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    5 Ridiculously Skilled Musicians You Have to Hear to Believe

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    Ultimately, music isn’t about talent, but about artistic expression. Popular music is full of musicians who may have not had the greatest skills, yet made a huge impact on music and the world. Groups like The Beatles, Nirvana, The Ramones…all great, but not exactly “virtuosos”. This post isn’t about these musicians. Nope, here we’re going to talk about 5 musicians who had ridiculously amazing skills on their instruments. Hearing their music is both a jaw-dropping and exhilarating experience. Enjoy!

    Buddy Rich

    Buddy RichBilled as “The World’s Greatest Drummer”, Buddy Rich was an absolute terror on the drums. His speed, power, and technical skill leave listeners gasping for air, and drummers…poor drummers upon hearing Buddy’s skill wish they could revert to the days when they had never heard of the guy. Legend has it that Buddy could play a perfect rhythm at age 1. He went on to child stardom as “Traps the Drum Wonder”, and was leading bands by age 11. Fast forward to the 60’s and 70’s, Buddy had put together big bands of the highest order, and recorded several classic albums showcasing his amazing skill and his band’s larger than life sound. Classic albums that show off his skills are the live albums “Big Swing Face” and “Mercy, Mercy, Mercy“, and studio albums “The New One!” and “The Roar of ’74“. Many of today’s greatest drummers such as Neil Peart, Dave Weckl, Steve Smith, Billy Cobham and Max Roach (and many others) were heavily influenced by Buddy Rich, and a few years after Buddy died, got together and recorded an explosive tribute album. See for yourself in this clip from The Tonight Show where Buddy does a drum battle with The Tonight Show’s drummer Ed Shaughnessy (Who is certainly no slouch, either!)

    Jaco Pastorius

    Jaco PastoriusMoving on from the world’s greatest drummer, let’s talk about the greatest bass player who ever lived, Jaco Pastorius. Getting his start in the mid 1970’s playing with Pat Metheny, Jaco achieved fame when he released his ‘Jaco Pastorius’ debut album in 1976. Featuring a ridiculously amazing rendition of Charlie Parker/Miles Davis‘ “Donna Lee” (played entirely on a bass), plus the completely original “Portrait of Tracy”, you could tell that this was the work of an amazingly talented player. In addition to his ability to play bass fast (lead guitar style), Jaco also had a very distinct style. He used artificial harmonics to extend the range of his bass, and the fretless instruments he used allowed for him to produce a very warm, almost synthesizer sound. In addition, many of his most famous songs feature his signature “growl” effect. His later work in Weather Report earned him even more fame, and towards the end of his life, he focused much of his energy on big band projects. Unfortunately, like many great artists, Jaco suffered from bipolar disorder, and possibly other mental illnesses, which turned out to be a contributing factor to his death. Jaco’s debut album is an absolute must-own for any bass player, jazz fan or lover of mind-blowingly ridiculous instrumentation, and his work with Weather Report is considered some of the best material they ever released.

    Dizzy Gillespie

    Dizzy GillespieDizzy Gillespie is considered by many to be one of the greatest trumpet players that ever lived. Getting his start playing in numerous big swing bands, Diz’s loud, fast, unpredictable style was initially hard to like. In the early 1940’s, working for Billy Eckstine, Dizzy got a chance to play with Charlie Parker. Playing with Charlie Parker resulted in the bebop movement, a radical departure from swing. It was in bebop where Dizzy finally had a chance to shine. No longer was he playing lines that were considered distracting: In bebop, Diz could play as fast, high, and as loud as he wanted. Pushing the envelope was what bebop was all about. During this time, Dizzy played with and mentored several other jazz greats including Miles Davis and John Coltrane. Diz was also credited with popularizing “Afro-Cuban” music, and in his later years become an American ambassador and mentor to musicians. Diz was one of the most beloved figures in jazz because of his amazing skills and warm personality. He even appeared on The Cosby Show and Sesame Street. Dizzy Gillespie’s most mind-blowing recordings are from his time with Parker, although sadly, Diz performed all the time, but very few of those performances were ever recorded. Check out some of his classics like “Salt Peanuts”, “Groovin’ High” and “Shaw ’nuff” for a real aural treat. Here’s Diz’s take on the classic Brazilian song “Mas Que Nada”.

    Charlie Parker

    Charlie ParkerThe story of Charlie “Bird” Parker is one of the great tragedies in jazz. An amazing player with unmatched skill and technique and who was a key player in the evolution of jazz, died before his 35th birthday. Allegedly having no musical skill at a young age, and apparently being thrown out several bands for bad playing, Bird is said to have spent an intense 3-4 years of practicing up to 15 hours in a day. This intense study paid off, and Bird began to get steady work in big bands, including a stint with Earl Hines, where he met Dizzy Gillespie. Parker and Dizzy were soon playing together very regularly, and the bebop movement was born. Parker improvised based on harmonic structures, which was a completely new way to improvise. Bebop also emphasized blazing fast runs, which Parker was amazingly smooth at. He was an amazingly clean, fast, and powerful saxophonist–even while under the influence of alcohol and drugs. Legend has it that during one of his recording sessions, Parker had to be held in place so he wouldn’t fall over, and yet, despite being heavily intoxicated, he played his parts amazingly well. Miles Davis talks about Parker’s personal demons quite a lot in his autobiography, yet emphasized Parker’s amazing ability to play so well despite this. During Parker’s sobriety, his playing took on a new level of sophistication and virtuoso technique. Some of Parker’s classics include “Ko-Ko”, “Yardbird Suite”, “Ornithology” and “Relaxin’ at Camarillo”. Bird’s album “Charlie Parker with Strings” is said to be his favorite recording. Here’s a video of Parker playing his classic “Ornithology”.

    Al DiMeola

    Al DiMeolaGetting started in the early 1970’s in Chick Corea’s fusion band, Return to Forever, Al DiMeola went on to be one of the most influential guitarists of the last 30 years. What was so amazing about Al DiMeola is that he could absolutely shred on guitar. Before there was Yngwie or Vai or Satriani, there was DiMeola. He was so amazingly fast and clean, and no one had ever heard the guitar played like he played it in his early career. His work with Return to Forever, his next few solo albums, and his legendary “Friday Night in San Francisco” (With Paco DeLucia and John McLaughlin) are all required listening for any aspiring lead guitar player. Of course, upon hearing these legendary recordings, you may just want to hang up your guitar and focus on the bass. Like many true musicians, Al DiMeola didn’t become a parody of himself, and keep up with the shredding. He soon focused his efforts on various fusions of jazz, classical, and world music. While many consider his early albums to be his greatest work, there is no doubt that Al DiMeola has continued to evolve and grow as a musician, and of course, he can still play his old stuff with the same flair he had back in the 70’s. For some raw guitar playing, check out the albums “Elegant Gypsy” and “Friday Night in San Francisco“. The standout tracks on Elegant Gypsy are “Mediterranean Sundance” and the epic “Race With The Devil on Spanish Highway”, on “Friday Night in San Francisco”, well, just play it from beginning to end. Amazing. Here’s a video of him playing Mediterranean Sundance with Paco DeLucia and John McLaughlin.

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    Topics: Artist Tributes, jazz, Musicians I Like | 2 Comments »

    2 Responses to “5 Ridiculously Skilled Musicians You Have to Hear to Believe”

    1. Ron Says:
      August 28th, 2010 at 8:23 am

      Nice article! All of these guys are musical giants. I’d have to say that Jaco Pastorius might be the greatest musician of the 20th Century. It’s still incredible to think what he did for the bass, Jazz music and just music in general.

    2. Alan Says:
      August 28th, 2010 at 11:48 am

      Thanks for the comment! Jaco is an amazing musician. Many times people just want to give him credit for the bass, but in reality, he was also a very talented composer and bandleader.