Billy Bauer (1915 - 2005) was already an established professional guitarist in New York when players like Johnny Smith and Jimmy Raney arrived on the scene. He played with the Jerry Wald band before joining Woody Herman in 1944 as a member of the 1st Herd. And in 1946 he played with Benny Goodman and Jack Teagarden.
Billy Bauer established and distinguished himself as a solid rhythm player with these bands but it was in the small groups that emerged from these bands, lead by Chubby Jackson, Bill Harris and Lennie Tristano, that Billy Bauer established himself as a significant soloist in the evolving bebop movement. Billy Bauer's solo work with these groups has been sited as some of the best examples of early bebop guitar. But, more significantly, his solo work has been sited as some of the most progressive playing for any era. His work with Lennie Tristano in the mid 1940's certainly represented some of the most progressive guitar playing up to that time.
The trio and duet recordings Bauer made with Tristano around 1945 are especially interesting. Tristano and Bauer enjoyed a natural synergy in style and approach to their music. Tristano's intricate arrangements were a perfect match for Bauer's guitar. These examples demonstrated that Bauer was not just a good guitarist, but also an outstanding musician. His unison playing with Tristano was precise, and his accompaniment to Tristano's piano represented some of the best and earliest examples of great guitar comping.
Billy Bauer continued his pioneering guitar work with Lee Konitz in the 1950's and 1960's. As with Lennie Tristano, Bauer found a kindred musical spirit in Konitz. Konitz's avant-garde saxophone work was a perfect match for Bauer's advanced guitar. On the recording Lee Konitz especially, the two musicians demonstrated a unique musical dialogue across a range of styles from bop and cool to the avant-garde. Duet For Saxophone and Guitar, was an unusual instrument paring, that really allowed Bauer’s great musicianship to be heard. Early in 1956, Billy Bauer made a recording under his own name. Plectrist put Bauer front and center throughout, playing great jazz guitar.
In the history of jazz guitar there have been many examples of great musicians who are often overlooked for the enormous influence they had. Billy Bauer is one of these. Anyone interested in the early evolution of the guitar in bop and cool jazz should start with Bill Bauer. He led the way for guitarists like Jimmy Raney, and along with Lennie Tristano, brought the piano, guitar, bass trio to a whole new level.
In the 1990's Billy Bauer appeared at the 1997 JVC Tributes for Barney Kessel and Tal Farlow. Just Jazz Guitar, February 1996 had a nice interview with Billy Bauer by Michael Katz.
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