Brian Nova – 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 Brian Nova 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) 🙂


1) Hello Herbie – The Oscar Peterson Trio w/Herb Ellis: Herb was my first real jazz guitar influence, and the first one to take me on the road as a young jazz guitarist and teach me the ropes.  Herbie was the consummate swing guitarist and a master of comping.  His sense of time was unparalleled.  I had the great opportunity to play alongside Herb for many years and Herbie’s sense of time and swing was just amazing.  You had to be next to him to fully understand the unshakable time element of his playing.  I first met Herbie at Jazz Alley in Seattle and once I heard him play, it changed my life.  I had no idea the guitar could be played that way.  This album was recorded in the Black Forest in Germany on the MPS record label about 11 years after Herbie left The Oscar Peterson Trio.  It is a perfect example of Herb’s amazing swing feel, his ability to propel the band forward, and his mastery of comping.  Herb really tears it up and you can hear the love and comradery between Herb and Oscar after an 11-year hiatus.  Herb has time to expand when he wants to, to build an arc on his solo.  I once asked Herbie what he thought was his favorite album, and Herbie picked this one.  I would have to agree.

2) Virtuoso #1 – Joe Pass: I remember the first time I heard this record… Herb Ellis played it for me and when I heard it, I remember asking Herbie, ‘Who are they?’  And Herbie replied. ‘They… is Joe Pass’.  From then on, I knew that Joe was going to be a main influence on me and where I wanted to grow musically.  His ideas, harmonies, chordal structures, long sustained lines, be-bop infused lines, and walking bass lines with chordal accompaniment… all of it was stunningly beautiful to me and I wanted to learn all I could.  Herb arranged a meeting for me, which is a WHOLE other story… but we finally hit it off, he became a huge influence and mentor to me.  He took me under his wing and taught me the business and the elements that make up a guitarist in jazz.  I ended up performing with Joe many times till the end of his career as a duet.  This is #1 in a series of 4 studio recordings and 1 live one in the Virtuoso series.  Recorded in 1973, it was one Joe’s first recordings on the Pablo Label for Norman Granz.  Joe was actually not a fan of the recording.  Norman was infamous for only letting artists have one take per song.  There was multiple technical issues going on, mics working then not, ground fault issues, etc..  It was also Joe’s first attempt at a solo recording.  He was very nervous and didn’t think anyone would be interested in just hearing a guitar by itself.  Norman was convinced otherwise, he knew that Joe had a gift, and that people would love his music.  When it was released, it outsold nearly every other album in the Pablo catalog.  It was the album that launched a thousand guitar players and opened their eyes and ears to Jazz Guitar.

3) Jimmy & Wes: The Dynamic Duo – Jimmy Smith & Wes Montgomery: I can honestly say that I have never met a Jazz Guitarist that does not LOVE to play in an Organ Trio.  It is definitely one of my favorite settings.  And for me, this album was the one that introduced me to the two best at it, Wes Montgomery and Jimmy Smith.  The synergy between them, the grooves they laid down, and their very complimentary styles and musical approaches… they simply were the best and set the standard for the rest that have followed.  I never got to play with Wes, but I did play with Jimmy, and he thought this was one of his favorite recording sessions.  Jimmy told me that their next record, ‘The Further Adventures of Jimmy and Wes’ was actually all from the same recording sessions, but Verve released some of the session in 1966, and the rest in 1968.  Produced by Creed Taylor, arrangements by Oliver Nelson and engineered by Rudy Van Gelder, it simply covers almost every aspect of how to present the Guitar and Hammond B3 together in both Trio and Big Band settings.  Wes is allowed time to build his solos from single line, to octaves, to chordal melodies and beyond.  It is an amazing adventure he takes us on with each solo.  I love how Wes not only put his incredible single lines together along with octaves, but his comping is just off the charts on these cuts.  He literally wrote the book on how to play WITH a Hammond B3.  Besides… it has to be one of the best jazz album covers of all time.

4) Take Love Easy – Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass: This was the first recording I heard with Joe and Ella and is still my favorite.  The ability to accompany a vocalist, especially of Ella’s stature, is simply pure mastery of chordal harmony, time as well as the ability to create forward momentum without leading the vocalist on.  Giving the vocalist time and opportunity to sing the melody, the line, to tell the story and yet be a complete safety net and encompassing everything around the vocalist.  To make it interesting enough for the listener, moving between chords and single lines and to keep time but not be too obvious.  It takes a wealth of knowledge of hundreds of songs at one’s fingertips to be able to flawlessly and effortlessly accompany someone like Ella.  I grew up accompanying singers and had the opportunity to play alongside some incredible accompanists, so I had a good idea of what was required to be a good accompanist.  But to hear Joe and Ella… well it was just a masterclass.  Ella and Joe did four studio recordings as a duet, and several live recordings.  All of them are stellar, but for me, this one was the recording that defined an era of guitar and vocal recordings.

5) After Midnight Sessions – Nat King Cole: This might be my favorite album of all time.  I have been in love with this album ever since I first heard Nat sing Route 66 from this recording when I was 17.  It has great arrangements, wonderful guest artists, and above all… the Nat King Cole Trio.  John Collins was Nat’s guitarist during the 50’s taking Oscar Moore’s place.  Willie Smith, Harry ‘Sweets’ Edison, Juan Tizol, and Stuff Smith are the guest artists on this recording.  Nat never sounded better.  John plays some wonderful solos that blend so well with Nat’s style.  But the band just swings like crazy.  Lee Young (Lester’s brother) on drums never uses sticks.  He is on brushes the entire recording and it is a masterclass unto itself.  There is SO much going on in these recording that it should be required listening in every History of Jazz Class.  It had a profound effect on my life as a jazz musician.  I sing and perform many of the tunes from this landmark recording.  And not just me… John Pizzarelli, Diana Krall, Harry Connick Jr., and many others have all named this as one of their favorite recordings.  It embodies everything that a jazz recording should have.  And it feels like they are having the time of their life playing and recording.  Something that is missing all too often in Jazz… the art of having fun making Jazz.  All too often, many jazz musicians end up taking themselves and their art just a little too seriously.  Nat teaches us to try and enjoy the ride.

Bonus addition – if there’s room for one more… it would have to be this one…

Breezin’ – George Benson: Well, this one might get some raised eyebrows, but I am a child of the 60’s and 70’s and was a sophomore in High School when this album came out.  It was 1976, a great year for music: Boston, The Eagles, Rush, Queen, Stevie Wonder, Aerosmith and my pal Steve Miller were all releasing landmark recordings.  But I was completely captivated with George Benson’s Breezin’ album.  It might have launched the Smooth Jazz genre, but for me, it was still the art of Jazz Guitar.  George had released 14 albums before, all far more traditional, but Breezin’ took us into the studio world of the 70’s with great arrangements, Tommy LiPuma as producer and the late great Al Schmitt as engineer.  George played more notes on one tune for CTI than he played on this entire recording, but he used his choice of notes most elegantly.  He could have over-played on every cut, but decided to let things simmer and groove, and give us all hints of his virtuosity.  He also established his scatting along with his guitar on ‘This Masquerade’.  I loved the ideas and lines he used for his solos.  It was more rhythmically induced than on his be-bop recordings.  But still very harmonically hip and was well suited for the genre.  In fact, he pretty much defined the genre with this album.  For me, he opened up my ears to other concepts that I was trying to hear… bridges between jazz and the pop/rock world.–Q

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About Lyle Robinson 350 Articles
Lyle Robinson is the owner/creator/publisher and editor of Jazz Guitar Life, an online magazine dedicated to the Jazz Guitar and its community of fine players worldwide.


    • Hey L. Crawford Reid and thanks for dropping by and checking out Brian Nova’s Desert Island Picks. I agree with your agreement as well 🙂

      Take care and all the best.

      Lyle – Jazz Guitar Life

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