Saturday, March 21, 2009

Barnes and Bryant: Guitar Wizards on Different Sides of Jazz

Two very gifted and under-appreciated guitarists who were contemporaries are George Barnes and Jimmy Bryant. Both were influenced by jazz guitar pioneers Django Rienhardt and Eddie Lang in the 1930's, and both both maintained involvement in jazz into the 40s and 50s but also worked in separate genres, Barnes in pop music and Bryant in country. Both were exceptional players with quite different styles and approaches, but they shared one important feature: delicious and exceptionally clean chops.

George Barnes is sometimes credited with being the first to amplify the guitar to play jazz, yet this is also a claim made by others and is hard to confirm. Interestingly, Barnes got his start recording with with blues great Big Bill Broonzy using an electric guitar in 1938. Barnes is known for his extra smooth, clear tone and sense of timing in jazz instrumental arrangements. His rendition of of State Street Boogie higlights his techniques. He recorded jazz guitar duet LPs with jazz legend Carl Kress and later with Bucky Pizzarelli. He is generally credited for helping legitimize the guitar as a solo instrument in the genre. In 1977, I remember helping to reissue one of Barnes' classic recordings with Carl Cress that was recorded in the 60's but had fallen out of print. We had 250 copies of Guitars Anyone ? - pictured above - reprinted and sold them all the same year.

Jimmy Bryant comes out of the same "country swing/jazz tradition discussed in a previous post. Bryant is know for his early association with pedal steel guitarist Speedy West, with whom he recorded for Capitol Records. Said to have been influenced by his contemporary Joe Maphis, Bryant's early recordings were classified as country but show a clear jazz influence. His rapid, fluid approach won him praise in country and jazz circles alike. Listen to Jimmy tear it up here with Speedy West on "Night Rider." Also, check out Bryant's accuracy and speed on "Little Rock Getaway" here.

Both Barnes and Bryant went on to influence a whole generation of jazz and country guitarists who followed them. Barnes on players like Jim Hall, Joe Pass and Howard Roberts, Bryant on players like Phil Baugh, Albert Lee and many others. Danny Gatton often cited both Barnes and Bryant as major influences.

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