Stelios Panos has been hard at work again — or more likely still — and he now presents us with a collection of 60 songs / solos of Jim Hall along with 19 by Herb Ellis. The package includes Band-in-a-Box files as well as .MP4’s of the original songs or solos. You can see the whole set by clicking here.
Stelios includes a Read Me file that you should read to get the most out of his transcriptions in Band-in-a-Box (BiaB). One very interesting note is that the actual recordings from which the transcriptions are taken can be heard in the Audio track of the song as it plays in Band-in-a-Box. He recommends turning this off rather than have a sort of doubling or echo effect with the transcribed guitar, which can sound odd and be distracting. However, if you mute everything but the Audio and Guitar parts you can hear how accurately the BiaB version reflects the original.
Because BiaB is at heart playing from MIDI, there are limitations to its accuracy, although these are rarely serious, or even noticeable. Still, they can give odd-looking results in the Notation window and sometimes differ from the actual Audio performance very slightly. And while Stelios Panos is a master of using MIDI and Band-in-a-Box to mimic playing techniques, there are some nuances that just cannot be caught. So if you want to get the exact feel of an entire piece, it’s a good idea to start with the BiaB version as it is, compare it to the Audio, and finally compare your resulting version with the MP4 file. Sound like a lot of work? You bet! At least for a few of the songs. So in those cases I’d only recommend it for those special favourites that you want to sound exactly like Jim Hall or Herb Ellis, and if you are going to imitate someone on guitar, there are few better models than these two jazz stars. No matter how you play with them, you can get very close to these artists’ styles and get terrific ideas to incorporate into your own playing, which is likely the best use of such transcriptions in any case.
Besides being one of the great players, Jim Hall is a uniquely talented teacher. I highly recommend his book “Exploring Jazz Guitar” published by our friends at Hal Leonard. It’s easy to spot on a bookshelf as its cover was designed by Gary Larson (of “The Far Side” fame)! As you might guess, this is an easy-going exploration of what is behind playing jazz guitar and how to think jazz guitar rather than just a book of transcriptions. I take it off the shelf when I need inspiration or I feel that my playing is getting a bit stale. I don’t have space or time to review this great book here, but I hope it gives you a bit of a glimpse into what to expect from his playing: originality, thoughtfulness, wit, fun, and virtuosity. All of Jim’s music is well worth listening to and studying, as well as learning to play.
Herb Ellis is another brilliant player who was also renowned as a teacher, and as a fine person. Wikipedia has a short note that: “Ellis became prominent after performing with the Oscar Peterson Trio from 1953 to 1958 along with pianist Peterson and bassist Ray Brown. He was a somewhat controversial member of the trio, because he was the only white person in the group in a time when racism was still very much widespread.“
First, it is sad to see the past tense saying “when racism was still very much widespread”, especially in this year of 2020. However, what is unacknowledged is that during the time that hotels were designated as “white” and “black” he chose to stay with his band mates in the “black”hotels, often to the chagrin — and worse — of the local white population.
His teaching reputation brought Emily Remler to New Orleans to learn from him, and he introduced her to the jazz world at the Concord Jazz Festival in 1978. He too used the talents of Gary Larson, in his case having the Far Side creator design an album cover in exchange for guitar lessons! Quite a deal.
As with his other artist transcriptions, Stelios offers a few free samples for both guitarists here. You will have to scroll down to find them because he has provided us with transcriptions of so many of the great jazz masters. I’m still holding out hope for George Barnes and Emily Remler, but as it stands his list covers most of jazz guitar’s brightest stars.
Stelios Panos retains my highest recommendation, extended to include this new collection. Most transcribers would improve over the years that he has put into this work, but his original work on Django Reinhardt set the bar so high that there was little room for improvement, except for his incorporation of each added or optimized function in Band-in-a-Box. At considerably less than $1 (or €1 ) per song, this is a very good deal (especially with international currency fluctuations of late). If you are still not convinced, download the free songs and try them for yourself. You might just discover a whole new world, or two, of jazz guitar.