What’s Hot With Jazz Guitar: George Van Eps

This week we feature jazz guitarist George Van Eps, known as the “Father of the Seven String Guitar”.

In this, the last of the ‘guitar legends of the past’ series, I would like to present a column on George Van Eps. Happily, I got to see George Van Eps play his 7 string guitar here in LA shortly before his before his death in 1998.

Even at his advanced age he was a marvelous player — truly inspiring. He sounded like miniature orchestra all by himself with his use of lush voicings, and an ability to incorporate moving bass lines in his playing. Of course, playing the 7 string guitar that he helped develop certainly added to his unique sound.

There is not a great deal of information on George Van Eps on the web, however I have located a short bio and some sound clips. I will get back to featuring more of the ‘guitar greats of the past’ in our future columns. Next time we will get back to doing columns on guitar greats of the present…

George Van Eps online bio:

Born 7 August 1913, Plainfield, New Jersey, USA, d. 29 November 1998, Newport Beach, California, USA.

The son of the famous banjoist Fred Van Eps, George played the banjo professionally before he was a teenager. At the age of 13 he heard Eddie Lang, decided to switch to guitar and within a couple of years was earning a reputation as a teacher. In the late 20s and early 30s he worked with a number of bands, including those of Benny Goodman and Ray Noble, and also played with his idol, Lang, in the Smith Ballew band. During the late 30s and for much of the following two decades he did studio work in Hollywood, radio dates, wrote a textbook on guitar and devised his own seven-string instrument, appeared in various bands (including Noble’s) and made infrequent records with artists such as Matty Matlock, Wild Bill Davison, Jess Stacy and Ralph Sutton.

In the 60s and 70s his playing activities were restricted through poor health but in the 80s he made a return to the jazz scene, playing at festivals in the USA and Europe. In the 90s he recorded sessions with the modern virtuoso Howard Alden. A marvellously gifted technician with an inventive mind, Van Eps was very much a musician’s musician. In contrast, his popularity with audiences was limited, owing in part to the comparative obscurity in which he chose to spend the greater part of his working life. (bio thanks to Lycos Music)

George Van Eps didn’t make very many recordings, but the ones he did make are priceless. Albums I could find are: (1994) Keepin’ Time, (1992) Seven & Seven, (1991) Hand-Crafted Swing, (1968) Soliloquy, (1967) George Van Eps’ Seven-String Guitar, (1965) My Guitar, (1956) Mellow Guitar.

More about George Van Eps at: http://georgevaneps.blogspot.com/

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 in Jazz Guitar’ columns, audio clips of Doc’s playing, and many additional features. Doc plays Heritage guitars and endorses the new Pignose Valve Tube Amps — great for jazz (and anything else!)

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