Joe Pass - guitar; Guests on tracks 11 and 12:; Mario Suraci - bass; Glenn Cronkhite - drums
At the beginning of this Great American Music Hall performance (coming a year after the release of his solo guitar landmark, Virtuoso), Joe Pass invited the audience to make requests to fill out his set list. One wag in the back of the hall yelled out, "Make it 'Giant Steps'!" alluding to the chops-busting John Coltrane anthem from 1960 that has been a kind of proving ground for jazz musicians ever since. Maybe this wise guy thought he would stump the great guitarist, who was more known for his swinging interpretations of Ellingtonia and the Great American Songbook than modernist fare by the likes of Coltrane. Pass considered the challenge for only a moment before delving headfirst into that knotty number, delivering a spell-binding interpretation in the process. Such was the breadth and depth of this guitarist's vocabulary and his willingness to take chances in the moment. Pass defined what it meant to be a jazz musician. He was a true virtuoso of the highest order.
After first acquainting himself with the harmonic fabric of that famous Coltrane vehicle, Pass begins gradually extrapolating further and further out, reinventing the piece as a gorgeous ballad, then as a midtempo swinger, all while maintaining its thematic integrity. It's a stunning feat of improvisation as well as a perfect example of Pass' signature approach to simultaneously juggling chords, basslines, cascading scalar runs, and melodic lines.
Pass next dives into a rendition of "How High the Moon," the Broadway show tune written in 1940 for Two for the Show, which later became a jamming staple at Norman Granz's Jazz at the Philharmonic concerts as well as a pop hit for Les Paul and Mary Ford in 1951. Pass not only plays the original melody, he also alludes to the song that bebop pioneer Charlie Parker wrote based on those same chord changes, his anthemic "Ornithology." The guitarist's rendition of Billy Strayhorn's melancholy ballad "Lush Life" is a sublime example of Pass' chordal mastery. Someone in the GAMH crowd then shouts out a request for Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight," and Pass instantly obliges with a stunning rendition of Monk's most moving melody.
After delivering a humorous and telling anecdote about his father making drunken late night requests of young Joe to play various Italian folk songs, Pass launches into a charming, buoyantly swinging rendition of George and Ira Gershwin's "A Foggy Day." He concludes his set with two songs accompanied by the rhythm tandem of bassist Mario Suraci and drummer Glenn Cronkhite, performing trio renditions of Duke Ellington's lush "Satin Doll" and Branislau Kaper's "On Green Dolphin Street" (famously covered by Miles Davis in 1958 and by Bill Evans in 1959). This recording of Pass' swinging uptempo version of this jazz standard unfortunately fades before the finish, bringing this outstanding and extremely revealing GAMH performance to a rather abrupt close.
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 seeing 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. (Milkowski)