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Various Artists: Progressions: 100 Years of Jazz Guitar

This four-CD compilation is the equivalent of a full-semester graduate seminar in the history of jazz guitar, except more fun. It encompasses 78 guitarists on 74 tracks, drawn from 33 record labels, opening with Vess Ossman’s ragtime banjo on “St. Louis Tickle,” recorded in 1906 on an Edison Cylinder, and running through Bill Frisell’s digital loops in 2001. There is a booklet full of photos and nostalgia, plus track-by-track annotation by Charles Alexander, an erudite, passionate scholar of the jazz guitar.

The guitar’s evolution into primacy as a jazz instrument began with banjos, banjo-guitar hybrids and Hawaiian steel guitars, which were used to generate the necessary volume to be captured on record. On “Savoy Blues,” from 1927, Johnny St. Cyr’s powerful chords behind Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five are strummed on a hybrid (guitar neck, banjo body). But by the 1930s, new higher-volume instruments like the Gibson L5, positioned close to the microphone, enabled acoustic guitars to supplant banjos. Rhythm guitarists like Eddie Lang, Roy Smeck, Eddie Condon and Carl Kress (whom most modern listeners have read about in the jazz history books but have not heard) are here on acoustic instruments, driving their bands with on-the-beat swing and also taking compelling chordal and single-note solos. The real breakthrough came around 1940, when magnetic pickups enabled guitars to be amplified and heard in large jazz orchestras.

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