The Jazz guitar was one of the many-stringed instruments in the 19th century along with the banjo and mandolin. They could be heard in different orchestras which included Hawaiian groups, Mexican mariachi groups, Minstrel and Gypsy groups. Around 1890s the Jazz guitar emerged from two influential styles of music--- Ragtime and Blues.
The Ragtime Style was grounded in a duple rhythm—2/4. This rhythm was well suited to the 'boom-chick' or finger-picking of the guitar. The registral functions of the stride piano (the bass notes for harmonic support and the mid-range chords)lent itself well to the guitar, even the high notes for the melody could be played on the first two strings .Guitarists like Papa Charlie Jackson and Blind Blake are very good examples of this style of playing.
The Blues style of this time included the 'wailing or crying' blue notes, usually by bending the string or by using a slide. The other important element was the famous chord progression 1-1V-1-V-1.
Around 1900s, The New Orleans players smoothed out 2/4 Ragtime feel with a more 4/4 rhythmic foundation, creating a stronger 'swing' pulse with a greater emotional feeling for the blues. One can hear this style distinctly in the playing of Lonnie Johnson and Johnny St. Cyr. However, Big Bands were using banjo players like The Flectcher Henderson band, even Duke Ellington's (in the banjo playing of Fred Guy)but the popularity of the guitar as a solo and rhythm instrument was being pioneered by such guitarists as Eddie Lang and Lonnie Johnson. A good example of this style can be heard on a 1929 recording called 'Hot Fingers' where they successfully demonstrate the blues sequence, syncopations, the wailing blue thirds and a display of virtuosity, transforming and setting the guitar as a solo instrument en route for a new sustained art form.
However, the blues style of guitar from the 1920s onwards tended to follow its own course. We can hear some very good examples of this in the recordings of the likes as Big Bill Bronzy, T-bone Walker and the young B.B. King. Some 'hillbilly' or country guitar style, again categorised by the two-beat rhythm, was being developed by guitarist Merle Travis and later by Chet Atkins and later to Lenny Breau and to our own day, the ubiquitous Bill Frisell.
The 1930s saw some amazing developments in guitar techniques and influences mostly surrounding a gypsy guitarist from Belgium. Django Reinhardt (1910-53) forged such an impact on jazz guitar that if he didn't exist, we would have to invent him. His virtuosity was indeed remarkable despite the crippling of the two last fingers on his left hand. His 1930 recording of 'limehouse Blues' is a superb example of his total emotional range and uncanny display of his 'genial' talent. This recording features his lighting fast runs, double-time strumming, bending blue notes, ornamental turns and long octave passages .
The 1930s saw the development of the amplified electric guitar whose heightened volume and sustain allowed it to stand out in any ensemble. We also had technical innovations with new guitar makers such as Gibson, D'Angelico New Yorker and Gretsch. The Gibson ES-150 with its arch-top, hollow-body used by one of the great modernist guitarist—Charlie Christian. Born in Texas and raised in Oklahoma, steeped in the tradition of blues, jazz and dance music but developed a highly individual voice of his own on the guitar. In his short life (1916—42) he left an indelible mark on future jazz guitarists. In his hands, the electric guitar became a 'horn' comparable to the tenor sax playing of Lester Young. Harmonically, he was the first to base his improvisations not on the harmonies of the theme but on the passing chords which he placed between the basic harmonies .He also replaced the previous staccato approach to playing with a more legato sound .His arch-top guitar gave him a clean, round tone of warmth and power. On several recordings with the Benny Goodman septet in 1939, we have some superb examples of his talent. Take the tract 'Breakfast Feud' ,Christian spins catchy riffs, returning figures and repeated notes with diminished seventh or eleventh chords. Other examples are his 'Solo Flight' and on some recordings at Minton's such as 'Charlie's choice' and 'Stomping at the Savoy' which can be regarded as the first of all bebop records.
A host of post-Christian guitarists appeared in the late 40s such as Les Paul, Jimmy Raney, Johnny Smith, Billy Bauer, Tal Farlow, Barney Kessel, Joe Pass ,Jim Hall, Pat Martino, Grant Green. The most rhythmically rooted in the Charlie Christian tradition was Barney Kessel, a member of the Oscar Peterson Trio, then with his own groups, with his strong legato swing style while Jimmy Raney is harmonically indebted to Christian with his richly nuanced lines. Tal Farlow's style had all the central elements of Christian's with the added use of harmonics, percussive patterns tapping on the body of the guitar and the use of sophisticated chordal improvisations as shown superbly in his recordings with The Red Norvo Trio. (1951)
Jim Hall was to become, as he is today, the master of delicate, sensitive improvisations, from his working with The Jimmy Giuffre Trio, duos with the pianist, Bill Evans and to his own current groups. Others guitarists mentioned above developed their own highly individual approach to jazz improvisations. One of the most influential in this area was Wes Montgomery. Wes, born and raised in Indianapolis, developed a truly original style playing with a mellow ,determined attack due to his thumb-playing ,constructing chorus after chorus of swinging eight notes with his round, intense tone and he phrased in short jabbing bursts where every note throbbed with bluesy feeling. However, as Joe Pass said once, Wes' characteristic parallel octaves and chords playing broke new ground and set the standard for future jazz guitarists. We can hear all these ingredients in one of the greatest guitar recording simply called and rightly so 'The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery' (1960)
The 60s saw the cross-fertilisation of rock and jazz music , (the word 'fusion' literally funk and jazz coming together) and this new direction would not have been possible without the music of soul-singer, James Brown if you had to take one of the best examples. In Brown's music, we have the straight beat, as opposed to swing, percussive bass lines, lapidary drum patterns, clipped horn riffs and endlessly repetitive, minimalised soulful rhythm which was to be explored and epitomised by Miles Davis when he recorded, 'Bitches Brew (1969) But Miles was already under the influence of popular singers such as The Beatles and later Jimi Hendrix in his recording of 'Miles in the Sky' (1968) where he used the guitar (George Benson) in his group for the first time. But in was in the next recordings 'In a Silent Way'(1969), 'Bitches Brew' and 'Jack Johnson' both in 1970 where the electric guitar became an integral part of this new, massive spontaneous multi-improvisatory sound. In the hands of John McLaughlin the electric guitar drove a roiling rhythm section with its keening chords and sinuous free improvisations against the fragmented, abstract calls of Miles' amplified trumpet.
Born in England 1942, McLaughlin recorded a marvellous album called "Extrapolation"(1968) with John Surman on baritone sax where we sampled his squiring, leaping lines and jagged chords and a rapidly maturing technique .He worked , before joining Miles Davis, in the seminal group of Tony William's 'Lifetime' with organist, Larry Young. It was in this rock-oriented group that McLaughlin gathered the necessary tools he needed for his Mahavishnu Orchestra. He clearly demonstrated in this new group that power, volume and clarity were to be the fundamental elements of his music.