Joe Pass - guitar
Chuck Metcalf - bass
Vince Lateano - drums
One of the most gifted virtuosos in the history of jazz guitar, Joe Pass put his stamp on a set of ballads, bossas and blues during this Great American Music Hall concert held at the outset of the country's bicentennial year. Accompanied by the veteran West Coast rhythm tandem of bassist Chuck Metcalf and drummer Vince Lateano, Pass presented a virtual clinic that impressed on the highest possible technical level while also engaging the audience on a purely melodic level. Opening with the alluring Jobim bossa nova, "Wave," Pass showcases his remarkable finesse and inventive chordal work along with his flowing single note facility. After lighting up his trademark cigar while introducing his rhythm section and also engaging in lighthearted banter with the audience, Pass and his crew settle into a sublime reading of Thelonious Monk's most beguiling melody, "'Round Midnight." Originally written in 1941 and first recorded in 1944 by Cootie Williams and his Orchestra, this darkly beautiful, harmonically sophisticated number has been covered innumerable jazz greats from Miles Davis and Dizzy Gillespie to Dexter Gordon, Sarah Vaughan, Mel Torme, Wynton Marsalis and Monk himself. Its harmonic terrain presents a particular challenge for guitarists, but Pass navigates the changes with typical aplomb. Metcalf also turns in a daring, deep-toned bass solo that pushes at the harmonic contour of the piece.
From melancholy to joy, they slide right into Mercer Ellington's jaunty "Things Ain't What They Used To Be." Pass proves that he is right at home with the blues here, showcasing his unparalleled chops and soulful expression on this familiar jamming vehicle long identified with the Duke Ellington Orchestra. With Metcalf walking in half-time and Lateano shuffling with brushes, Pass takes his time, building chorus after chorus of blues-tinged brilliance, eventually nonchalantly doubling the tempo while dropping in quotes from Tadd Dameron's "Hot House" and Bird's "Parker's Mood" along the way. Shifting gears, the trio concludes its set with a sprightly rendition of Luiz Bonfa's buoyant "Samba de Orfeu," which American audiences were introduced to in the 1959 film Black Orpheus.
Born on January 13, 1929 in New Brunswick, New Jersey (his given name is actually Joseph Anthony Jacobi Passalacqua) charted a new path for guitar and had a profound influence on generations of players over the years. The son of a
Sicilian-born steel mill worker, he was raised in Johnstown, Pennsylvania and began to dabble on a $17 beginner's guitar at age nine after see the singing cowboy Gene Autry on TV. He almost immediately began picking up tunes by ear and developed quickly. As a teenager, Pass honed his skills in bands led by Tony Pastor and Charlie Barnet. He began traveling with small jazz groups and eventually moved to New York City, where he got swept up in the plague of heroin. Following a two-and-a-half year stay in Synanon House, the Santa Monica, California drug rehabilitation center, Pass emerged in 1962, at age 33, and began recording for Dick Bock's Pacific Jazz label as both a sideman (to the likes of Les McCann, Bud Shank, Richard "Groove Holmes" and Gerald Wilson) and as a leader. One of his early Pacific Jazz recordings, 1964's For Django, is still regarded as a six-string classic. In 1965, Pass toured with George Shearing and also kept busy on the Los Angeles studio scene, appearing as a sideman on countless TV and record sessions.
In the early '70s, Pass began appearing with fellow guitarist Herb Ellis at the intimate Los Angeles jazz club Donte's. Their chemistry together was documented on 1973's Jazz/Concord, the very first album recorded by Carl Jefferson for his Concord Jazz label. They recorded together again the following year at the first annual Concord Summer Festival, which was released in 1974 as Seven, Come Eleven. Meanwhile, Pass had also signed to Norman Granz's new Pablo Records label and in 1974 released his landmark solo album Virtuoso to wild acclaim in the guitar community. That same remarkably productive year, Pass also released The Trio featuring Oscar Peterson and Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen. Pass recorded prolifically through the '70s for Pablo, both as a leader and as a sideman on small group sessions featuring the likes of Benny Carter, Milt Jackson, Herb Ellis, Zoot Sims, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald and Count Basie. Pass and Ella Fitzgerald established a particularly wonderful duo chemistry, which led to four superb albums together on Pablo - 1973's Take Love Easy, 1976's Fitzgerald and Pass...Again, 1983's Speak Love and 1986's Easy Living.
In September, 1991, Pass recorded Virtuoso Live! At the Vine Street Bar & Grill in Hollywood. He continued performing concerts, both solo and small group performances, through his final years (many of which were released posthumously on the Pablo label). Pass died from liver cancer on May 23, 1994 at the age of 65. (Bill Milkowski)