Virtuoso guitarist Joe Pass, ranked as one of the top jazz guitarists of all time, had a profound influence on jazz guitarists. His style marked by walking bass lines, melodic counterpoint improvisations, and outstanding chord progressions set the mark for modern jazz guitar. Twelve of his album releases reached the top 50 on the Billboard Jazz Charts. His 1974 album "The Joe Pass Trio", that featured Oscar Peterson and Niels-Henning Orsted, won the Grammy for "Best Instrumental Jazz Performance, Individual or Group". He was ranked as one of the top guitarists year after year in the jazz polls. As a headliner he released over 50 albums and as a sideman he performed on over 200 recordings with a whose who of jazz. He is one of the most recorded guitarists in jazz history.
Pass performed in concert as sideman for Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan, Joe Williams, George Shearing, Johnny Mathis and many others. He appeared frequently on the Tonight Show, The Merv Griffin Show, The Steve Allen Show, and more. As part of the Pablo Records roster Pass recorded with Benny Carter, Milt Jackson, Herb Ellis, Zoot Sims, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, and others. Pass and Ella Fitzgerald recorded six albums together. Working with Bill Thrasher Pass co-wrote a series of music books, the Joe Pass Guitar Style, that are among the leading improvisation textbooks for students of jazz.
"In the Virtuoso series of solo guitar recordings Joe Pass redefined solo guitar playing. His complete mastery of finger style playing brought a new depth and complexity to solo guitar. -Classic Jazz Guitar
"Bebop, Latin, ballads, blues, originals, solos, duos, trios, big ensembles—Joe did it all. No player in recent memory has made so many recordings in so many styles and contexts…. In all probability, Joe Pass [was] the most versatile, well-rounded, mainstream guitarist in history." -Jim Ferguson Guitar Player Magazine
Joseph Anthony Jacobi Passalaqua was born on January 13, 1929 in Johnston, Pa. After seeing a Gene Autry movie Joe asked for a guitar. Joe's father bought him an acoustic guitar for his ninth birthday. He quickly learned to play songs by ear. His father pushed Joe to practice the guitar at least five hours a day. Joe told Down Beat magazine "My father thought I showed signs of being able to play and his object in life was not to have his kids do the same thing he did--work in a steel mill. He wanted them all to have a better education, or some better kind of livelihood. My father would go to the music store, and if he saw any book that said 'guitar' on it, he brought it home."
At 14 years old, Pass joined a band called the Gentlemen of Rhythm that played music in the style of Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt. Joe earned three to five dollars a gig performing at dances and parties. Band leader Tony Pastor hired Joe to appear with his band at a local show and to record with them on several recordings. He asked Joe to go on the road with him. But Joe wouldn't quit school. A year later Joe's parents sent Joe to New York to study with guitar player Harry Volpe. Struggling to learn how to sight read Pass was frustrated with his lessons and returned to Johnstown. He dropped out of high school in 10th grade when his father became ill and moved to New York in 1944.
Pass worked in the New York City jazz clubs during 1944 and 1945. While in New York he developed a drug habit that consumed his life for the next 10 years. Moving to New Orleans in 1946 he played in strip joints and got high. In 1949 he played for a short time with Ray McKinley band. After a year in the Marines he settled in Los Vegas. During the early 1950s Pass played in Los Vegas hotels and on tours with bands. As staying high became his first priority he was in and out of jail for narcotics violations. Arrested on drug charges in 1954 Pass spent four years in the U.S. Public Health Service Hospital in Fort Worth, Texas. On his release he joined accordion player Dick Contino’s trio in Los Vegas.
In the sixties Joe Pass enrolled in a drug rehab center in Santa Monica. Working with musicians that he met in rehab he recorded the "The Sounds of Synanon" album. The Pacific Jazz label liked what they heard on that album and signed Joe to a contract. On Pacific he released "Catch Me" (1963), "For Django" (1964), and "Simplicity" (1967). In 1963, Pass received Downbeat magazine's "New Star Award". Working as a session player during the 1960's Pass recorded with Richard "Groove" Holmes, Gerlad Wilson,Nancy Wilson,and Julie London.
Jazz mogul Norman Granz became Joe's manager and signed him to his Pablo Label in 1973. Pass recorded his break through album "Virtuoso" in 1973 which reached #16 on the Billboard Jazz charts. Joe released 21 albums on the Pablo label including his chart topping "Portraits of Duke Ellington" #25 (1974), Virtuoso No. 2 #31 (1976), Quadrant #37 (1977). Pass continued to release albums on the Original Jazz Classics, Talarc, and Pablo until his death in 1994. He died of liver cancer at age 65.