Joe Pass was born on this day in 1929. Nearly 21 years after his death in 1994, he is remembered as one of the great guitar virtuosos not only in jazz but in all of music. For background, here is a section of the notes I wrote for the 2010 reissue of Virtuoso, the album that made it clear Pass had conquered his problems and was making the transition from respected journeyman to cherished star.
Joe Pass was 44 when he recorded Virtuoso in 1973. After 30 years as a professional musician, he became an overnight sensation. For ten of those years he was in obscurity and a struggle with drug addiction. After he summoned his courage and conquered his habit, he spent another decade as a studio musician and touring sideman and began to attract attention.
The moment his peers heard the 1961 album Sounds of Synanon, named for the rehabilitation center where he got well, they spotted Pass’s stunning ability. In the 1960s, musicians wore copies of his LPs down past the vinyl surfaces. They recognized Pass as one of the greatest of all guitarists. General acclaim took years longer. Virtuoso inspired a shower of enthusiastic reviews. Big sales followed, and his fame began to radiate beyond the jazz community. The year following Virtuoso’s release in 1974, Pass went to the top of the guitar category in the Down Beat critics and readers polls. For the rest of his life, he won polls, awards and the devotion of the listening public. Since his death in 1994 there has been exponential growth of the awe he strikes in players of his instrument. Guitarists revere Joe Pass as pianists esteem Art Tatum and saxophonists adore Charlie Parker.
Before we see and hear Pass in concert with one of his closest colleagues, let’s listen to a track from Virtuoso, the first of his series of albums incorporating that title.
Pass’s collaboration with bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen (1946-2005) began a year or so before Virtuoso when producer Norman Granz put them together with Oscar Peterson for the album called The Trio, recorded live at Chicago’s London House. For the next two decades, they worked often as a duo, including at the 1991 Jazz Baltica festival at the Opernhaus in Kiel, Germany.
At the microphone following a solo by his star alto saxophonist, Duke Ellington often said, “Thank you for Johnny Hodges,” and it sounded as if he might be addressing the deity. I never mind stealing from Ellington: Thank you for Joe Pass.