June 20, 2018

Joe Pass – Encore in ’64

Joe Pass, 1974
Wikimedia Commons, Hans Bernhard (Schnobby)

It’s often said that practice makes perfect. There are few better examples of that fact than the music of guitarist Joe Pass. At his father’s insistence, Pass practiced for roughly six hours a day starting at age nine. By age fourteen, he was helping support the family by playing local professional gigs. Decades later, New York Magazine would say of him, “Joe Pass looks like somebody’s uncle and plays guitar like nobody’s business.”

A player of truly virtuosic technique, Pass unfortunately did not progress much in his early adulthood due to addiction problems. After spending much of the 1950s in jail, Pass checked himself into the Synanon rehabilitation center in Santa Monica California to finally get sober.

This led to his appearance on the LP Sounds of Synanon (1962), which was produced by Pacific Jazz Records utilizing musicians receiving treatment at the facility. His playing on the LP lead to regular employment on many Pacific Jazz sessions: including albums by band leader Gerald Wilson, organist Richard “Groove” Holmes and pianists Clare Fischer and Les McCann. The label also quickly recorded Pass’ first LPs as a leader.

These first two LPs (Catch Me and For Django), along with other small group sessions Pass lead for Pacific Jazz between 1963 and 1964 cemented his reputation as a master, though Pacific Jazz was remarkably lax in recording him as a leader. To this end, Pass’ first “live” recording from February 6th, 1964 languished in Pacific Jazz’ vaults for over seventeen years until briefly issued on LP by Blue Note.

The album initially released as Joy Spring in 1981 has now been expanded to include four additional tracks from that February 1964 date as well as several other lost gems from earlier that year and makes its reappearance as Joe Pass Quartet – Live at the Encore Theatre (Phono 870282).

Joe Pass, 1974 Wikimedia Commons, Hans Bernhard (Schnobby)

Joe Pass, 1974
Wikimedia Commons, Hans Bernhard (Schnobby)

Pass loved playing live and it shows in this quartet date, which also features pianist Mike Wofford, bassist Jim Hughart, and drummer Colin Bailey. The guitarist is really in his element with a program of bebop classics, including Clifford Brown’s “Joy Spring,” Charlie Parker’s “Relaxing at Camarillo” and Milt Jackson’s “Bag’s Groove.” Likewise, on the standards “Some Time Ago,” The Night Has a Thousand Eyes” and “There Is No Greater Love.”

By 1964, Pass had clearly defined his technique. As bonus tracks, this CD features three tunes recorded in August of that year, possibly for inclusion on the For Django LP, which utilized the same group. This brief session (only four short tracks were recorded that day) consisted of Hank Williams country tunes featuring John Pisano on rhythm guitar. The three selections included here, a jazz version of “Jambalaya,” which is truly infectious, and the bebop renditions of “Cold Cold Heart” and “You Win Again,” makes one wonder why this session was not added to in order to fill out an entire album at the time.

Joe Pass would remain in semi-obscurity for rest of the 1960s, recording as a sideman on other people’s albums, doing studio work on TV shows as well as recording several LPs under his own name for Pacific Jazz’s sister label World Pacific. Most of the World Pacific LPs (with the exception of the excellent Simplicity LP) would be quickly and deservedly forgotten — keeping Pass hidden from all but the patrons of local jazz clubs around Los Angeles.

But in 1973, producer Norman Granz showcased Pass in a series of LPs on the Pablo label ­— starting with the classic LP Virtuoso. Once under contract to Pablo, Pass recorded at least forty LPs under his own name and appeared as a sideman on countless other Pablo LPs including many by Oscar Peterson, Zoot Sims and Ella Fitzgerald. With Pablo thoroughly documenting the last twenty years of his career, Live at the Encore Theatre fills out the earlier years of a truly remarkable jazz guitarist.

Armand Lewis buys and sells rare Jazz LPs. He can be reached at


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