The jazz world, it seems, has always been awash in talented guitarists, from Reinhardt and Christian through Montgomery, Pass, Farlow, Hall and their like to the present day. This is both a blessing and a curse, as only a handful of such splendid musicians are able to rise above the throng and become household names or even widely known. Joe Beck
, who was one week shy of his sixty-third birthday when he died in July 2008, was one of those "fringe" players, an astute and versatile artist who was familiar to and respected by his fellow musicians but produced no more than a slight blip on the listening public's collective radar screen.
Beck, witty and self-effacing, always took such things in stride. Get Me Joe Beck,
recorded live at Anna's Jazz Island in Berkeley, CA, in November 2006, was the guitarist's last album, and expresses in its title his philosophy about the transient nature of fame and fortune: First, he writes, it was "Who's Joe Beck?," followed by "Get me Joe Beck!," then "Get me someone who sounds like Joe Beck!," and finally "Who's Joe Beck?" Those to whom questions one and four apply will be pleasantly surprised not only to learn who Joe Beck is (that is to say, was) but thoroughly charmed by his remarkable ability to take a guitar and make it sing like the sweetest birds they've ever heard.
While it's true that Beck's trio (Peter Barshay
, bass; David Rokeach
, drums) takes no undue risks on this even-tempered concert date, the music they play and their earnest approach to it leaves no room for censure. Everyone is on his toes in a program that is comprised of seven standards, Luiz Bonfa
's "Manha de Carnaval" and Antonio Carlos Jobim
's "Corcovado," lightly sprinkled with wry commentary by Beck. The scrupulous choice of music affirms, in fact, that if nothing else, Beck had excellent musical taste, as the trio opens with Victor Young's unforgettable "Stella by Starlight" before moving on to a number of other classics: "Alone Together," "Tenderly," "I Can't Get Started," "You and the Night and the Music" and two versions of "Georgia on My Mind" (the second trimmed for radio play).
Beck says in spoken commentary between numbers that his rhythm section is "stupid good" (meaning they don't come much better), and he's right about that, as he is about how to precisely align notes, chords and phrases for greatest impact. The translucent recorded sound is another bonus. A trio session that is well worth hearingmore than once.