Last March, at the Brooklyn venue Roulette, the guitarist Nels Cline began his segment of a live tribute to John Abercrombie alone. He interpreted the late jazz hero’s “Memoir” in swells of trademark legato phrasing, with a gorgeous, crystalline tone—distinctly Fender-like but with a deeper, darker midrange. The oversold house went pin-drop silent.
The late great American inventor Leo Fender surely would’ve been tickled by Cline’s performance. Here was one of the most acclaimed guitarists of his generation, playing a ’59 Jazzmaster on a program featuring some of the finest modern-jazz talent on the planet. Cline was even using the instrument’s legendarily unpopular “Rhythm” circuit to dial in a smokier, more conventional jazz tone. Finally, in the year of its 60th anniversary, the Jazzmaster was being deployed as its creator intended.