Song of the Day: Teddy Bunn “Guitar On High”
“Guitar On High” is an improvised and unaccompanied masterpiece of an instrumental jewel. Recorded in 1940 as one of the first releases for Blue Note Records, Teddy Bunn plays the guitar here like a man on a mission, sounding like he could go on forever. Straddling Blues and Jazz, Bunn has largely been overlooked as the innovator that he was. I say he should be placed right alongside Charlie Christian, Django Reinhardt, T-Bone Walker as one of the most important guitarists to push the instrument to new heights.
Bunn, the oldest of the aforementioned guitarists, played primarily with his thumb, dispensing with the need or a pick. His swinging and simultaneously smooth yet aggressive approach to melody is astounding. He attacks each note like a trumpet player and punches each chord like a drummer, like a man who knew the inner workings of the best ensembles of his day. He did indeed play with and push the bounds of music with the best-of-the-best. This man is one of the true godfathers of the modern guitar!
Born in 1909 in Freeport, New York, Teddy Bunn was part of a musical family. His father was an accordionist and played the harmonica, while his mother played organ in his local church. Given a guitar at a young age with a tiny bit of instruction from his dad, Bunn was primarily a self-taught player. He never learned to read or write music, but this didn’t seem to hold him back. His recording career began in 1929 and he worked with the likes of Duke Ellington, Sidney Bechet, Lionel Hampton, Jelly Roll Morton, Hot Lips Page and a legion of other luminaries.
He is widely considered to be among the best acoustic players of the ’30s, and he brought his signature style into the ’40s and ’50s with characteristic clarity, precision and aplomb. With his health deteriorating in the 60’s, his career diminished, but he still remained active into the 70’s, playing mostly with R&B bands. He passed away in 1978 in California, where he’d made his home for many years.