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Joe Pass in 1975
|Birth name||Joseph Anthony Jacobi Passalaqua|
|Born||(1929-01-13)January 13, 1929
New Brunswick, New Jersey, U.S.
|Origin||Johnstown, Pennsylvania, U.S.|
|Died||May 23, 1994(1994-05-23) (aged 65)
Los Angeles, California
|Labels||Pacific Jazz, Concord, Pablo|
|Associated acts||Oscar Peterson, Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen, Ella Fitzgerald|
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."
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 abandoned music during his prison sentence.
Discovery and career
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.
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).
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 Pena, and Leo Kottke. Pass performed for the final time on May 7, 1994, with 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."
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.
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.
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."
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.
- Mel Bay Presents Joe Pass "Off the Record." Mel Bay, 1993. ISBN 1-56222-687-8
- Complete Joe Pass. Mel Bay, 2003. ISBN 0-7866-6747-8
- Miyakaku, Takao. Joe Pass. Tokyo: Seiunsha, 2000. ISBN 4-434-00455-7 (photograph collection)
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