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frugal technology, simple living and guerrilla large-appliance repair
Fri, 24 May 2013

Joe Pass: 'Summertime' (1992)

Here's a Joe Pass solo performance from late in his life. He's playing a custom ES-175 guitar that Gibson made for him and delivered to him in 1992, according to longtime friend and fellow guitarist John Pisano.

The guitar differs from stock ES-175 models in a few ways. It has a slightly thinner body, a single pickup in the neck position (which is like ES-175s with a single pickup, though "modern" ES175s usually are equipped with two pickups), an ebony fingerboard (instead of rosewood) and gold hardware instead of nickel (or chrome).


The gold hardware -- including pickup cover and tailpiece -- and especially the pickup placement, which is closer to the neck than a traditional ES-175, bring an L4-CES quality to the instrument, though Joe's guitar didn't have the L4-CES' L5-style tailpiece and retained the ES-175's wood bridge.

Joe seemed to like the guitar a lot, playing it live and in the studio until his death in May 1994. You can see and hear the guitar on the record Joe made with Roy Clark. The sessions were also captured on video. You can see them on YouTube.

Getting back to the video above, I really like Joe's rendition of "Summertime," written by George Gershwin for "Porgy and Bess." You can really hear how Joe loves these tunes and knows them inside and out. It's something to think about when you are trying to play standards: Really knowing the tunes helps in so many ways.

It's easy to say this (I just did) even though I haven't spent the kind of time needed to really know any standards myself.

One more observation before I close out this post. If you listen to a lot of Joe Pass, you can hear quite a difference between Joe in the studio and Joe in front of an audience.

In the studio, I think Joe really stretched the form of the tunes he recorded. Often if you aren't familiar with the tune, it's hard to pick out the original melody from all that's going on in Joe's solo renditions.

But live, it was a different story. Joe was really aware of the crowd, and he "played to" the audience in a way he didn't in the studio. For that reason, I recommend that new Joe Pass fans (or fans-to-be) start with live recordings and then work their way into his solo studio sessions.