Phil Upchurch was born July 19, 1941 in Chicago, Illinois where he learned to play the guitar and bass. He stared his career in the ‘50s working with Jerry Butler before becoming house guitarist for Chess Records. He also worked with The Kool Gents, The Dells, Gene Chandler, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and The Spaniels before going on to work with Curtis Mayfield, Otis Rush and Jimmy Reed.
Returning to Chicago he played and recorded with Woody Herman, Stan Getz, Groove Holmes, B.B. King and Dizzy Gillespie. In 1961, when billed as the Philip Upchurch Combo, his recording of “You Can’t Sit Down” sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold record.
In the mid-Sixties he was house guitarist for labels such as Sue and Cadet and after a tour in the Army, in 1967 Phil he recorded with Richard Evans, John Lee Hooker, Grover Washington, Jr. and Cannonball Adderley.
In the 70s he worked with Ramsey Lewis and Quincy Jones, led his own quartet with Tennyson Stephens, through the Eighties played with George Benson, Mose Allison, Gary Burton, Joe Williams, Natalie Cole, Carmen McRae and Michael Jackson.
By the 1990s he was working with Jimmy Smith and Jack McDuff, recorded for Ichiban, Palladium and Ridgetop labels and remains an active session musician and bandleader.
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Johnny Smith was born John Henry Smith on June 25, 1922 in Birmingham, Alabama but his family moved north during the Depression living in several cities before their final destination ending in Portland, Maine.
Smith taught himself to play guitar in pawnshops, which let him play in exchange for keeping the guitars in tune. At thirteen years of age he was teaching others to play the guitar. He got his first guitar after one of his students bought a new guitar and gave him his old guitar becoming the first guitar Smith owned.
Dropping out of high school, Johnny joined a local hillbilly band, Uncle Lem and the Mountain Boys, and travelled around Maine earning four dollars a night. His interest in jazz peaked after hearing jazz bands on the radio, started practicing playing jazz, left The Mountain Boys at eighteen and founded a jazz trio called The Airport Boys.
Equally at home playing Birdland or sight-reading scores in the orchestral pit of the New York Philharmonic and was one of the most versatile guitarists of the 1950s. He recorded for Roost Records, with his most critically acclaimed Moonlight In Vermont was named one of Down Beat magazine’s top jazz albums in 1952. His most famous musical composition is the tune “Walk Don’t Run” in 1955. Johnny Smith stepped out of the public eye/ear in the 1960s, having moved to Colorado in 1958 to teach and run a music store and to raise his daughter after the death of his second wife. The cool jazz and mainstream guitarist who actively participated in the jazz scene from 1935 to 1960 passed away on June 11, 2013.
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John Stein, born on June 19, 1949, was raised in Kansas City, Missouri and took up the guitar at a very early. His was musically educated on the instrument at Berklee College of Music, where he now holds the position of associate professor.
Stein collaborates with Boston hitters Bill Pierce, Kenneth Weinberger, John LaPorta and Bob Freedman but has graced stages with David “Fathead” Newman, Lou Donaldson, Dr. Lonnie Smith, and Idris Muhammad.
John has published educational columns in Just Jazz Guitar Magazine, focusing on composition and arranging for jazz guitar. He has published arranging materials in a book titled Berklee Jazz Standards For Solo Guitar, as well as his compositional materials into two books. Composing Blues For Jazz Performance, and Composing Tunes For Jazz Performance.
He has also performed in Europe, conducting tours in Germany, France, Switzerland Brasil and the States. As a mainstay on the jazz circuit, guitarist John Stein continues to record, perform and tour with his compositions and performances covering a range of jazz including blues, bebop, bossa nova and swing.
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Talmage Holt Farlow was born on June 7, 1921 in Greensboro, North Carolina. He didn’t take up the guitar until he was twenty-one but within a year was playing professionally, although he had a reluctance to perform publicly. But, by 1948 he had joined Marjorie Hyams’ band, moved to Red Norvo’s group from ’49 to ’53 and after only six months with Artie Shaw’s Gramercy Five in 1953, Farlow put together his own group, which for a time included pianist Eddie Costa.
Farlow’s extremely large hands led to his nickname “Octopus” spreading over the fret board as if they were tentacles. In 1956 Down Beat magazine critics named him as the very best jazz guitarist in the world. Where other similar players of his day combined rhythmic chords with linear melodies, Tal preferred placing single notes together in clusters, varying between harmonically richened tones based on a startling new technique.
A supreme technician, renowned for his articulation, and smooth relaxed phrasing even at the most daunting tempos, Tal retired from full-time performing in 1958, returning to a career as a sign painter, playing only the occasional date.
He only made one record as a leader during 1960–1975, but emerged a bit more often during 1976–1984, recording for Concord fairly regularly before largely disappearing again. He was profiled in the documentary film, Talmage Farlow, and can be heard leading groups for Blue Note, Verve and Prestige. Guitarist Tal Farlow died of cancer in New York City on July 25, 1998 at the age of 77.
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Marc Ribot was born on May 21, 1954 in Newark, New Jersey and worked extensively as a session musician. His early sessions with Tom Waits helped define Waits new musical direction in 1985.
His own work has touched on many styles, including n wave, free jazz and Cuban music. Ribot’s first two albums featured The Rootless Cosmopolitans, followed by an album of works by Frantz Casseus and Arsenio Rodriguez. Further releases found him working in a variety of band and solo contexts including two albums with his self-described “dance band”, Marc Ribot y Los Cubanos Postizos.
His relatively limited technical facility is due to learning to play right-handed despite being left-handed. He currently performs and records with his group Marc Ribot’s Ceramic Dog. Marc’s studio work involves several tracks accompanying the legendary pianist McCoy Tyner’s “Guitars” project. He has performed and recorded with Jack McDuff, John Scofield, Wilson Pickett, Cibo Matto, Bela Fleck, Derek Trucks, Madeline Peyroux, Medeski Martin & Wood, Elton John and many others.
He has toured Europe with his band Sun Ship, had a biographical documentary film called the The Lost String and has also judged the 8th Annual Independent Music Awards to support indie careers in music. He has twenty-one albums as a leader, a filmography that includes five and a biographical documentary about him titled The Lost String. Guitarist Marc Ribot also plays banjo, trumpet, cornet and sings and continues to perform, record and tour.