John Wheatcroft celebrates the genius of the almost unbelievably gifted, Earl Klugh.
John Wheatcroft pays heartfelt musical homage to a jazz guitar legend, the incomparable Mundell Lowe who passed away just last month.
As has happened all too often recently, we find ourselves mourning another guitar legend. However, Mundell Lowe had at least led a long and fruitful career, both as a solo artist and alongside some of music’s most iconic artists. He was also gigging right up until his death at the ripe old age of 95.
Born in Laurel, Mississippi in 1922, Lowe’s introduction to playing guitar was via country music. But, inspired by the revolutionary guitar sounds of Charlie Christian and the virtuoso playing of pianist Art Tatum, the young Mundell decided to take a change of direction towards jazz.
And what a fortuitous decision this proved to be. Mundell’s career was phenomenally successful. His resume is essentially a Who’s Who of jazz, including artists such as Charlie Parker, Billie Holiday, Dizzy Gillespie, Bill Evans, Benny Goodman, Sarah Vaughan and Ella Fitzgerald. From the world of popular music he has performed, recorded and arranged for household names such as Barry Manilow, Harry Belafonte, Bobby Darin, Peggy Lee and countless others. In the 1960s Lowe worked as guitarist, arranger and composer for television and film for both the NBC and CBS orchestras; plus he had a successful career as an educator, teaching at both the Guitar Institute of Technology (GIT) and the Grove School of Music, California.
Lowe’s playing was graceful, beautifully composed and supremely sophisticated; his chord work harmonically adventurous, and his single-note lines swung like crazy. His ideas came across as fully formed, logically developed and instantly memorable. He also reputedly knew thousands of songs, including all the lyrics and vocal nuances. This informed his melodic and accompaniment choices; he knew exactly when to fill in and when to hold back. No wonder so many singers loved to work with him - and why perhaps we should strive to emulate these aspects too.
Lowe released his latest album, Poor Butterfly, just last year and he was performing regularly until shortly before he died.
There are nine musical phrases that follow, each illustrating a particular concept, approach or technique that Mundell might employ when either improvising, setting up the mood or winding a song down with an appropriate ending. You’ll notice that Lowe tunes to drop D exclusively, so while some of these examples don’t actually use the low D string, I made the decision to stick to this tuning throughout for the sake of authenticity, and also to hopefully conjure up some of the spirit of adventure and exploration that worked so effectively for Mundell throughout his star-studded and deservedly glittering career. RIP Mundell Lowe.
With my kind of jazz, it’s ear music. if you can’t hear it, don’t play it, because if you can’t hear it then the listener can’t hear it M. Lowe
Mundell Lowe who passed away aged 95