Every January, Epiphone salutes the President of Be Bop, Joe Pass, one of the most gifted improvisational musicians of his generation. Born January 13, 1929 in New Brunswick, New Jersey, the arc of Pass' lifetime coincided with the evolution of electric jazz guitar. Pass' full, muscular tone was inspired by his musical heroes Charlie Christian and Django Reinhardt (who performed on an Epiphone when he briefly went electric), as well as Wes Montgomery. But in many ways, Pass' approach to the instrument was much deeper, drawing on a thorough understanding of chord theory and an inspired approach to melody.
Pass was the last of his kind, drawn to the profession when electric guitar was still a new instrument. In his youth before a disastrous decade-long fight with heroin, Pass' sense of musicality was shaped and challenged by the most sophisticated players of his time including Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, and pianist Art Tatum. And when Pass returned to the scene in the early 60s, he quickly re-established his career with a style that combined dense th driving rhythm and what many musicians came to think of as musical "second sight"--an intuitive feel for how each member might negotiate a melody.
When perforing in an ensemble, Pass showed extraordinary empathy and seemed to will musicians into sounding like a cohesive unit. And when unaccompanied, as he often was on his now classic recordings for Norman Granz's Pablo label in the 60s and 70s, Pass could make standards like "How High the Moon" or "All of Me" seem like new compositions.
In the 60s, Pass toured with George Shearing and performed regularly in Los Angeles clubs and in the studio. Producer Norman Granz, one of the key figures in recording and promoting jazz and the founder of Verve Records, first heard Pass perform at Donte's in LA in 1970. Though Pass' career highlights are typically focused on his solo guitar work, Live at Donte's i
s a superb picture of Pass leading a small ensemble.
"Norman's done it all for me," Pass told Guitar Player. "He's the guy who put me together with people that I dreamed about as a kid." Granz also brought Pass into the studio on a regular basis and "changed my whole attitude about recording. He's strictly a one-take man. He'll put us in a studio, turn on the tape and say, "Play."
Perhaps because of these constraints, Pass developed a full, driving sound that perfectly matched his ability to play the melody and expand on it. "All guitar players play solo. You know, they sit around the house and play and so I think Norman Granz asked me to play solo," recalled Pass. "I said 'What do I play? Norman said: 'Just go out and play.' I just went out and started doing it and nobody got mad or threw anything so I continued to do it."
Throughout the late 60s and 70s, Pass recorded some of his best work for Granz's label, Pablo ("I owe him an immeasurable amount--we had 15 great years together") which gave him opportunities in the studio and on the road with Ella Fitzgerald, bassist Ray Brown, Duke Ellington, and Oscar Peterson. When Granz sold Pablo Records, Pass began a partnership with Tommy Gumina, forming Polytone Records. Pass' friendship with Gumina also lead to a new line of specially designed amplifiers for jazz guitarists. He also began teaching and gathered a devoted following. Though Pass professed to have no secrets and was always open about telling students and interviewers about his approach including strings (flatwounds), pickups, and approaches to improvisation, he claimed throughout his life, "I still don't know 50% of the fretboard, maybe not even 5%. You learn to compensate for things you can't get to."
When Epiphone re-emerged as an active brand in the 1990s, Pass was one of the first artists to sign on and the now classic Joe Pass Emperor-II PRO
pickups, sits easily with classic Epiphone electric archtops like the Broadway
as premier jazz guitars. Though Pass died in 1994, his embrace of Epiphone was an acknowledgment of the House of Stathopoulo's place in the history of jazz and a confirmation that for jazz to survive, young players needed a professional instrument that was also affordable.
"Joe was an extraordinary musician," remembered Epiphone President Jim Rosenberg. "I had the pleasure of meeting Joe Pass back in 1992 when he performed at a trade show and dealer meeting. When he said he'd help design a signature model, we were thrilled. Jazz is a big part of Epiphone's history. And you can't get any more maverick than a jazz musician."
The Joe Pass Emperor-II PRO
is a medium-sized archtop with a Maple body that's easy to hold with an arched Select Spruce top with hand-scalloped bracing and sound post for a full and nuanced tone when unplugged--perfect for players who want to use the inherent tone of the Emperor with minimal amplification. If you're turning up, the Emperor II-PRO
's ProBucker pickups--now with coil-splitting!--offer players a wide pallate of tone options. ProBuckers are made with the same alloy as 1950s era handwound humbuckers including 18% Nickel Silver unit bases and covers, sand cast Alnico II magnets, and high quality 4-conductor lead wire. Each ProBucker pickup is also vacuum wax potted to eliminate microphonics.
When designing the Emperor with Epiphone, Pass requested a Maple SlimTaper "C" profile neck so any-sized hand can at least attempt some of Pass' favorite chord inversions. The floating bridge and vintage styled gold scroll tailpiece provided stable intonation along with Grover® RotomaticTM
18:1 ratio machine heads for fast and accurate tuning. But the Epiphone Joe Pass Emperor-II PRO
isn't just a jazz guitar. Play one today at your favorite Authorized Epiphone dealer.