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Eddie Lang

The first truly significant guitarist in jazz, transforming it from a rhythm instrument into an effective solo voice. 

b. Salvatore Massaro on October 25, 1902 in Philadelphia, PA, d. March 26, 1933 in New York City, NY, was a musician regarded as the father of jazz guitar. He displaced the banjo with the guitar and made it a worthy solo and band instrument. Lang was born Salvatore Massaro in Philadelphia, the son of an Italian-American instrument maker. He learned violin at the age of seven, soon adding guitar and banjo. Within a year he was playing all three professionally and in public. In the early 1920s he played with Vic D'Ipplito, Bert Estlow, Charlie Kerr, Bill Lustin's Scranton Sirens, and Red McKenzie's Mound City Blue Blowers. During the 1920s he recorded and performed on radio, often with violinist Joe Venuti, a friend since both were children; with Jean Goldkette, Roger Wolfe Kahn , Adrian Rollini, Frankie Trumbauer, Paul Whiteman; and with guitarists Lonnie Johnson, Carl Kress, and Dick McDonough. Lang used the pseudonym Blind Willie Dunn to hide his race when he played at venues with Johnson, a black blues musician. In 1929, Lang joined Paul Whiteman's Orchestra. The following year he recorded the song "Georgia on My Mind" with Hoagy Carmichael, Joe Venuti, and Bix Beiderbecke. He became a regular in Bing Crosby's orchestra in 1932. He also appeared briefly in two movies: King of Jazz (1930) and The Big Broadcast (1932). In 1933, at the age of thirty, Lang died following a tonsillectomy. Bing Crosby had urged Lang to have the operation so he could have speaking parts in Crosby's movies. Lang's voice was chronically hoarse. The cause of his death is uncertain. Author James Sallis claims that Lang developed an embolism while under anesthetic and never regained consciousness.

While most bands of the time had a banjo player (the banjo being louder than the guitars of the time), Lang was skilled enough to make his acoustic guitar heard in the mix. He was so influential that, according to George Van Eps, banjo players had no choice but to switch to guitar. Van Eps said, "It's very fair to call Eddie Lang the father of jazz guitar." Barney Kessel: "Eddie Lang first elevated the guitar and made it artistic in jazz." Les Paul: "Eddie Lang was the first and had a very modern technique." Joe Pass, in a 1976 interview, stated that Lang was one of the three main guitar innovators, with Wes Montgomery and Django Reinhardt. Lang played a Gibson L-4 and L-5 guitar, influencing guitarists such as Django Reinhardt. In 1977, Lang's recording of "Singin' the Blues" with Frankie Trumbauer and Bix Beiderbecke, was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame and in 2006 was placed on the U.S. Library of Congress National Recording Registry. He was inducted into the ASCAP Jazz Wall of Fame (1986) and the Big Band and Jazz Hall of Fame (2010). On October 23, 2016, Philadelphia's Mural Arts organization dedicated the mural, Eddie Lang: The Father of Jazz Guitar, by artist Jared Bader. The mural stands by Lang's childhood home and the James Campbell School that stood at 8th and Fitzwater where Lang learned to play. The mural was championed by area guitarist Richard Barnes, who started "Eddie Lang Day in Philadelphia" in 2010, an annual charity event. Lang's compositions, based on the Red Hot Jazz database, include "Wild Cat" with Joe Venuti, "Perfect" with Frank Signorelli, "April Kisses", "Sunshine", "Melody Man's Dream", "Goin' Places", "Black and Blue Bottom", "Bull Frog Moan", "Rainbow Dreams", "Feelin' My Way", "Eddie's Twister", "Really Blue", "Penn Beach Blues", "Wild Dog", "Pretty Trix", "A Mug of Ale", "Apple Blossoms", "Beating the Dog", "To To Blues", "Running Ragged", "Kicking the Cat", "Cheese and Crackers", "Doin' Things", "Blue Guitars", "Guitar Blues" with Lonnie Johnson, "Hot Fingers", "Have to Change Keys to Play These Blues", "A Handful of Riffs", "Blue Room", "Deep Minor Rhythm Stomp", "Two-Tone Stomp". "Midnight Call Blues", "Four String Joe", "Goin' Home", and "Pickin' My Way" with Carl Kress.


Eddie Lang Biography by Scott Yanow

The first jazz guitar virtuoso, Eddie Lang was everywhere in the late '20s; all of his fellow musicians knew that he was the best. A boyhood friend of Joe Venuti, Lang took violin lessons for 11 years but switched to guitar before he turned professional. In 1924, he debuted with the Mound City Blue Blowers and was soon in great demand for recording dates, both in the jazz world and in commercial settings. His sophisticated chord patterns made him a superior accompanist who uplifted everyone else's music, and he was also a fine single-note soloist. He often teamed up with violinist Venuti (including some classic duets) and played with Red Nichols' Five Pennies, Frankie Trumbauer, and Bix Beiderbecke (most memorably on "Singing the Blues"), the orchestras of Roger Wolfe Kahn, Jean Goldkette, and Paul Whiteman (appearing on one short number with Venuti in Whiteman's 1930 film The King of Jazz), and anyone else who could hire him. A measure of Lang's versatility and talents is that he mostly played the chordal parts on a series of duets with Lonnie Johnson (during which he used the pseudonym Blind Willie Dunn), yet on his two duets with Carl Kress (whose chord voicings were an advancement on Lang's), he played the single-note leads. Eddie Lang, who led some dates of his own during 1927-1929, worked regularly with Bing Crosby during the early '30s in addition to recording many sessions with Venuti. Tragically his premature death was caused by a botched operation on a tonsillectomy.