What's Hot With Jazz Guitar: Howard Roberts

by Doc Dosco

This week we feature legendary jazz guitarist Howard Roberts, one of the greatest that ever lived! Professor Michael Evans from the University of Toronto has done a wonderful tribute website on Howard Roberts.

"Howard Roberts was a great guitarist and musician. He played in almost any style of music but he was primarily a jazz guitarist. Without a doubt he is my favorite guitar player and I believe one of the most innovative jazz guitar players ever. He was one of the few jazz players (guitarists or otherwise) who managed to constantly create solos at least as interesting as the melody of the song being played. In my opinion there aren't many who have this talent. Howard Roberts also played with a strong and interesting rhythmic sense and his choice of comping chords is without equal; i.e. he was interesting to listen to even when he was not the featured soloist. Unfortunately he died a few years ago and I never got to hear him play live."

Online Bio (from 1980):

HOWARD ROBERTS BIOGRAPHY (an Official Biography courtesy of PattyRoberts. )

Howard Roberts is the most listened-to guitarist in contemporary music despite the fact that not all listeners know his name.

Roberts' unique position is a manifestation of being one of the most sought-after musicians playing on motion pictures, television and recording studios. Besides his many fine albums, he is a sideman on thousands more. Since the 50's, he has averaged 3,000 sides per year and in all styles of music. When a guitar part is really challenging, the call goes out for Roberts. The subject of a feature cover article in the June, 1979 Guitar Player magazine, Roberts was then labeled as a "renaissance man -- sideman, soloist, educator, innovator." And the volume of calls competes strongly with Roberts' commitment to keep in touch with his followers by playing concert and nightclub engagements as often as possible.

Musicians and guitar students pronounce Roberts' name with a combination of awe, reverence and exhilaration. They have voted him Number One in such national jazz polls as down beat. Top professional musicians are always in his audiences.

Howard Roberts' superb artistry as well as his technical proficiency has been attracting aspiring guitar players since he first began playing professionally at age 13 in his native Phoenix, Arizona. By the time he was 16, he was playing jazz professionally with the likes of Art Farmer and Pete Jolly. Moving to Los Angeles in 1950, he played mostly jam sessions and after-hours clubs. In the early 50's, Howard was busy in the studios, Director of Guitar Curriculum at Westlake College of Music (the first accredited vocational music school in the U.S.); and worked in the Bobby Troup Quartet where he developed a rich style of chordal playing which was instrumental in creating a "new" trend in jazz that replaced the use of the piano. The first album to present this "new sound" was the first Chico Hamilton Trio recording which features Chico, Howard and bassist George Duvidier. Again in the mid-60's, a series of albums like "Color Him Funky" and "H.R. Is A Dirty Guitar Player" put modern electric jazz guitar in the public eye for the first time.

Howard has had numerous themes and scores written for his improvisation, one of which is the Henry Fonda television series "The Deputy" by Jack Marshall. Another being Johnny Mandel's "Shadow of Your Smile" from the film "The Sandpiper". At the same time, he was recording with Elvis Presley, The Jackson Five, The Supremes, Rick Nelson as lead guitar establishing his influence in the formative years of recorded rock n' roll. To say Roberts has changed the way people hear music would be an understatement.

In 1970, he founded Playback Publishing Co. for the purpose of upgrading contemporary guitar literature. He is the author of many books of guitar instruction as well as a monthly column of advice in Guitar Playermagazine. Howard is a member of the prestigious Gibson Hall of Fame. His guitars, personally designed and marketed by Gibson, are the H.R. Custom, with is arch top and oval hole combining classic-acoustic and electric guitars, and the newer H.R. Fusion model. He founded the Benson Amplifier Company, a landmark in modern music electronics; and his diversified interests include the current production of a video series on music in partnership with bassist Ray Brown. For many years, his guitar seminars were conducted in major cities to enormous acclaim because of his insights into modern educational techniques in guitar and music training, all of which evolved into the formation of the Guitar Institute of Technology, in Hollywood, which he founded with Pat Hicks in 1977, where Roberts is Director of Curriculum. Howard is also a member of the visiting faculties at several universities across the country.

Roberts has studied music history at the University of Southern California; and orchestration and composition with Dr. Albert Harris and with other distinguished composers such as Russ Garcia, Earl Hagen and Fabian Andre, a Joseph Schillinger disciple.

Roberts has been heard in concert and on recordings as a solo artist and with every major name in music -- Bud Powell, Miles Davis, Sonny Stitt, Wardell Gray, Gerry Mulligan, Dave Grusin, Tom Scott, Julian Cannonball Adderly, Dave Brubeck, Zoot Sims, Stan Getz, to list only a few. He long has decried the void of serious compositions for electric and amplified guitar. Consequently, distinguished film and television composer Duane Tatro created "Concerto For Electric Guitar and Orchestra" (a twelve tone concerto) especially for Roberts, who appeared as guest solist with the Studio Arts Orchestra, Charles Blackman conducting, in the world premiere at Los Angeles County Museum's Jean Delacour Auditorium in January 1977.

Roberts' jazz credits are impressive. His jazz colleagues have included an honor roll of musical giants. His own group opened Donte's Jazz Supper Club in Studio City, California in 1966 and returned to celebrate that establishment's 10th anniversary -- and still playing to turnaway crowds every night.

"Roberts emerges as a devastating musician who ranks as one of the greatest living jazz guitarists," proclaims Leonard Feather in the Los Angeles Times. "His technique is as phenomenal as his capacity of putting it to hard-driving pulsating use."

Phillip F. Elwood writing in the San Francisco Examiner says, "The brilliance of Howards Roberts both enlightens and entertains. He is one of the best guitarists in jazz history."

As an educator, Roberts' unique approach is as provocative and exciting as his music. "In reality, one's internal environment and external environment are inseparable," he advises his students. "The only environment there is is one's perception of self. We must extend our self-perception to include the guitar ... the audience .. the player. The guitar itself simply is a mechanical transducer inserted into this physiological system. The real guitar is in your head. In addition, if there are no eardrums for your music to strike, you and your guitar function as only half the music experience." He diminishes the ominous sound of subjects such as Music Theory by explaining, "Music does not exist in words. The words that describe music are called theory."

Fred Torak, recounting Roberts' recent visit to Canada in Entr'acte, official journal of the Musician's Guild of Montreal, exclaims, "The Howard Roberts Seminar was an unqulaified success. He reaffirmed the importance of quality and integrity in music and left an indelible mark on everyone who attended."

The 80's is the time that Howard Roberts' vast congregation of listeners no longer is dichotomized. Every one who hears his sound will know his name

Howard Roberts -- Jazz Guitartist (by Mike Evans)

Sound Clips:

Also see:

Mel Bay Presents The Jazz Guitar Stylings Of Howard Roberts by Mitch Holder

New release for 2006. This definitive book on the noted jazz and studio guitarist, Howard Roberts, includes nineteen transcriptions covering twenty years of Howard's recordings. Positions and Howard's fingerings are included. Also featured is a foreword by Lee Ritenour and a dedication by Jeff 'Skunk' Baxter. There is a bio of Howard and personal quotes about HR from some of the many musicians, composer/arrangers, fellow guitarists, students, friends and family which will give you an idea of the impact Howard had on their music and lives.

Check out Mitch Holder's book:

Doc Dosco is a jazz guitarist, composer and audio consultant living in Los Angeles, CA. His website is located at http://www.docdosco.com, where you can find more information on the 'What's Hot with Jazz Guitar' columns, audio clips of Doc's playing, and many additional features. Doc now endorses Peerless Guitars and has the website Jazz Guitar Zone to help promote Peerless jazz guitars in the US. He also endorses the new Pignose Valve Tube Amps -- great for jazz (and anything else!)

Share This Article

Comment viewing options

Select your preferred way to display the comments and click "Save settings" to activate your changes.

Yes,well I have all of Howard's albums (the capitol years one might say)
on the original vinyl in fairly good shape actually but played over & over
as you might imagine.I'm a 63 year old jazz guitarist living & actually
still getting gigs around town.

mr evans , i'm a 60 year old blues guitar player who ownes a custom ordered epiphone howard roberts custom . my father passed it on to me when he died . i don't play it,but my father who played jazz loved it. maybe one of your friends would be interested in it. i live in michigan where it was built. rocco 810-499-8494

Epi HR guitar

I'm interested if you still have the guitar.
Dave Kyle

Post new comment

The content of this field is kept private and will not be shown publicly.
This question is for testing whether you are a human visitor and to prevent automated spam submissions. Do not include any spaces in your answer.
Copy the characters (respecting upper/lower case) from the image.

Contact | Contents | Privacy Policy | Forum

Copyright © 1999 - 2024 , All Rights Reserved.

Affiliate Notice: As an Amazon Associate we earn from qualifying purchases.