George M. Smith – Variety Album – Guitarist Records G-103 – Orig. 78 rpm album – Gordon Skene Sound Collection –
Continuing the weekend comb through the Record library and pulling a few chestnuts off the shelves. Last night it was rare Woody Herman – tonight it’s even more rare George M. Smith along with a rhythm section and string quartet (no less). The album was recorded for Guitarist Records in Los Angeles roughly around 1946-1947. And, from what I have been able to gather, via various sites – Smith recorded almost nothing else, save for one lp in 1960. He was however, a major figure in guitar playing from the 1930s onward. Primarily a studio musician, working at Paramount Studios, Smith’s work is probably more likely heard on any of the hundreds of films he played on. But more importantly, it was his Modern Guitar Method For Rhythm And Chord Improvising that became the bible for just about every fledgling guitarist who ever took playing seriously.
Here is a bit of background, as supplied by C.Billiau at his Jazz Age Guitar website.
Born in 1912 in New York, George M. Smith started out like so many of his peers by first playing the banjo. When his family moved to Los Angeles he got his professional start working at the Paramount Theater. His big break came when he was asked to accompany Kate Smith, a popular radio personality, to accompany her on broadcasts. With the invention of “Talking Pictures” Smith soon found himself as a staff guitarist for Fox and Paramount where he pioneered the role of guitar in orchestras, movies, and television. A great source of information about George Smith and his importance can be found in a great article by Jas Obrecht on the “Golden Age of Studio Guitar”:
A very important fact to remember when discussing the early jazz and plectrum guitar greats is to remember the context of their playing. In the 1930s there weren’t a plethora of guitarists or guitar teachers around, let alone method books. When George wrote Modern Guitar Method for Rhythm and Chord Improvising in 1942 it was a seminal work setting the bar for future guitar method books.
Very reminiscent of the early Octets of Alec Wilder, this was the outgrowth of a musical trend that included mashing up Classical arrangements and styles with Jazz – sometimes successfully, other times, not so much. Here’s what’s on the player:
1.Strolling Through Manhattan
But above all – this album hasn’t been reissued – not sure why it hasn’t, but suffice to say it’s a pivotal album for Jazz Guitar playing, recorded by one of the legendary (if not unsung) guitarists of the 20th century.