Written by Bernie Brink
While the guitar played an important role in the development of blues and jazz music in the early days of jazz, it wasn’t until the advent of the electric guitar that it was seriously considered as a lead instrument, beginning with Charlie Christian in the 1930s. Since then, dozens of talented players have come to the forefront of jazz music, including Wes Montgomery, George Benson, Pat Metheny, Peter Bernstein, and many others – all of them on electric instruments. But another influential guitarist, Earl Klugh, is unique in that he has made his name playing primarily the acoustic guitar.
Like so many jazz greats, Earl Klugh is a child of Detroit, Michigan. Steeped in the sounds of Motown and R&B, as a youngster, he frequented venues like Baker’s Keyboard Lounge where he routinely saw the house musicians for Motown Records, known as the Funk Brothers. Though he began studying piano at age 6, Klugh was converted to the guitar after seeing country legend Chet Atkins perform on television. Later in life, Klugh would have the opportunity to collaborate with his idol, as well as many jazz icons, including Yusef Lateef (whom he recorded with at the tender age of fifteen, on Lateef’s album Suite 16), George Benson, Chick Corea, Stanley Clarke, and many others. In 1981, Klugh won a Grammy award for his collaboration with renowned keyboardist Bob James, One on One, and has since been nominated twelve more times for a Grammy.
This month, Earl Klugh returns to Colorado Springs for his 17th annual Weekend of Jazz. Klugh’s event has brought a number of jazz luminaries to Colorado over the years, and this year he is joined by some of the biggest names in jazz, including Boney James, Chris Botti, Spyro Gyra, and Christian Sands, to name a few. If you can’t make it to this year’s event, tune in weekday evenings for Lagniappe with Tony Exum, Jr. to hear these incredible artists in August and throughout the year on Jazz 93.5.