niche in swing jazz. From 1937 to 1947, he played with the Nat King Cole Trio, during which time he scored a major hit in 1946 with the piece I Love You for Sentimental Reasons. He was voted the number one jazz guitarist from 1945 to 1947 by the readers of Down Beat magazine. His guitar solos were celebrated for their melodic voicing, and he was known as a sensitive and intuitive accompanist.

Tony Mottola

Tony Mottola got his start in 1936, touring with an orchestra led by George Hall. For decades until his retirement in 1988, Mottola worked as a sessions guitarist and released numerous solo albums. In the 1940s, he played with the studio orchestra for CBS radio and backed luminaries like Perry Como and Frank Sinatra. He also played with the orchestra that backed The Tonight Show from 1958 to 1972. In the 1980s, Mottola toured with Frank Sinatra and played at the White House and Carnegie Hall. As a jazz guitarist, he was known for the expressiveness and warmth of his playing.

The 1940s

Jazz was strongly affected by the second World War since many musicians wound up enlisting or being drafted. They took their music back up, though, when they returned, and many new talents emerged. The latter part of the decade saw the development of bebop as a subgenre.

Charlie Christian

Charlie Christian played guitar professionally for only two years before his life was tragically cut short by tuberculosis at age 25, but in that brief time, his spectacular talent made him a jazz legend who influenced countless musicians and continues to impact music to this day. In 1939, he joined Benny Goodman's orchestra and until 1941, he played jazz with Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk. He played guitar solos with a novel single string technique that ushered in the bebop genre, profoundly influencing not only jazz but also rock and roll. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1990.

Bill DeArango

Like Charlie Christian, Bill DeArango was a hugely talented guitarist who helped develop the jazz style known as bebop, which emphasized musical complexity and instrumental virtuosity. His glory years were the 1940s, during which he played jazz with trumpet legend Dizzy Gillespie and saxophone legend Charlie Parker and recorded his best known classic jazz pieces Anthropology, Ol' Man Bebop, and A Night in Tunisia. He based his guitar style on that of jazz pianists and saxophonists and wowed his audiences with his rapid and complex solo work.

Mary Osborne

As a fan of Charlie Christian, Mary Osborne was profoundly influenced by his style, and she became the only woman guitarist to make a strong mark on the 1940s jazz scene. She became good friends with Christian, and he gave her solid advice that helped her enhance her own style. The new Gibson ES-150 with its single-coil pickup also helped shape Osborne's sound. She became a big part of New York's jazz scene, recording with Terry Shand and Bob Chester and jamming at Minton's Playhouse with the likes of Art Tatum and Dizzy Gillespie. She performed, recorded, and taught guitar until her death in the early 1990s.

Chuck Wayne

Rising to fame in the 1940s through his work with the George Shearing Quintet, Chuck Wayne was a key figure on the jazz scene, playing, performing, and recording until the 1990s. He was a master of melody, playing beautifully articulated notes at lightning speed and developing a style of chord melody using a pick along with three of his fingers. In the 1950s, he worked as music director for Tony Bennett. He recorded with numerous other artists, including George Wallington, the Bill Harris Big Eight, and Slam Stewart. He also released six solo albums.

Luiz Bonfá

Luiz Bonfá infused jazz with his native Brazilian music and made a worldwide impact with his unique sound. He could play in a myriad of styles that ranged from bossa nova to classical to off-the-cuff improvisational genius. He got his start in 1946 as a bandleader and developed a technique in which he used his guitar to simulate samba drumming. He arrived on the New York jazz scene in 1957 and enjoyed immediate success touring with Mary Martin. He made his most famous recording, Manhã de Carnaval, which he composed for Marcel Camus' film Black Orpheus. Bonfá released more than fifty albums between 1945 and 1996.

Barney Kessel

A master of jazz and swing, Barney Kessel was ranked as the number one jazz guitarist in polls by Playboy, Down Beat, and Esquire from 1947 through 1960. He became a protégée of Charlie Christian, who encouraged him to develop his own unique style on jazz guitar. Kessel came up with a technique that made use of diminished inversions, harmonic improvisation, and melodies based on chording. He recorded with jazz legends like Artie Shaw and Billie Holiday and released more than sixty albums throughout his career, which lasted through the early 1990s.

Tiny Grimes

Active from the 1940s through the 1970s, Tiny Grimes was another guitarist who was inspired and influenced by Charlie Christian. His style could be described as a hybrid of jazz, swing, and bop. From 1943 to 1944, he played with the Art Tatum trio. His most famous recordings are the jazz piece Red Cross and the song Romance Without Finance, on which he also lent his vocals. In 1952, he was the headliner for the Moondog Coronation Ball, which has been described as the first rock concert.

Les Paul

Les Paul
Les Paul

Rolling Stone ranks Les Paul number eighteen on its list of the 100 greatest guitarists. He has been described as a virtuoso who helped chart the course of the development of modern music by inventing the solid-body electric guitar. As a player and performer, Les Paul hit his stride in the 1940s by playing licks nobody else could touch, and he continued breaking new ground throughout the decades to come until his death in 2009. His jazz style was rich in improvisational acumen and harmonic genius, and he developed innovative technologies to produce novel musical sounds of which nobody else could ever have conceived.

Hank Garland

Also known as Sugarfoot, Hank Garland was hailed by Elvis Presley as "one of the finest guitar players anywhere in the country," and the two men worked together from 1957 to 1961. Garland, who played both jazz and country, got his start in 1946, playing at the Grand Old Opry. His most famous song, Sugar Foot Rag, continues to awe and inspire guitar players today. As a jazz guitarist, Garland played incredibly smooth and melodic licks inspired by jazz piano and saxophone. He was a productive sessions guitarist and worked with Johnny Cash and Pasty Cline.

Tal Farlow

Tal Farlow had huge hands that could reach tremendous spans on a guitar fretboard, earning him the nickname of Octopus. He developed a new technique for jazz called false harmonics, which he used to play harmonics over the entire range of the fretboard. Farlow turned professional in 1949, playing with Red Norvo Trio, and he went on to play with Artie Shaw in the 1950s and release a series of albums. Isn't It Romantic, the best-known song from Farlow's album Tal, was released in 1956 and featured his false harmonics technique.

Herb Ellis

Herb Ellis got his start in the 1940s, playing with the Casa Loma Orchestra and the Jimmy Dorsey Orchestra. In the 1950s, he played with the Oscar Peterson Trio and worked with such jazz luminaries as Louis Armstrong and Harry "Sweets" Edison. Following his work with the Trio, he toured with Ella Fitzgerald and did studio work in Southern California. Ellis was lauded by fellow jazz guitarist Les Paul, who said that Ellis' style was guaranteed to make his listeners swing.

The 1950s

In the 1950s, bebop maintained the tremendous popularity it had gained in the 1940s. New subgenres such as cool jazz and avant-garde developed, and the decade saw the formation of the first jazz festival in Newport, Rhode Island.

Chet Atkins

Chet Atkins Painting
Chet Atkins

Chet Atkins, also known as Mr. Guitar, was widely regarded as a genius not only on jazz guitar, but on any other style he played, including country, classical, and folk. He was one of the music legends who helped pave the way for rock and roll. He developed a unique fingerpicking style on guitar in which he used his fingers along with a thumbpick. As a young musician, Atkins was inspired by jazz legend Django Reinhardt, and his most famous jazz recording, Jazz from the Hills, came along in 1952, offering a delightful blend of jazz, country, and swing.

Sal Salvador

Sal Salvador became famous for his improvisational ability and his groundbreaking bebop jazz style. He got his start in 1950 as a staff guitarist at Columbia Records, and in 1960, he formed a band called Colors in Sound with which he toured and recorded albums. Salvador was also notable as an instructor of jazz guitar, writing books and teaching at Western Connecticut State University and the University of Bridgeport.

Derek Bailey

As a pioneer of free jazz, Derek Bailey honed a style that was marked by fluid and unending improvisation. He got his start in the 1950s as a studio and show band musician. He took part in literally hundreds of albums with other artists such as Buckethead, Brian Eno, and Pat Metheny, among many others. As a solo artist, his most famous albums include Lace, Improvisation, and Aida. He compared musical improvisation to the art of conversation with all its various moods and intonations and developed sophisticated jazz techniques such as combining harmonics with fretted notes, creating sounds that nobody had ever heard before.

Wes Montgomery

Iconic musician Wes Montgomery shaped the course of jazz guitar and also the course of rock and roll with his masterful playing and innovative methods and bluesy melodic lines. He honed a one-of-a-kind technique that used his thumb in lieu of a pick to pluck a string up and down. Montgomery rose to prominence in the late 1950s when he and his brothers formed a band called the Mastersounds. In the 1960s, he signed with Verve Records, where he released critically acclaimed albums. His song A Day in the Life spent 37 weeks at the top slot of Billboard's jazz chart.

Howard Roberts

When he was growing up, Howard Roberts learned his jazz chops from blues musicians, and blues remained a strong component of his style. He arrived in California in 1950 and soon got work recording with notable musicians like Henry Mancini and Chico Hamilton. He made albums with both Verve and Capitol Records. Roberts is also known for playing guitar for popular television show themes including The Twilight Zone, The Flintstones, and The Munsters. He toured and recorded through the 1960s and began teaching jazz in the 1970s.

Cal Collins

Cal Collins got his start in the 1950s playing bluegrass mandolin, but after listening to music by Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt, he switched over to jazz guitar. In 1976, he became the lead guitarist for Benny Goodman's band. He recorded several solo albums and was lauded for his unique improvisational techniques and style, which were influenced by blues and Texas swing.

Gene Bertoncini

Gene Bertoncini, hailed as the Architect of the Guitar, developed his fluid style on a classical guitar with nylon strings. In the early 1950s, he made his first television appearance at the age of sixteen. He took a break from performing to earn a degree in architecture from Notre Dame but returned to the guitar and applied his architectural knowledge to developing distinctive structures for his jazz sounds. He has worked with numerous music legends including Lena Horne, Tony Bennett, and the Benny Goodman Sextet. Bertoncini continues to play and perform, and he teaches at the Eastman School of Music.

Jim Hall

Jim Hall was a groundbreaking jazz guitarist who sought to push the boundaries of style with his instrument and create truly unique harmonies and rhythms. According to Premier Guitar magazine, the four pillars of jazz guitar include "Django, Charlie, Wes, and Jim." Hall got his start in the 1950s with the Chico Hamilton Quintet, launching a decades-long career of touring and recording that lasted until he died in 2013. In 2004, he became one of the first guitarists to be honored by the National Endowment for the Arts as a Jazz Master.

Charlie Byrd

Charlie Byrd was a classically trained musician who brought classical acoustic methods to jazz guitar. In 1954, he studied with classical guitar legend Andrés Segovia, and in the latter part of the decade, he started recording music both as a solo artist and in collaboration with other artists, including the Woody Herman Band. In 1962, his recording of Desafinado helped popularize Brazilian music and bossa nova in North America.

Paco de Lucía

Paco de Lucía was an accomplished flamenco guitarist who incorporated progressive jazz influences such as harmonics into his overall sound. He was always searching for something new to bring to his style. A child prodigy who started playing guitar at age five, he was already an accomplished flamenco guitarist by age eleven. In the early 1960s, he was invited to join a flamenco troupe, and by the mid-1960s, he started recording albums. He spearheaded the popularity of flamenco guitar in the 1970s and was called "one of history's greatest guitarists" by Dennis Koster, who wrote the book Flamenco.

Pat Martino

In 1959, at age fifteen, Pat Martino moved to New York City and became a professional jazz guitarist, playing with the likes of Charles Earland, Don Patterson, and Willis Jackson. In the 1960s, Martino signed with the Prestige record label and recorded ambitious and exemplary albums of jazz and jazz fusion. He suffered a brain aneurysm in 1980 after which he had to relearn his guitar skills, but he succeeded admirably and went on to record ten more records.

The 1960s

As a genre, jazz suffered in the 1960s as a result of the Beatles, rock and roll, and television. Enterprising jazz musicians began to realize that they could fuse their music with rock, creating a new genre: fusion jazz.

Joe Pass

Celebrated for his solo guitar work, Joe Pass excelled not only at creating new music but also taking old jazz standards such as Stella by Starlight and remaking them from the ground up. In addition to his highly acclaimed solo albums, he accompanied star singers like Ella Fitzgerald and Frank Sinatra as well as recording with other famous jazz musicians like Duke Ellington, Count Basie, and Dizzy Gillespie. Pass had a musical toolbox filled with all kinds of innovative techniques, including walking bass lines, chord inversions, and double stops. He hit his stride in the 1960s, when he made his first album and soon became very much in demand as a performer and in the studio.

Frank Zappa

Frank Zappa
Frank Zappa

Frank Zappa's career got started in 1960s when he formed a band that he called the Mothers, but he became more and more interested in free jazz and avant-garde styles. By 1971, he quit the Mothers to focus on his solo work. At that time, much of his work was instrumental, with no lyrics and an emphasis on jazz fusion. In the 1980s, he experimented with progressive rock and classical music. As a jazz guitarist, he had a strong sense of melody and made use of complex chord changes and adventurous rhythms.

Gábor Szabó

Gábor Szabó, a self-taught guitarist from Hungary, combined jazz with influences from his native land and came up with a completely unique sound. He played as smoothly in his wild, free riffs and runs as he did in his intensely melodic passages. Szabó came to prominence in the 1960s when he joined Chico Hamilton's jazz quintet. In 1966, he became a solo artist. His most famous song, released in 1970, was Gypsy Queen, which became a tremendous hit when it was recorded later by Carlos Santana.

Ted Greene

A masterful jazz guitarist, Ted Greene devoted much of his considerable talent and energy to sharing his love of jazz through teaching. In 1969, he was featured on the album The American Metaphysical Circus, and in 1977, he recorded an album called Solo Guitar. He has received high acclaim for both his intricate playing style and his encyclopedic knowledge of music theory, which he has shared for nearly four decades with his students. He wrote four comprehensive books which expound on jazz guitar methods.

Ed Bickert

Emerging in the 1960s, Ed Bickert is known as one of Canada's most accomplished guitarists. He rose to international fame when guitarist Jim Hall recommended him to legendary saxophonist Paul Desmond. Starting in the 1970s, Bickert and Desmond teamed up and recorded several albums together. Bickert continued to perform with other jazz legends and formed his own band. Stylistically, Bickert is known as a master of harmony and comping, giving him a great deal of clarity in his soloing, chording, and chord progressions.

Joe Diorio

Guitarist Joe Diorio garnered recognition for his jazz chops in 1961 for his contribution to Exodus to Jazz, a record by saxophonist Eddie Harris. The album sold in droves and became the first jazz record to be certified Gold by the RIAA. He is also recognized for his excellent work with Ira Sullivan in the 1970s and with RAM Records in Italy in the 1990s. Diorio also was a sought-after guitar teacher at the Guitar Institute of Technology in Hollywood from 1977 to 1997. He emphasized the importance of moving beyond intellectualism in improvisation and relying, instead, on intuition and sheer creativity.

Ralph Towner

Ralph Towner began making a name for himself in the late 1960s when he joined the Paul Winter Consort. He wound up writing Icarus, the group's most famous piece, after which the astronauts of Apollo 15 named a crater on the moon. Towner started out on piano, which he began playing by ear when he was three years old. In college, he took up classical guitar and applied his incredible ear to jazz. His rich, comprehensive playing style sounds like a whole ensemble on one instrument, inclusive of bass, chords, and melody. He has continued to record albums well into the latter 2010s.

John McLaughlin

Rolling Stone ranks John McLaughlin at number 68 on its list of the 100 greatest guitarists, and Jeff Beck, guitarist with the Yardbirds, described McLaughlin as the "best guitarist alive." McLaughlin's range and style is expansive and truly formidable and includes jazz, jazz fusion, Indian music, blues, and flamenco. In the 1960s, he started out with swing and blues, but in 1969, he began playing jazz and jazz fusion with Tony Williams and Miles Davis. McLaughlin has released a steady stream of albums over the decades, and he continues to perform and record to the present day.

George Benson

As versatile as he is talented, George Benson excels at both lead and rhythm when it comes to jazz guitar. Influenced by Wes Montgomery and Charlie Christian, Benson developed his own distinctive style, blending contemporary jazz with rhythm and blues influences. He is also a gifted vocalist which enhances his overall appeal. Benson was discovered by John Hammond in 1965, and he began a career in performing and recording that has lasted up to the present day. Three of his songs from his 2006 album Givin' It Up were Grammy Award nominees.

Larry Coryell

Known as the "Godfather of Fusion," Larry Coryell became famous for his blend of jazz and rock. He began his professional career in the late 1960s, during which he played with Chico Hamilton's quintet. In the 1970s, he worked with jazz greats such as Gary Burton and Miles Davis and released over 60 albums over the course of his career before passing away in 2017. Spaces, his most famous album, was released in 1969 and is widely recognized as the launch pad of fusion jazz.

Buzz Feiten

In the late 1960s, nineteen-year-old Buzz Feiten was invited to join the Paul Butterfield Blues Band when its former guitarist decided to split from the group and go solo. Though they called themselves a blues band, all the musicians played jazz. Feiten brought to the group a strong jazz style influenced by rhythm and blues. In 1969, he appeared with the Butterfield Band at Woodstock. He left the band in 1970 and began doing sessions work with luminaries such as Jimi Hendrix, Etta James, and Wilson Pickett.

The 1970s

The 1970s saw continued interest in various subgenres of jazz, including bebop, fusion, and cool jazz. Musicians also started incorporating a popular music influence, creating the phenomenon of smooth jazz.

Martin Taylor

British jazz guitarist Martin Taylor has won tremendous accolades, both in his home country and throughout the world. In 1978, he recorded Taylor Made, his first album, and it was so well-received that he was invited by jazz violinist Stephanie Grappelli to join her on a tour in France and the United States which included a performance at Carnegie Hall. Taylor and Grappelli worked together for twenty years, and he also recorded solo albums such as Artistry which spent six weeks at number one on the U. K. jazz chart. In 2002, Taylor became a Member of the Order of the British Empire for his work in jazz.

Allan Holdsworth

Eddie Van Halen is a huge fan of Allan Holdsworth and said the jazz guitarist is "the best" in his book. Holdsworth was also held in high regard by Frank Zappa, who called him a "gamechanger" of electric guitar techniques. Private and often critical of his own work, Holdsworth was nonetheless a highly accomplished musician who did pioneering work in fusion jazz. In 1972, he became a member of Nucleus, a band led by Ian Carr. He went on to work with Tony Williams and Bill Bruford. Holdsworth released six studio albums, toured extensively, and never stopped exploring the possibilities of new musical sounds.

Pat Metheny

Pat Metheny
Pat Metheny

Pat Metheny, a trumpet prodigy in his youth, broke out as a jazz guitar professional when he put together the first incarnation of the Pat Metheny Group. The band included Lyle Mays, a jazz pianist with whom he would work for decades. Metheny has won twenty Grammy Awards for his work and has performed with Joni Mitchell, David Bowie, and Herbie Hancock. In addition to being a guitar virtuoso, Metheny is a versatile composer and has written a wide variety of works that range from pieces for solo guitar to pieces for entire orchestras.

Al Di Meola

Since 1974, Al Di Meola has been a central figure in jazz fusion. After graduating from Berklee School of Music, Di Meola played with the band Return to Forever, then he released a number of albums as a solo artist. He has received eleven awards from Guitar Player magazine and has recorded with an impressive and diverse roster of artists including Carlos Santana, Luciano Pavarotti, and Steve Vai. He makes use of complicated cross-picked arpeggios to create a rich, textured sound. In 2015, he received the Miles Davis Award at the Montreal Jazz Festival for his work in jazz.

Nels Cline

Rolling Stone calls Nels Cline a "true guitar polymath" and ranks him number 82 on its list of the 100 greatest guitarists. Cline cites jazz legend Jim Hall as a key influence on his playing style, which ranges from free jazz to avant-garde. He got his start in the 1970s in Los Angeles' jazz scene, recording with other jazz artists and forming his own bands, such as the Nels Cline Trio, Destroy All Nels Cline, and Quartet Music. In 1999, Cline was named Outstanding Jazz Artist of the Year by the California Music Awards.

Hiram Bullock

Before making his mark on the avant-garde jazz scene, Hiram Bullock broke out in the 1970s as a sessions musician, playing for Barbra Streisand, Billy Joel, and Steely Dan. Throughout his decades-long career, he continued to collaborate with a number of jazz artists, and he released over a dozen solo albums, as well. He performed with a great deal of high-energy showmanship, making his way through his audiences, and he served up a heaping helping of funk in his jazz style.

Emily Remier

Emily Remier, a prominent woman in jazz, got her start as a professional guitarist in the New Orleans jazz scene, playing at clubs and hotels like the Blue Room. In 1977, she met Herb Ellis, who said of her that she would be "one of the greatest jazz players who ever lived" and helped shape her career. Remier made a stellar debut at the Concord Jazz Festival, after which she moved to New York, started recording solo albums, and continued collaborating with other legendary musicians such as Ray Brown and Larry Coryell until her untimely death of a heart attack at age 32. Her style has been described as having a ferocious swing with a strong lyrical sensibility and authority.

Tuck & Patti

Tuck Andress and his wife Patti have worked together as a jazz duo since 1981, with Tuck playing guitar and Patti singing. Over the years since, they have made albums for Windham Hill and Epic Records. Tuck's guitar style has been described as lush, fluid, and seamless, and he is widely recognized as a virtuoso, especially when it comes to layered and textured playing. The talented duo records and performs contemporary jazz standards as well as original music.

The 1980s

In the 1980s, pop music reigned. As a result, many jazz musicians went back to the roots of their genre to find inspiration. Some, however, kept exploring new territory by fusing jazz with other genres and various kinds of world music.

Jeff Golub

Jazz guitarist Jeff Golub also played rock and blues. He was well known as Rod Stewart's sideman, but he also played with Tina Turner and Billy Squier and released a number of solo albums. Golub rose to prominence as a sessions guitarist in the 1980s by playing with Billy Squier and appearing with him on seven albums. In 1988, he released his first solo album, Unspoken Words. He was acclaimed for his smooth jazz style, and he placed importance on playing "real music" from his heart.

Nguyên Lê

Born in France and of Vietnamese heritage, Nguyên Lê infuses his jazz with a wide range of musical influences including funk and Vietnamese folk music. He broke out as a professional musician in the 1980s, working with well-known artists like Gil Evans, Didier Lockwood, and Peter Erskine. In the 1990s, he experimented with additional ethnic music styles and toured with musicians who played the Vietnamese flute, the Algerian banjo, and the African flute. He is celebrated for his skillful fusion of jazz with world music.

Bobby Broom

Bobby Broom got his start in the early 1980s, releasing his first album, Clean Sweep, and working and recording with Sonny Rollins and Kenny Burrell. In 1984, he moved to Chicago and formed a band which he called the Deep Blue Organ Trio. In 2009, Bobby Broom recorded an album reinventing Thelonious Monk's compositions for guitar which he called Bobby Broom Plays for Monk. It was released to enthusiastic critical acclaim.

Stanley Jordan

Stanley Jordan, professionally active since the mid-1980s, came up with an innovative method of playing jazz guitar as if it were a piano. He employs a tapping technique, using both his hands to tap the fretboard to produce sound, and this enables him to play two separate lines on the guitar simultaneously. In performance, he sometimes plays the guitar and piano at the same time. He has released a number of solo albums and has played with jazz greats Dizzy Gillespie and Benny Carter.

Kevin Eubanks

Kevin Eubanks
Kevin Eubanks

Kevin Eubanks is best known for leading the band for the Tonight Show with Jay Leno from 1995 to 2010. His career started in the early 1980s when, at age 25, he released Guitarist, his first album. In the years since, he has released sixteen albums as a solo artist and has collaborated on 100 others. He specializes in contemporary jazz and is known for his smooth grooves.

David Fiuczynski

David Fiuczynski, known as Fuze, leads a jazz band called the Screaming Headless Torsos. In the decades since he first started playing professionally in 1984, he has worked on over 100 albums and teaches at Berklee College of Music. Though he's a jazz musician, he doesn't like the idea of limiting himself. Fuze loves to experiment with microtones, which add more tones to the typical twelve-note Western scale in between the notes. In 2006, he launched a study of Eastern music that uses microtones, and in 2012, he founded Planet Micro Jam as a forum to explore how microtones can be used in different styles of Western music.

The 1990s

Great musicians who love jazz worked to keep the genre alive in the 1990s. Some went back to older forms of jazz while others worked in free jazz, avant-garde, and innovative kinds of fusion.

Peter Bernstein

While studying at New College in New York City, Peter Bernstein met jazz legend Jim Hall, who commented that Bernstein was the most impressive guitarist he'd ever heard and invited him to play at the 1990 JVC Jazz Festival. Bernstein began collaborating with other artists on recordings and releasing solo albums. Though he's a guitarist, he draws influence from jazz pianists and horn players more than from other guitarists. Thelonious Monk is one of Bernstein's favorite musicians, and in 2009, he released a trio album interpreting Monk's music for guitar.

Kurt Rosenwinkel

Kurt Rosenwinkel came to prominence in the 1990s with such albums as East Coast Love, Intuit, and The Enemies of Energy. He has also collaborated with artists such as Chris Creek, Paul Motian's Electric Bebop Band, and Mark Turner. His style is well-illustrated by his track The Polish Song, which he sings in nonsensical language. He plays in a free jazz style and often vocalizes without words. In the jazz world, he's unusual in his use of alternate tunings, which lend even more sheer originality to his sound.

Norman Brown

Norman Brown, who plays smooth jazz, won a great many accolades after he came on the jazz scene in 1992 with his first album, Just Between Us. In 1994, he released his second album, After the Storm, which earned Gold certification. His most famous album, Just Chillin', won a Grammy Award and made its way into the Billboard Hot 200 at slot 198 in 2003. He continued to make albums, and in 2012, he won another Grammy Award for 24/7, an album on which he collaborated with Gerald Albright.

Jonathan Kreisberg

Jonathan Kreisberg's style ranges from traditional jazz to jazz fusion with both rock and classical influences that include Steve Vai, Claude Debussy, and Jimi Hendrix. He began playing professionally in 1998 and has released ten solo albums. Kreisberg remains active performing and recording in both a jazz trio and a quintet for the interpretation of old standards and the composition of new and innovative music.

The 2000s

After the turn of the millennium, jazz musicians have continued to innovate and develop their genre in interesting directions, a mixture of new and old. Many of them find inspiration in the jazz legends of days gone by.

Gilad Hekselman

Gilad Hekselman got his start in 2004 when he moved to the United States from Israel and made quick connections on the New York City jazz scene. He has released five albums and is an active performer, playing with a quartet and touring internationally. Hekselman has earned accolades for his fluid jazz style and mastery of harmonic structure.

Stephane Wrembel

Born in France, Stephane Wrembel learned how to play guitar from gypsy musicians who, during his growing-up years, were camping in the countryside. He released his first album, Introducing Stephane Wrembel, in 2006 and became a modern-day innovator of Gypsy jazz. If you've seen the Woody Allen film Midnight in Paris, you've heard Wrembel's song Bistro Fada. He was profoundly influenced by the work of Django Reinhardt, who also played Gypsy jazz.

Lionel Loueke

Hailing from West Africa, Lionel Loueke learned his guitar chops when he relocated to the Ivory Coast and studied at the National Institute of Arts. After attending Berklee College of Music, Loueke made records with high-profile jazz musicians like Herbie Hancock, Charlie Haden, and Terence Blanchard. He has released four solo albums, the first of which, Karibu, came out in 2008. He has garnered a stellar reputation for his masterful fusion of modern jazz with traditional West African music.

Julian Lage

As an eight-year-old child prodigy, Julian Lage was featured Jules at Eight, a documentary about his musical prowess. As a youth and a teenager, he played with Carlos Santana, Béla Fleck, and Doc Watson. In 2009, at the age of 21, Lage released his first album, Sounding Point. Though he's considered a jazz guitarist, Lage blends a great many influences with his music, including blues, classical, country, and folk. He likes to play in duos, trios, and groups, but he also released World's Fair, a solo album, in 2015 to rave reviews.

An Enduring Genre

Jazz has endured as a musical art form for well over a century, and great guitarists have played a significant role in pushing it forward in fascinating new directions. Even when musicians look to the jazz greats of the past for inspiration, they're still striving to bring the genre into the future for new generations of fans to enjoy.

A List of Jazz Guitarists