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Joe Pass: A Guitarist Who Could Do the Impossible Essay (Biography)

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Updated: Jun 2nd, 2022

Though people connect jazz with such instruments like a saxophone or trumpet, the role of guitars remains to be crucial for this style of music. In fact, the guitar is the instrument that discloses jazz in a new way, and such guitarist like Joe Pass shows how unpredictable jazz can be.

Biography

Joseph Anthony Jacobi Passalacqua, better known as Joe Pass, was born in a family of a steel mill worker in 1929 (Classic Jazz Guitar, 2005). When Joe was nine, his father provided him with the first guitar. The results of such father’s support were amazing: when he was fourteen, the boy got the opportunity to play in bands with Tony Pastor. Music became an integral part of Pass’ life, and he did not find it necessary to continue his education. He left school and went to New York as a part of small jazz groups. Like many young people, Pass was so fascinated with the New York style of life that he faced drug addiction and had to spend several years in jail and more than two years passing through different rehabilitation programs. Soon, he got rid of that terrible dependence and devoted all his time to jazz.

His career as a famous jazz guitarist began in the 1960s. He got several awards and a chance to be a sideman with such celebrities as Frank Sinatra and Sarah Vaughan. Still, his collaboration with Ella Fitzgerald remains to be the most crucial period in Pass’ life. In 1994, in Los Angeles, a famous jazz guitarist, Joe Pass, died because of liver cancer. He recorded several albums with popular jazz and country singers and musicians; still, he could do more in the field of music, if the illness did not become an obstacle on his way to great success.

Style of Music

Though the jazz sub-culture is still alive, it is not as well as it is supposed to be (Mooney, 2014). Still, there are the people who truly believe in the power and worth of jazz, and continue listening and contributing to this style of music. In fact, jazz has to be considered one of the most important forms of art as it is everywhere. Jazz can be soft and rude, loud, and silent. And Joe Pass demonstrated a complex nature of this style, becoming one of the epitomes of jazz in the middle of the 20th century. He was known as an amazing virtuoso with an ability to play an up-tempo version of “Cherokee” on the guitar.

Some people called him an exception in the world of jazz because he did the impossible – he introduced a new aspect of jazz without breaking any rules. He could add one tune to the melody that could change the whole idea of the work. Jazz got a chance to achieve a new stage in its development as a style of music with such a guitarist as Joe Pass. If pop music may be regarded as a commodity, jazz should be treated as artisanal (Mooney, 2014). Pass’ contribution to this style of music remains to be crucial: he showed how it was possible to use the same techniques and create different effects depending on the style of a song (Pass, 2011).

Pass’ Equipment

Joe’s first guitar cost $17. He used it for several years before he got jailed because of drug use. Then, he was not able to buy an instrument he wanted and had to use any possible instrument available. In 1962, he got his first considerable gift, the Gibson ES-175 model of the guitar, and continued to use it for a long period of time at all his concerts and recordings. It was not too expensive, still many famous guitarists like B.B. King and Wes Montgomery used this model. In fact, this guitar depicted the nature of jazz, its essence: the two colors of the same tone are intertwined in a soft manner. And the additional details are perfectly observed on the body of the guitar and perform a unique role, demonstrating how it is possible to change an ordinary thing.

As all professional guitarists, Pass used a guitar pick in his work. However, even in this technique, he showed a unique approach: he broke a small pick into two parts and used the small one (Pass, 2011). Of course, this is a small detail, but it made his interesting and worth of attention. In spite of the fact that jazz is known for its saxophonists and trumpeters, Pass succeeded in demonstrating how amazing the guitar could sound in this style of music.

Personal Opinion on Joe Pass

In my opinion, jazz is not for everyone. Not because someone cannot comprehend its true worth or become unable to enjoy its nature. Jazz is a unique style of music that opens the doors to a wonderful world of passion, peace, and uncertainty, which are closely related to each other. Joe Pass is not the first guitarist, who used this instrument in jazz. Still, for me, he remains to be the first musician, who showed how up-tempo guitar work could change jazz.

His Virtuoso is not just an album; it is a collection of the stories that are different indeed but belong to one and the same person. His “All Things You Are” and “Night and Day” are unforgettable. These works may cause a number of emotions at the same time: happiness, sadness, anxiety, and even jealousy because of the inability to achieve something. For me, many jazz works aim at winding round a person with some kind of membrane that tickles and pets. Pass’ works are greater. They can teach and explain. They can amaze and develop some new attitudes to the already known things. Of course, it is wrong to say that Pass’ works can listen to all the time as they can lose their uniqueness and unpredictability. However, it is possible to enjoy it from time to time and re-open a unique world of jazz again and again.

References

Classic Jazz Guitar. (2005). Joe Pass. Web.

Mooney, D. (2014). . The Washington Post. Web.

Pass, J. (2011). Complete Joe Pass. Pacific, MO: Mel Bay Publications.

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