Joe Finn – 5 Desert Island Album Picks

Regardless if you’re a beginning student of Jazz Guitar or an established player, we all have at least five albums that we cannot be without! With that said, Jazz Guitar Life has asked Jazz Guitarist Joe Finn what his five would be (assuming that he knew before hand that he was going to be stuck on a desert island and that said island had electricity and a full component stereo system) 🙂

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1) Virtuoso – Joe Pass: The well known solo guitar masterpiece that Joe Pass recorded for Pablo Records in 1973 had a big effect on my life and career in music. It helped me better understand the possibilities of a single guitar by itself. I got busy lifting various parts of different tunes, trying hard to make it less than obvious what I was stealing. Joe Pass was famous for having said that if you call yourself a guitar player you need to be able to sit down with a guitar and play music on it all by yourself for an hour. I took his words to heart and began developing a solo guitar repertoire which I continue to build upon to this day. In fact all the solo guitar work I have done over the years is at least partially due to my having heard and studied this recording. And when I listen to it now it still sounds great. With this album Joe Pass set a very high standard for solo guitar performance; and I believe it is one that has yet to be surpassed. 

2) The Incredible Jazz Guitar of Wes Montgomery: This record by Wes Montgomery is still a big favorite of mine. It may have been the first album of his I ever owned. I grew up  in a rural area and his records were hard to come by, but someone who knew I played the guitar gave me a copy which was six or seven years old at the time. I learned as much as I could from this record but even with a guitar pick it was not easy to cop some of his improvisational phrases. I tried like crazy too. Wes’ phrasing and sense of time always seemed so flawless to me. Everything he played made perfect rhythmic sense. Some of the tunes on this record have become real classics of jazz guitar like “Four on Six”, “West Coast Blues” and “Mister Walker”. As a performer I have continued to include “In Your Own Sweet Way” and “Gone With The Wind” in my setlists for many years. I don’t believe I will ever get tired of listening to Wes Montgomery. He makes me smile.

3) It’s Uptown – George Benson: I remember getting this album through the Columbia Record Club in the 1960s. Columbia’s  jazz roster at the time included Thelonius Monk and Miles Davis, who I loved, but I really didn’t know much about George Benson. “It’s Uptown” knocked me out. I sat next to the turntable and played along as I listened. This went on for years. Benson’s facility on the guitar was daunting but I kept trying to play like him. So I owe him a great debt for inspiring me to improve my ear and my technique. Naturally, I became a big fan and continued to collect and study his recordings as the years went by. Benson went on to great acclaim as a singer, but I will always be a fan of his early recordings that featured his remarkable guitar playing. 

4) Pat Martino/Live: Pat Martino was another of the great influential guitarists for people of my generation. When I first heard  him I couldn’t believe my ears. How could anyone play that well? In fact a lot of the young guitarists my age were astonished by what they were hearing.  A guitarist friend of mine made the trip to Philadelphia to study with Pat on several occasions. Afterwards we would get together and go over the lesson material  which was really  enlightening and helpful. I was also transcribing “Sunny” from the Pat Martino/Live album at the time and my friend gave Pat a copy of my transcription. Since “Sunny” was a well known popular tune, the form and the harmonies were not difficult for me to understand. It then became a matter of stopping and starting the recording to get the notes down on paper and under my fingers. Of course Pat went on to enjoy a prolific career as a recording artist, but I will always harken back to his “Live” album that was so special to me as a young guitarist. 

5) Recapitulation – Kenny Burrell: Recapitulation was my introduction to the music of Kenny Burrell. It is a two LP set of material previously released on the Cadet label so there are a range of settings from his beautiful solo rendition of “People” to his “Suite for Guitar and Orchestra”. The album also includes some Ellington, Monk and various original tunes. Kenny shows off his bebop chops on “Tricotism” and gets into a modal bag on “My Favorite Things”. He could really do all, but it was his blues stylings that really spoke to my heart. I found myself drawn to his vocabulary of infectious blues licks. This was another record where I stopped and started the turntable as I tried to appropriate his lines. Burrell’s articulation is always really clean and precise. His improvisational lines all make perfect sense and his technique always serves the music in the best of taste. Burrell’s playing continues to be an example for me of how you can balance musicality and blues energy in a sophisticated and refined fashion.

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