Who was the best jazz guitarist ever?

Since all music is "subjective", I lay no claim to any objective truth to anything I write on this subject.

Johnny Smith was the first to make me aware of the guitar as a jazz instrument. Before him I considered it to be a country and western or blues instrument. "Moonlight in Vermont" is his most famous album, it contains some of the most beautiful versions of standards I've ever heard.

Kenny Burrell who was often featured with Jimmy Smith on organ was the next jazz guitarist I became aware of. While his work with Jimmy Smith was tops, "Midnight Blue" on Blue Note, is my favorite album.

Wes Montgomery came to my attention twice, that's because according to some; he was better and more inclusively "jazz", before he became famous. The "Wes Montgomery Trio" recorded in 1959 is one example of a recording made before he became famous. His "Round Midnight" had a deep soulful intensity that's hard to match; but jazz guitarist's also have bills to pay.

Grant Green is the best jazz guitarist ever, his prodigious output makes that statement. There are some who claim, that out of all of the versions of "Round Midnight", his is the best.

There are many guitarist's I like who may or may not fit the description of "jazz guitarist". I'll leave the strict definition of that to others. Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin, and Paco De Lucia are guitarists I like a lot whatever category they fit in.

Since I prefer the broad definition of "jazz" as opposed to the strict definition, if you think your favorite guitarist fits the description; so do I. Who are your favorite guitarists?
My favorites include Jim Hall, John Abercrombie, Joe Pass, Django Reinhardt, Philip Catherine, Ralph Towner, Charlie Byrd, George Bensen, Larry Coryell . . . somewhat in order of preference.

I also like Al Di Meola, John McLaughlin, and Paco DeLucia, but I don't think of them in the same category . . .

Who knows if any of these guys can be considered best ever.
All those you named above were influenced by Charlie Christian and Djando Reinhardt. To throw a few more names into the mix would be Barney Kressel, Herb Ellis, Charlie Byrd and Joe Pass. All of them worth a serious mention, to discover their music. In my view there is not one greatest ever, each brought their own style and flair to not only the music but the guitar as well.
Who are your favorite guitarists?

John Scofield is my favorite. I've seen him in concert. Wonderful; Miles hired him to tour as one of his band members; that speaks volumes.

For jazz/ fusion/ comtemporary, I really like Pat Metheny; I've seen him several times in concert. He is a great composer, producer, arranger as well.

I like Wes and Grant, but I need to explore their music more.
Not sure real sure the "all music is subjective" statement works, (both musical notation and sound physically exist). It may be more reasonable to assert that opinions, (which often can be chock full of prejudices and misconceptions) are subjective.
The assumption that there is a best jazz guitarist at any given moment requires some big blinders. To claim there is a best jazz guitarist ever is pretty rich. Critical thinking / epistemology issues aside... this site has a couple of pretty extensive favorite guitarist threads... lately i've been trying to get pretty much any recording w/ Marc Ducret on it.
The top of my list includes, Joe Pass, Kenny Burrell, Wes Montgomery(early) Barney Kessell and Mark Whitfield. They`re all wonderful and I play them quite often.
I'm tempted to say it starts and ends with Django, but Duane is - per usual - on point. What do you value most in a player?

For historical influence, you probably go with Charlie Christian, since he is generally credited with inventing the whole notion of "lead" guitar, when it was a rythm instrument.

Or maybe Les Paul, who....well what didn't he invent (or re-invent)!

But it gets more subjective when improvizational skills or pure technique (or quirky, highly personal - see Wes M - technique) or some other quality takes priority.

It gets harder when you add the crossover artists (and I'd include Grant Green in that category) that range from Eldon Shamblin (Texas Playboys) to Bill Frissell to Les Paul to, if you want to stretch it, Frank Zappa.

So you pick your priority and you pick your man. I'll take Django.

For the complexity of playing style I think Stanley Jordan is in a class all by himself.
I think of some of the guys mentioned as fusion guitarists and some as jazz guys, some more pop.

It really is difficult, if not impossible, to pick a best but my favorite has to be Wes Montgomery although I would leave behind some of his orchestrated, commercial "jazz for the masses" albums. The one with the cigarette butts on the cover comes to mind.

Metheny has the ability to be either a jazz guy or a fusion guy as he chooses which is very nice. Writes a lot of his own stuff too, just a very talented guy. I'd give him the runner-up tiara.

A major YMMV on this one, I'm sure everyone has their own favorites.

BTW: In the last few years I've seen Coryell, Metheny, McLaughlin, Martino and most recently Mike Stern, all very enjoyable.
Until jazz is over,or finished (which is pretty unlikely considering the brilliance involved in it's invention as a largely improvisational format) I think it's impossible to say.
Because it's impossible to say, I'm voting for Django (the fact that we know him by first name alone...) and also, Hank Garland (more widely recognized as a Country and Western session guitarist).
Duanegoosen, [Not sure real sure the "all music is subjective" statement works, (both musical notation and sound physically exist). It may be more reasonable to assert that opinions, (which often can be chock full of prejudices and misconceptions) are subjective.]

Since I am not teaching music, it is one's opinion of music that I'm seeking. "Opinions" of music is the subject of this thread.

My very first sentence stated that I lay no claim to any "objective" truth to what I wrote. That nullified my statement in regard to "Grant Green" for anyone except me. If this site has had too many extensive favorite guitar threads, why did you post on this one, and then have the audacity to inquire about some guitarist named "Marc Ducret"?

If there are any stop signs in your neighborhood, you can continue this dialog with them.
"Best Ever" makes a catchy thread title. Tho, the OP's last sentence ask's for "favorites". Whomever I decide to listen to in a given moment, is my current best ever. To sum up, there are many best evers, to me. As of this writing it is Lee Ritnenour. Try "Wes Bound" and "Stolen Moments". Tasty!
On the Django gypsy jazz/swing branch, Stochelo Rosenberg and/or Romane.


Sam ... Thanks for that link , it was excellent . Also had a look at your system link also excellent .
Isochronism, the truth be told; almost every guitarist mentioned is one of my favorites. My very first LP featured Jim Hall with the "Chico Hamilton Trio". Lee Ritenour might be my favorite when I get back from the record store.
Orpheus, I love them all! Of course, when I pick up/plug in one of my guitars every other month or so..... I'm the best ever.... then reality sets in, tho I do have moments(!)
Tmsorosk, both always put a smile on my face, glad you enjoy them!!! Thanks for the system kudos and back at you the Salons are amazing speakers!!
Nice one Orphy... especially the stop sign, (talk to the hand girlfriend) zinger, (sorry that you weren't comfortable w/ the possibility that the "all music is subjective" mantra is B.S.). Noting that there are other favorite guitarist threads isn't the same thing as saying that there are too many of them, (but it would be easier and might make more sense to add to an existing thread instead of starting a new thread that isn't really new). Anyway, I like favorite guitarist threads just fine and mentioned Marc Ducret as a recent favorite. If you thought an inquery was made about him in that post you might want to look up the word up before using it in the future. Also the last time I checked naming a favorite guitarist requires less audacity (and ignorance) than to suggest that someone is the best jazz guitarist ever.
John McLaughlin. But I don't care about his music after 1992 though whatever he plays he does it well. So what? Also, he, along with Paco de Lucia, is the most technically proficient guitar player I heard. And he can play equally well jazz, fusion, flamenco, raga, classical, you name it. He has this unique gift. In addition, at his best his music is very complex even when it may appear simple; it's deceptive. Personally, I prefer his acoustic work but electric is great too.
If you can find it, watch some of his performances with Paco de Lucia, Al Di Meola and Jonas Hellborg as duos and trios. Spectacular.
Inna, although you mentioned Al Di Meola, you didn't go into your opinion of him as a jazz guitarist; I'm curious?
You tube: "John Mclaughlin Tonight Show". He does a great version of Cherokee. Johnny Carson is on board.
Pat Martino - he is "twice" better than the others since at the age of 36 (peak of his career - 15 records) he suffered brain aneurysm followed by brain surgery that left him with complete amnesia. Being told that he was a musician he learned how to play guitar again and made at least another 15 records. I highly recommend "Live at Yoshi's" (2001) with Joey DeFrancesco and Billy Hart (both incredible) - one of the best Jazz records I've ever heard.

This thread has attracted some of the most knowledgeable "jazz aficionado's"; those who know the history of the jazz guitar, beginning with Charley Christian, and the legendary Django Reinhardt.

While Pat Methaney is well represented in my collection, I don't think of him as a "guitarist", just as I don't think of "Charlie Mingus" as a bassist; their music so overshadows the instruments they play, that the music is all enveloping, and I forget who is playing what; of course my personal idiosyncrasy is completely unrelated to the facts.

Stanley Jordan is the only guitarist who can sound like two guitars at the same time. I enjoy him a lot.

These comments indicate how wide the range of music is for guitarists, they incorporate so many other generas of music into what we call "jazz", that we are not sure if it's still jazz. But jazz became amorphous, after 1970; consequently neither you or the music are confused, it just changed.
Don't forget those guys who can play in almost any style, like Lee Ritenour or Larry Carlton. Granted, there are true originals out there so why do we need these copies? Because they are current.

But I digress, I think the originals deserve more recognition for developing their unique style. My faves are:

Pat Metheny
John Scofield
John McLaughlin
Wes Montgomery
Joe Pass
George Benson (when he actually plays)
In my more traditional list Wes is tops. Great to see Lenny Breau mentioned. Would like to add Biréli Lagrène - I highly recommend his 'Live in Marciac'. Got to sneak Tuck Andress in there just for technique alone when he's playing jazz.
For my taste Al Di Meola's best and great work is "Cielo e Terra" album. It has nothing to do with jazz and cannot really be categorized. I also very much like some tracks from "Heart of the Immigrants", "Kiss my Axe", "Casino" and "Splendido Hotel". Other than that I think he was at his best playing with John McLaughlin and Paco de Lucia.
Inna, I agree in regard to "Cielo e Terra" as his best work, but in regard to the classification I'm not so sure. If I like it, it must be jazz. As I mentioned in an earlier post, jazz is quite "amorphous" now.
Pat Metheny's is much more than jazz guitarist but orchestrator and great composer just like FZ.

DiMeola is the master of the most sophisticated riffs on this planet.

I can add to this crowd less known Dutch guitarist Jan Akkerman (Focus fusion band).
If anyone is interested in Paco de Lucia but not well familiar with him, I recommend "Siroco" album. I think it is his best release, and he himself thinks so too. It is in essence solo performance, no flamenco singing, with some jazz influences. He doesn't try to impress with his incredible technique, just uses it as needed.
Don't forget Egberto Gismonte everyone. Also an awesome composer as well as an incredible guitarist and pianist.
I only know Egberto as a composer, never heard him play. I better check it out.

I was a "Brazilian" in my life before this one. Anything that is of Brazil resonates my "inner soul", and that's where Egberto Gismonti's guitar resonates; his music is Brazil.

I went to a film festival that lasted for weeks. It featured movies made in Brazil about Brazil, they were in Portuguese; even the language was music to my ears. The soundtracks were "deep in the pocket" Brazilian, music not heard here. Egberto's music is reminiscent of that.

"Sol Do Meio Dia" is my favorite, it's a spectacular recording on ECM. Any recommendations will be appreciated.

Orpheus10, Have you tried Charlie Byrd yet? He played a lot of Latin American music. No claim that he was the 'best' but he certainly was good and got a lot down. Check him out via Google and see if anything interests you.

Charlie Byrd first came to my attention when he did "Jazz Samba" with Stan Getz. His "laid back" sound evokes ipanema beach and Rio. No one can forget "Desafinado", it is a classic example of "bossa nova"; which is what Byrd and Getz made famous.

While both Byrd and Gismonti were inspired by Brazil, there is absolutely no similarity in their music. Egberto Gismonti is historic Brazil, his music resonates with an ancient Afro pulse from the hinterland of Brazil. I mention this because some might get the impression they were duplicating Brazilian guitars by buying both. In my opinion, they are a must have for the "guitar aficionado".
Any particular album by Gismonti is a must have? That Brazilian Afro beat I got to hear.
Danny Gatton "Hot Rod Guitar" (2 CD set) Other titles are "Redneck Jazz"! Taste w/kick ass!!
Redneck Jazz is a stunner. IIRC, there was also a live version that came out a year or so later that is a great companion piece. I kinda think that his live recording called "Humbler Stakes His Claim" with Harlem Nocturne is Gatton's greatest jazz moment, but these discs are right there, too.

All were recorded before Gatton hurt his arm and show what he could do at his peak.


Inna, "Sol Do Meio Dia" is one of the most beautiful albums in my collection. The rhythms I spoke of are exemplified by "Nana Vasconcelos" on the "Barimbau". They are not the typical "Rio carnival samba beat". These rhythms originated in Angola and are now associated with "capoiera", the Brazilian fighting dance. I am on the hunt for CD's that feature those rhythms exclusively.
While Pat Methaney is well represented in my collection, I don't think of him as a "guitarist", just as I don't think of "Charlie Mingus" as a bassist; their music so overshadows the instruments they play, that the music is all enveloping, and I forget who is playing what; 05-03-11: Orpheus10

Orpheus10, I must say that is very insightful.

Foster_9, I consider that quite a compliment, especially since it came from a "true aficionado" of the music which is so much a part of our lives.
My favorite is Burrell,like very much Grant Green and P.de Lucia,saw Paco sextet live last year,would recommend to anyone for listening.But,think no one mentioned some other great jazz players,like Tiney Grimes or Les Paul,than Herb Ellis or Tal Farlow,or young Russel Malone.What about Charlie Byrd or Gabor Szabo? Fusion is not my thing,but Hiram Bullock or Terje Rypdal are good too.What abot Eric Gale,he played on so many studio sessions,Abercrombie is good,Mike Stern,Ralph Towner or Bill Frisell too.In fact,more I like or search for the obscure ones,like for exmp.Ray Crawford that played with J.Smith,or Melvin Sparks,or Paul Weeden that played with S.Stitt,or Eddie Wright who played with Freddie Roach,and so on...List is long,the famous ones will not be forgoten soon,but the less fortunate could,and thats a pity

Your post motivated me to wade thru the pile and pull out Red Neck Jazz Explosion, the live CD with the Red Neck Jazz Band (Gatton and Buddy Emmons on steel guitar).

Zounds! What a fantastic record.

I'm too hard on jazz guitar, in general.

I've always heard jazz guitar as a second-string jazz instrument (so to speak) after the major brass (cornet, trumpet) and winds (alto and tenor sax), and of course piano, bass, and drums.

In other words, to my ears, no jazz guitarist has had the impact on the artform equal to that of Armstrong, Ellington, Parker, Miles, Bill Evans, Billie Holiday, and the other obvious world-historical Great Ones.

To my ears, the question has always been should a guitarist play like a:
--single-note horn-player (ie, mimic Charlie Parker);
--embrace a rhythmic role (in the Freddie Green tradition with Count Basie);
--play in a pianistic style (which is how I hear classical guitar-derived stylists, or the electric styles of Joe Pass);
--play in a blues-laced style
--mix all of the above
--or find a new voice for the sonic potentials of the electric guitar, following the revolutionary example of Jimi Hendrix (here I'm thinking of Sonny Sharrock, Bill Frisell, but also Pat Metheny, and J Scofield).

That said, the guitarists who wow me regularly (on particular albums) are probably
Jim Hall
Egberto Gismonti
Pat Metheny
Kenny Burrell
Brandon Ross
Wes Montgomery
Anything but like Charlie Parker; I hate this. You can't really play like Miles but can try like Coltrane. The closest to this I heard was McLaughlin's composition entitled Life Divine that he played with Santana. Splendid.
And also, from McLaughlin's album "The Promise" the piece called "Django" that he plays with Jeff Beck. It is blues, and a great one. Beck's guitar sings, and McLaughlin's provides space and depth. Unusual collaboration.
John McLaughlin has the gift, like Miles Davis, anyone who plays with him performs his best.