Jazz evolved with certain instruments in the foreground: pianos, trumpets, trombones, clarinets, and saxophones led the way through the rapid stylistic developments of the 1920s, '30s, and '40s. Beginning in the late '30s, as electrical amplification enabled stringed instruments to emerge from their subservient roles in the rhythm section, certain young guitarists and string bass players began to shine as soloists. There are no less than 17 guitarists represented on Hep's Swing to Bop: Guitars in Flight 1939-1947, and 12 of these are featured as improvising artists. The most famous among jazz lovers, and justifiably so, is Gypsy guitarist Django Reinhardt, who is represented here with six superb examples from relatively late in his career. Other names that may ring bells are Al Casey (featured on "Buck Jumpin'," his showcase number with Fats Waller & His Rhythm), George Barnes, Carl Kress, Mary Osborne, Allan Reuss, Tony Mottola, and Les Paul, famous for popularizing the solid-body electric guitar. Most puzzling is the omission of Charlie Christian, who along with Reinhardt could be said to have initiated the entire early modern jazz guitar movement, providing subject matter for this very collection. There probably wasn't room on the disc for Christian after they squeezed in the 11-minute medley featuring Barney Kessel, Irving Ashby, and Arv Garrison. Maybe the folks at Hep Records decided that Christian is so important that he belongs in his own category. But not everybody knows that. And Hep doesn't seem to have issued a Charlie Christian retrospective. As excellent as this compilation is, a "Swing to Bop" jazz guitar anthology without Charlie Christian seems oddly truncated.
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