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George Van Eps: Once in a While

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The story of George Van Eps is one of a musician a few steps from fame who never received his due. A wunderkind of the guitar, he played in the Benny Goodman Orchestra when the band landed on the Let’s Dance radio show. But before they went on tour, and on to greater recognition, Van Eps opted for a better-paying job with Ray Noble, who didn’t make quite as big a splash. A devotee of the acoustic guitar until the ’50s, Van Eps played numerous dates in postwar Los Angeles but was often relegated to strumming rhythm behind Barney Kessel and Dave Barbour. Yet legions of young guitarists flocked to see him up until his death in 1998, and he’s best known today as an innovator of the seven-string jazz guitar tradition.

The song “Once in a While” kicks off this collection of six-string performances from the 1940s, laying out all of Van Eps’ positive attributes in two and a half tight minutes. Backed by bassist Phil Stevens and drummer Nick Fatool, the guitarist’s dexterity with chords and snaky melody lines is irresistible. “Kay’s Fantasy” and “Tea for Two” are also worthy of close study, but most of this disc features Van Eps playing third wheel in a trio with pianist Stanley Wrightsman and tenor saxophonist Eddie Miller, whose languid vibrato can get excessive. All the performances sound fine, but the 25 tracks, recorded between 1946 and ’49, don’t run in a sensible order. Furthermore, three versions apiece of midtempo standards like “It’s Easy to Remember” and “Stars Fell on Alabama” make Once in Awhile more of an item for Van Eps completists.

Originally Published