As a young man, Breau had gigged a bit in Canada – The Hallmark Sessions featured Levon Helm and Rick Danko of The Band as his rhythm section — but he was discovered for the wider world by Chet Atkins, an early influence. Breau never entirely lost the twang in his playing, but his style was expanded in a vast and emotionally complex way by the innovations of pianists Bill Evans and Herbie Hancock: He shared their abstract, post-bop approach and blended it with a technical precision that recalls the great Tal Farlow. (Breau and Farlow have a very fine live album, Chance Meeting, that’s easy to find online; Breau and Atkins recorded an album together that never made it to CD; here they play “Sweet George Brown” — you can hear Lenny’s wild harmonics.)
The fact that he moved to LA — perhaps the most critically maligned and misunderstood jazz center in history — didn’t help. He had limited connections to the fervor (and critical press) in New York. (And with a few exceptions, such as periods when Wes Montgomery and George Benson were popular, jazz guitar exists at a tangent to the jazz tradition as well, though that’s another post.)
Here musicians from Benson to Metheny to the Police’s Andy Summers talk about Breau.
By the end of his life, the handsome lad from Canada had come to resemble, in some photographs, a demonic, beret-wearing Frenchman, and his musical choices were not consistently strong. But Breau’s is a career that every jazz lover or guitar enthusiast should be grateful for.