Joe Pass (born Joseph Anthony Passalaqua, January 13, 1929, New Brunswick, New Jersey, U.S., died May 23, 1994, Los Angeles, California) was a jazz guitarist. His extensive use of walking basslines, melodic counterpoint during improvisation, and use of a chord-melody style of play opened up new possibilities for jazz guitar and had a profound influence on future guitarists.
As early as 14, Pass started getting gigs and was playing with bands fronted by Tony Pastor and Charlie Barnet, honing his guitar skills and learning the music business. He began traveling with small jazz groups and eventually moved from Pennsylvania to New York City. In a few years, he fell victim to drug abuse, and spent much of the 1950s in relative obscurity. Pass managed to emerge from it through a two-and-a-half-year stay at Synanon, drug rehabilitation program. During that time he slowly returned to playing. In 1962 he recorded The Sounds of Synanon.
He was a sideman with Louis Bellson, Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan, Joe Williams, Della Reese, Johnny Mathis, and worked on TV shows including the The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, The Merv Griffin Show, The Steve Allen Show, and others. In the early 1970s, Pass and guitarist Herb Ellis were performing together regularly at Donte's jazz club in Los Angeles. This collaboration led to Pass and Ellis recording the very first album on the new Concord Jazz label, entitled simply Jazz/Concord (#CJS-1), along with bassist Ray Brown and drummer Jake Hanna. In the early 1970s, Pass also collaborated on a series of music books, and his Joe Pass Guitar Style (written with Bill Thrasher) is considered a leading improvisation textbook for students of jazz.
Norman Granz, the producer of Jazz at the Philharmonic and the founder of Verve Records signed Pass to Granz's new Pablo Records label in 1970. In 1974, Pass released his landmark solo album Virtuoso on Pablo Records. Also in 1974, Pablo Records released the album The Trio featuring Pass, Oscar Peterson, and Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen. At the Grammy Awards of 1975, The Trio won the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Performance by a Group. As part of the Pablo Records "stable," Pass also recorded with Benny Carter, Milt Jackson, Herb Ellis, Zoot Sims, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, Count Basie, and others.
Pass and Ella Fitzgerald recorded four albums together on Pablo Records, toward the end of Fitzgerald's career: Take Love Easy (1973), Easy Living (1986), Speak Love (1983), and Fitzgerald and Pass... Again (1976).
In addition to his ensemble performances, the jazz community regards Joe Pass as an influential solo guitarist. His solo style was marked by an advanced linear technique, sophisticated harmonic sense, counterpoint between improvised lead lines, bass figures and chords, spontaneous modulations, and transitions from fast tempos to rubato passages.
Pass's early style (influenced by guitarist Django Reinhardt and saxophonist Charlie Parker), was marked by fast single-note lines and a flowing melodic sense. Pass had the unusual lifelong habit of breaking his guitar picks in half and playing only with the smaller part. As Pass made the transition from ensemble to solo guitar performance, he preferred to abandon the pick altogether, and play fingerstyle. He found this enabled him to execute his harmonic concepts more effectively. His series of solo albums, Virtuoso (volumes 1 through 4) are a demonstration of Pass's refined technique.
Joe Pass let some instrument manufacturers use his name, but he only used those instruments to fulfill its engagement against those brands, or as travelling ones. He really used to play a Gibson ES-175 guitar (mainly) and a guitar made for him by master crafter Jimmy D'Aquisto. Epiphone has produced an edition of the Emperor line of semi-acoustic Guitar in his honour. Previously Ibanez had a Joe Pass model jazz guitar, as they continue to for influential jazz guitarists George Benson and Pat Metheny.