Top 10 Jazz Guitar Albums Every Guitarist Should Have

Ask ten jazz guitarists what are ten essential albums every jazz guitarist should have, and you will probably get a lot of different answers to this question. I would like to highlight ten albums I think every guitarist should have. This is not the top ten jazz guitar albums of all time rather it is a listing of monumental albums that I think should be in every guitarist’s collection.

Pat Martino-El Hombre

This is a classic album by a young 22-year-old Pat Martino, but he sounds like a fully developed mature jazz guitarist. Martino’s lines are buoyant, and swinging through out this recording and his improvisational imagination is spellbinding. Every song on this recording is worthy of in-depth study and listening. His solos on “Just Friends” and “Once I Loved” are iconic examples of jazz guitar improvisation. This is one of those albums that shows up on almost every guitarist’s “Must Have” recordings. So, be sure to check out El Hombre by Pat Martino.

John Scofield-Works for Me

It is really hard to pick just one John Scofield album, because he has so many recordings, and they are all greatly varied. However, “Works for Me” is a prime example of John Scofield’s contemporary approach to playing jazz guitar and features both great solos and great original compositions. “I’ll Catch You” and “Not You Again,” a great head written over the changes of “There Will Never Be Another You,” are excellent examples of both Scofield’s composing and idiosyncratic improvisation voice on guitar.  Adding to the significance of this album is the presence of the contemporary jazz masters alto saxophonist Kenny Garret and pianist Brad Mehldau on this recording.  This album is both a great study of more contemporary jazz guitar playing, as well as contemporary small group jazz exploration.

Grant Green on Lou Donald’s album Good Gracious

Grant Green is a guitarist that every jazz guitarist should be aware of and listen to.  Unfortunately, he is still somewhat underappreciated among guitarists of his era. Green’s feel, swing, and blues-infused improvisational lines are a study in the classic sound of jazz guitar of the mid 1960’s.  Grant Green has some wonderful recordings under his own name such as “Solid” with Joe Henderson,” “Idle Moments,” “Matador,” and “Standards” among others.  I also think one cannot miss Grant Green teamed up with saxophonist Hank Mobley on records such as Mobley’s Workout and Green’s “I Want to Hold Your Hand” these are prime examples of both of their playing and of the hardbop/soul jazz genre of the 1960s.  Yet, on Lou Donaldson’s “Good Gracious” Green is on fire with the great bandmates’ alto saxophonist Lou Donaldson, organist John Patton, and drummer Ben Dixon.  “Bad John” and “Cherry” are stand out songs on this recording with great solos by Grant Green, but Green’s playing is truly stellar on every track of this classic soul-jazz recording.

Joe Pass-Virtuoso

Probably one of the single most important jazz recordings of any type, Joe Pass’ Virtuoso is a tour de force of solo jazz guitar performance and the art of chord-melody playing on the guitar.  On this 1973 recording, Joe Pass establishes himself as one of the all-time great jazz guitarists. With just a guitar and a microphone, Pass creates masterful performances of classic jazz songs in ingenious swinging ways that have still not been paralleled.  Every song is a true classic jazz performance, but Cole Porter’s “Night and Day,” Johnny Burke / James Van Heusen’s “Here’s That Rainy Day”, and Ray Noble’s Cherokee are masterful performances that really stand among the many gems on this recording.

George Benson  on Jimmy Smith’s- Off the Top

George Benson gained international popular notoriety with the release of his “Breezin” which won the Grammy Award for Record of the Year in 1977. The album featured the top 10 hit “This Masquerade” and is the song the recording is primarily known for. However, these is some amazing guitar playing by George Benson on this record too.  Benson has a broad catalog of recordings under his own name, and his mid 1960’s recording “The George Benson Cookbook” and “Uptown“ are two among many early recordings that are on most guitarists “must listen to” albums.  Yet, it is his recording as a sideman with jazz organist Jimmy Smith” Off the Top” that is an album that one must listening to in my opinion.  Recorded in 1982 with an all-star group, this recording features some of George Benson’s best and most consistent playing on record. Two of his best performances on “Off the Top” are on “Mimosa” and “I’ll Drink to That” the solos on these two songs alone make this a recording that is worth having.  I am not sure if this record is still in print, but you can find it on streaming platforms and

Jim Hall-Live

Jim Hall “Live” is one of many great recordings bymguitarist Jim Hall.  When I was in college we loved to sit around and listen and talk about this recording. Jim Hall is one of the most influential guitarists of his era, countless of the most important guitarist of the late 70’s and 80’s point to him as a major influence for them.  This intimate and beautiful trio recording from 1975 was one of the standard setters for a more open and modern approach to guitar trio. It is really hard to pick one song to recommend, but I think “I Hear a Rhapsody” is a prime example of Jim Hall’s lines and unique harmonic language.  Move forward about 30 years and his duo recording with protégé Pat Metheny, Jim Hall and Pat Metheny, is another Jim Hall must have recording.

Pat Metheny-Question and Answer

Pat Metheny is one of the most important and influential guitarists of his time.  He is a masterful guitarist capable of a wide array of approaches to the guitar from post-bop swing to the bittersweet sounds of wide-open spaces of Missouri. Again, it is hard to pick one Pat Metheny recording, but I think this recording captures the diverse sounds and great emotive effect his music has. From start to end of this entire recording, it is clear that Metheny is truly a modern master of the guitar, as well as one of the most original voices on the guitar of his generation.  Two excellent examples of Metheny’s playing are the jazz classic “All the Things You Are” taken at a breakneck tempo, and the gentle classic sound of Pat Metheny on his original “Change of Heart.” This is just one of many recordings by Pat Metheny that you should have, but this is surely one that you must have.

Kenny Burrell-Midnight Blue

Kenny Burrell was one the kings of Soul-Jazz and Hardbop in the 1960s.  Along with his own recordings, his recordings with organist Jimmy Smith are workshops in playing jazz with a bluesy tinge, and no album exemplifies this soul aesthetic more than “Midnight Blue” by Kenny Burrell. Although this is considered a jazz recording, the band never strays too from the sound and feel of the blues and the Soul aesthetic.  The opening track “Chitlin’s con Carne” is a jazz guitar classic that most guitarist should know.  It is a great song to learn how to play and hear the sound of a dominant7#9 chord, and his solo is truly a classic.  “Kenny’s Sound” is a song taken at a bright tempo and has the sound of bebop infused with the blues.  This is a great song to study some of Kenny’s more traditional jazz guitar playing still infused with the sound and feel of the “Midnight Blues.”

Charlie Christian- The Genius of The Electric Guitar

The man who started it all, the one of the first and surely the most influential early electric jazz guitarist was Charlie Christian who played the guitar with saxophone like phrasing and brought the guitar into the spotlight thanks to his electric guitar and amplifier.  Nearly every major guitarist of note to come after Charlie Christian named him as a major influence. One must have one of his records in their collection, and the album to start with is “The Genius of The Electric Guitar.”  If possible, one should seek out his first ever recorded solo on “Flying Home,” but it is not in this collection. But, “Seven Come Eleven” is one of the classics on this album. It has a great eighth note-based melody, and Christian’s solo on this song gives the listener great insight into the magic of his playing. “Solo Flight” is a feature that has Charlie Christian playing as the featured soloist with a big band.  His playing is fluid, swinging, and harmonically complex, yet full of joy and an exuberant spirit of fun.  To truly know jazz guitar, you have to know Charlie Christian.

Wes Montgomery-Smoking at the Half Note Vol.2

Wes Montgomery was the first jazz guitarist I ever heard, and he completely blew me away with every element of his playing.  To pick on album by Wes Montgomery was nearly impossible, but I finally picked one that I think is a great exemplar of Wes’ playing.  Recorded in 1965 at the Half Note in New York City with Miles Davis’ former rhythm section of Wynton Kelly-piano, Paul Chambers-bass, and Jimmy Cobb on drums.  This album swings hard from the first note to the last, and Wes Montgomery’s playing is just remarkable.  Every song on this record is worth serious listening, but there are a few tracks that stand out to me.  “Four on Six,” “Misty,” and “Willow Weep for Me” are songs that Wes Montgomery’s genius truly come through.  Wes Montgomery has so many incredible records, that one should not stop with this one.  But, this is a great introduction into one of the most important guitarists of the 20th century.

In Closing

I hope you find these recommendations helpful, and I would love to hear which albums and artists you would put on this list.  Thanks for reading and feel free to reach out to me at