Tonight I’m lonely and I miss Joe Pass.
And I miss Joe Pass not just because he was the greatest jazz guitar player that ever lived. And not just because, of the hundreds of ‘guitar’ albums I own because I play guitar, his are among the very few I actually listen to.
Most guitarists have one ‘thing’. And those who prefer them dig that one trick. And so they make excuses for the other aspects of their craft which are lacking. Joe never tried to be ‘the funkiest’ or ‘the prettiest’ or ‘the fastest’ or ‘the hippest’ or ‘the most modern’. His mastery of the instrument was so complete and yet so thoroughly unpretentious that one almost never notices.
And that’s the thing: No one says, ‘Wow, that Brahms. What flash! How pretty!’ It’s just great music that happens to require a virtuoso technique. You’re not listening for ‘pretty’ or ‘flash’. You’re listening to Brahms; real music with nothing to prove. And that was Joe Pass. The only guitar player that could really ever go toe to toe with Oscar Peterson.
But I’m being stupid. I miss Joe because Joe was just a guy. A working stiff doing a job he loved. Played a working man’s guitar—not some $20,000 gold-plated Italian work of art. You could walk up to him and he talked like a polite guy who owned a shoe repair shop. Not like THE GOD he was. And when he played he’d do this little ‘happy feet’ thing… like Snoopy. That always killed me.
Even in the last years, I’d see him and he was a little more yellow each time as his liver conked out. But he still looked like he enjoyed going to work every night.
Joe was from another era. Like my grandfather making fine furniture or the lady down the street with the absolutely perfect dahlias who just moved into the retirement home. An era of craftsmanship that you probably wouldn’t even notice today unless someone shared it 700,000 times.
I miss Joe Pass so much right now because I never enjoyed anything the way Joe enjoyed playing his plywood ES-175. But being young, I figured there was always time to find it. And now I’m old enough to know I won’t find it… and that is partly because the era of Joe Pass, the era of quiet craftsmanship, is gone.
I’m not whining about it. We’re just between eras. Joe Pass fit perfectly within his era and then left at the right time and he repayed God’s great gift by being… well… Joe Pass. 😀 The next era will have people who fit their time and they’ll be a different kind of genius.
My only regret; why I’m so lonely tonight, is this: being old isn’t that you wake up and realise you can’t be like Joe Pass. Being old is that Joe Pass isn’t here anymore to give me someone I really want to be like. Does that makes sense? 😀