Joe Pass

Last updated
Joe Pass
Joe Pass (jazz).jpg
Joe Pass in 1975
Background information
Birth nameJoseph Anthony Jacobi Passalaqua
Born(1929-01-13)January 13, 1929
New Brunswick, New Jersey, U.S.
Origin Johnstown, Pennsylvania, U.S.
DiedMay 23, 1994(1994-05-23) (aged 65)
Los Angeles, California
Genres Jazz
Occupation(s) Guitarist, composer
Years active1943–1994
Labels Pacific Jazz, Concord, Pablo
Associated acts Oscar Peterson, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, Ella Fitzgerald

Joe Pass (born Joseph Anthony Jacobi Passalaqua; January 13, 1929 – May 23, 1994) was an American jazz guitarist. [1] [2] Pass worked often with pianist Oscar Peterson and vocalist Ella Fitzgerald.


Early life

Pass was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey, [3] on January 13, 1929.

Pass found work as a performer as early as age 14. He played with bands led by Tony Pastor and Charlie Barnet, honing his guitar skills while learning the ropes to the music industry. He began traveling with small jazz groups and moved from Pennsylvania to New York City. Within a few years he had developed an addiction to heroin. He moved to New Orleans for a year and played bebop for strippers. Pass revealed to Robert Palmer of Rolling Stone that he had suffered a "nervous breakdown" in New Orleans "because [he] had access to every kind of drug there and was up for days [...] [he] would come to New York a lot, then get strung out and leave." [4]

Pass spent much of the 1950s in and out of prison for drug-related convictions. In the same Rolling Stone interview, Pass said, "staying high was my first priority; playing was second; girls were third. But the first thing really took all my energy." He recovered after a two-and-a-half-year stay in the Synanon rehabilitation program. Pass largely put music on hiatus during his prison sentence. [5]

Discovery and career

Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass, 1974 Ella Fitzgerald & Joe Pass 1974.JPG
Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass, 1974

Pass recorded a series of albums during the 1960s for Pacific Jazz Records, including Catch Me,12-String Guitar,For Django, and Simplicity. In 1963, he received Downbeat magazine's New Star Award. He also played on Pacific Jazz recordings by Gerald Wilson, Bud Shank, and Les McCann. He toured with George Shearing in 1965. During the 1960s, he did mostly TV and recording session work in Los Angeles. Norman Granz, the producer of Jazz at the Philharmonic and the founder of Verve Records, signed Pass to Pablo Records in December 1973. In 1974, Pass released his solo album Virtuoso on Pablo. Also in 1974, Pablo released the album The Trio with Pass, Oscar Peterson, and Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen. He performed with them on many occasions throughout the 1970s and 1980s. At the Grammy Awards of 1975, The Trio won the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Performance by a Group. As part of the Pablo roster, Pass recorded with Benny Carter, Milt Jackson, Herb Ellis, Zoot Sims, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, and Count Basie.[ citation needed ]

Pass and Ella Fitzgerald recorded six albums together on Pablo toward the end of Fitzgerald's career: Take Love Easy (1973), Fitzgerald and Pass... Again (1976), Hamburg Duets - 1976 (1976), Sophisticated Lady (1975, 1983), Speak Love (1983), and Easy Living (1986). [6]

Later life and death

Pass was diagnosed with liver cancer in 1992. Although he was initially responsive to treatment and continued to play into 1993, his health eventually declined, forcing him to cancel his tour with Pepe Romero, Paco Peña, and Leo Kottke. Pass performed for the final time on May 7, 1994, with fellow guitarist John Pisano at a nightclub in Los Angeles. Pisano told Guitar Player that after the performance Pass looked at him with a tear in his eye and said "I can't play anymore", an exchange which Pisano described as "like a knife in my heart." [4]

In 1994, Joe Pass died from liver cancer in Los Angeles, California at the age of 65. Prior to his death, he recorded an album of Hank Williams songs with country guitarist Roy Clark. [7]

Speaking about Nuages: Live at Yoshi's, Volume 2, Jim Ferguson wrote:

The follow up to 1993's Joe Pass & Co. Live at Yoshi's, this release was colored by sad circumstances: both bassist Monty Budwig and Pass were stricken with fatal illnesses. Nevertheless, all concerned, including drummer Colin Bailey and second guitarist John Pisano, play up to their usual high levels...Issued posthumously, this material is hardly sub-standard. Bristling with energy throughout, it helps document the final stages in the career of a player who, arguably, was the greatest mainstream guitarist since Wes Montgomery. [8]


Joe Pass in concert in 1974 playing his Gibson ES-175 guitar Joe Pass 1974.JPG
Joe Pass in concert in 1974 playing his Gibson ES-175 guitar

New York magazine wrote about Pass, "Joe Pass looks like somebody's uncle and plays guitar like nobody's business. He's called 'the world's greatest' and often compared to Paganini for his virtuosity. There is a certain purity to his sound that makes him stand out easily from other first-rate jazz guitarists." [2]

He weaves his own fast-moving chords and filigree work so nimbly that it is hard to believe fingers can physically shift so quickly. Slight moustached, fairly balding, he frowns over his fretwork like a worried head waiter with more guests than tables but the sound that comes out could only be the confident product of years of devotion to the instrument... But it is when he plays completely solo, which he does for half of each set, that he comes into his own, because without hindrance of the rhythm section he can completely orchestrate each number. Sometimes it is by contrasting out of tempo sections with fast-moving interludes, sometimes by switching mood from wistful to lightly swinging, sometimes by alternating single-note lines with chords or simultaneous bass line and melody – the possibilities seem endless. Luckily, there is a new L.P. by him which captures all this on vinyl, as someone has had the unusual good sense to record him all alone. It is called Virtuoso and rightly so.

Miles Kington on Pass in an October 1974 article in The Times. [9]



Related Research Articles

Ella Fitzgerald American singer-songwriter

Ella Jane Fitzgerald was an American jazz singer, sometimes referred to as the First Lady of Song, Queen of Jazz, and Lady Ella. She was noted for her purity of tone, impeccable diction, phrasing, timing, intonation, and a "horn-like" improvisational ability, particularly in her scat singing.

Harry Edison Musical artist

Harry "Sweets" Edison was an American jazz trumpeter and a member of the Count Basie Orchestra. His greatest impact was as a Hollywood studio musician, whose muted trumpet can be heard backing singers, most notably Frank Sinatra.

Ray Brown (musician) Musical artist

Raymond Matthews Brown was an American jazz double bassist known for extensive work with Oscar Peterson and Ella Fitzgerald.

Herb Ellis Musical artist

Mitchell Herbert Ellis, known professionally as Herb Ellis, was an American jazz guitarist. During the 1950s, he was in a trio with pianist Oscar Peterson.

William Thomas "Keter" Betts was an American jazz double bassist. Born in Port Chester, New York, he was nicknamed "Keter", a short form of the word mosquito. Graduated Chester Senior High in 1946 where he majored in music playing drums, tympani, tuba, glockenspiel, switching from drums to bass fiddle

<i>Take Love Easy</i> 1974 studio album by Ella Fitzgerald and Joe Pass

Take Love Easy is an album by the jazz singer Ella Fitzgerald with guitarist Joe Pass, released in 1974.

Freddie Green Musical artist

Frederick William Green was an American swing jazz guitarist who played rhythm guitar with the Count Basie Orchestra for almost fifty years.

"Midnight Sun" (1954) was originally an instrumental composed by Lionel Hampton and Sonny Burke in 1947 and is now considered a jazz standard. Subsequently, Johnny Mercer wrote the words to the song. One famous recording of the song with the Mercer lyrics is by Ella Fitzgerald on her 1957 album Like Someone in Love. Fitzgerald recorded the song again for her 1964 album Ella Fitzgerald Sings the Johnny Mercer Songbook. She recorded it for a third time in 1975 with jazz pianist Oscar Peterson on the Pablo release Ella and Oscar.

Jack Rivers Lewis, known professionally as Jack Wilkins, is a jazz guitarist.

George Van Eps Musical artist

George Van Eps was an American swing and mainstream jazz guitarist.

John Pisano Musical artist

John Pisano is a jazz guitarist born in Staten Island, New York.

Paul Thatcher Smith was an American jazz pianist. He performed in various genres of jazz, most typically bebop, but is best known as an accompanist of singers, especially Ella Fitzgerald.

<i>For Django</i> 1964 studio album by Joe Pass

For Django is an album by jazz guitarist Joe Pass that contains renditions of compositions famously interpreted by, written about or written for Django Reinhardt.

<i>Virtuoso</i> (Joe Pass album) 1973 studio album by Joe Pass

Virtuoso is an album by jazz guitarist Joe Pass that was released in 1973. Despite having only one original composition, it is widely considered to be his best album, as well as one of the best jazz guitar albums. The remastered version used 20-bit K2 Super Coding System technology and included liner notes by Benny Green.

Colin James Bailey is British-born American jazz drummer.

<i>Live at Dontes</i> (Joe Pass album) 1981 live album by Joe Pass

Live at Donte's is a live album by American jazz guitarist Joe Pass recorded in 1974 but first released in 1981 on Pablo Records. After spending over ten years playing in relative obscurity, Pass released the critically acclaimed solo-guitar Virtuoso and also played on two Ella Fitzgerald albums.

Royce Campbell is a jazz guitarist from Indiana who was a member of the Henry Mancini orchestra for twenty years.

<i>Live at Yoshis</i> (Joe Pass album) 1992 live album by Joe Pass

Live at Yoshi's is a live album by jazz guitarist Joe Pass that was released in 1992.

Jim Ferguson Musical artist

James Edwin Ferguson is an American guitarist, composer, journalist, and educator.

Nuages is a live album by jazz guitarist Joe Pass that was released in 1997.


  1. Holder, Mitch (16 January 2006). The Jazz Guitar Stylings of Howard Roberts. Mel Bay Publications. p. 2. ISBN   978-0-7866-7409-1 . Retrieved 22 November 2011.
  2. 1 2 New York Media, LLC (17 September 1979). "New York Magazine". New York Media, LLC: 62. ISSN   0028-7369 . Retrieved 23 November 2011.
  3. "Joe Pass, 65, a Jazz Guitarist Who Performed With the Stars". 1994-05-24. Retrieved 2011-09-16.
  4. 1 2 "Joe Pass Biography".
  5. "Joe Pass - Interview". Archived from the original on 3 September 2014. Retrieved 16 August 2014.
  6. "Ella Fitzgerald | Album Discography". AllMusic . Retrieved July 31, 2021.
  7. Yanow, Scott. "Roy Clark & Joe Pass Play Hank Williams". AllMusic. Retrieved March 1, 2021.
  8. JazzTimes review of Nuages: Live at Yoshi's, Volume 2 (Joe Pass Quartet) by Jim Ferguson (retrieved 3 October 2011)
  9. Miles Kington. "Joe Pass." The Times (London, England) 18 October 1974: p.14. Retrieved 11 October 2014.