With so many incredible guitarists in the jazz scene today, how do we whittle it down to any sort of numbered list? This is quite the undertaking, but I will attempt to give you 10 of my favorites and my reasons why. This list will be comprised mostly of players that I have been really into lately and is in no way a slight on any players not mentioned.
With that said, here it is in no particular order:
Gilad Hekselman is a wonderfully musical player that is as capable of technical prowess as he is of beautiful thematic development. Originally from Israel but now based in New York, he is often known for really employing really interesting contrapuntal textures in his improvisations and his mastery over time is really as good as it gets. I suppose you have to have that if you are playing with someone like Ari Hoenig on a regular basis.
Lage Lund is a wonderful player out of Skien, Norway. He is also often noted for use brilliant use of contrapuntal devices, wonderful comping ability, and beautiful improvisations. From Norway, he received a scholarship to Berklee College of Music and then went on to study at Juilliard School of Music in New York where he currently resides. I personally fell in love with his playing after hearing his take on the classic, “All the Things You Are” from his album Lage Lund Trio – Small Club Big City.
Mike Moreno is a wonderful player from Houston, Texas who now resides in – you guessed it – New York City. He is one of these players who is in no hurry to get into playing fast lines and, in fact, only takes that approach when it serves his cause. He really seems to put the melody first at all times and he has a wonderful ability to develop small themes into wonderful flowing lines. Make no mistake, though, he is as capable as anyone of playing some absolutely burning material. This one is definitely a must have for any fan of modern jazz guitar!
What can be said about Peter Bernstein that has not been said already? With a career spanning almost 30 years, he has played with everyone from Joshua Redman to Diana Krall and is one of the most revered guitarists in the jazz world today. Peter is known for his wonderful, almost irreverent approach to harmony as well as his wonderful improvisational prowess. For me, I have always felt that he is a perfect mix of the old school and the new. I particularly love his work with Brad Mehldau, but I suppose I am biased since Brad Mehldau is one of my favorite musicians on the planet!
Speaking of irreverent approaches to harmony, here is another New York-based Peter that is also a great jazz guitarist. Peter Mazza seems to draw influence from guys like Jimmy Wyble but has his own unique approach to harmony. He takes many of the classics and completely reinvents them with his incredible harmonic vocabulary. A very deep player indeed, he holds a 20+ year residency at Bar Next Door in New York City. I would recommend checking out any of his music and go look at his YouTube performances to see it in action for yourself.
Adam Rogers’ work has spanned several different genres. Being as proficient a fusion player as he is a straight-ahead guy, he has played with all kinds of different players. Some of his most notable works include guys like David Binney and John Patitucci. Adam has incredible technique and flawless touch. He is also a master of manipulating time. I am particularly fond of his 2009 release, “Sight”.
Originally from Missouri, Pat Metheny is another player who has dabbled in several different areas of the jazz world. In addition to leading his own group, he has played in a number of other groups and duets and has led an illustrious career that has spanned over four decades. His playing career includes dozens of albums, world tours, Grammy awards, and playing with the likes of Jaco Pastorius, Gary Burton, Mick Goodrick, Michael Brecker, Steve Swallow, and many more.
Gary Burton sure seems to have a knack for finding wonderful guitar players over the years, because here is another who first made his name playing with Gary. Originally from Philadelphia, Kurt attended Berklee College of Music where Gary was the dean, and left in his junior year to tour with Gary. Since then, he has relocated to New York and has played with guys like Joe Henderson and Brian Blade in addition to leading his own band. He is often noted for his wonderful improvisational ability and, interestingly, he often has a mic on stage and sings along to everything he plays.
Jesse Van Ruller
Another wonderful guitar player in the modern day, only this time, he operates out of his home country of Holland. He is another one of those types that seems to employ both, new and old sounds. I have heard his playing described as “post-bop” on more than one occasion and I think it fits. Jesse has also been a prolific sideman for a number of musicians such as Joe Lovano, George Duke, and many more.
Jonathan Kreisberg is one of the premier guitarists in jazz music today. Originally out of Miami, FL, he is known as much for his pyrotechnics as he is for his deep sense of harmony and his uncanny ability to develop small fragments into wonderful flowing lines. Today, he plays with guys like Dr. Lonnie Smith, Ari Hoenig, and Will Vinson, and he has played on and led many great recordings. My favorite recording of his is probably the album, “The South of Everywhere”. Here, he gives you a nice mix of standards and originals, and boy does he kill it on each and every track.