Barney Kessel: Jazz Guitar Front & Center
I have played rhythm guitar and still do on many record dates where it is required. I enjoy this type of playing very much, especially with a large string orchestra, or a band playing in a Basie groove. There is a particular resonance I have noticed in rhythm guitar that pleases me when only the rhythm section and brass in straight mutes are playing. I enjoy the approach to rhythm guitar playing by Freddie Green, Herb Ellis, and Barry Galbraith.
I don't feel that rhythm guitar helps much in other fields of playing, except to develop the ability to keep time, and this one thing could be utilized in any other musical endeavor. Many young players I have heard lately, while having great technique, have great difficulty in keeping time on their solos. Regardless of what instrument it is, the inability to keep time is the one great flaw that most youngsters share even though they play all the right notes.
Most orchestras today have economic problems which force them to get by with as few men as possible. In a ballroom, if the acoustics aren't good and the band isn't balanced properly with microphones in the right places, the guitar won't be heard. If it is heard, it won't be under the best possible conditions and will therefore make only a minor contribution. Even at best, the guitar makes a very subtle, though very important contribution to an orchestra playing in a ballroom. Sometimes you can't hear it loudly, but you can feel it. If it starts playing and then drops out, you certainly will register the feeling of a great loss. Irving Ashby once put it this way, "Rhythm guitar is like the vanilla in a cake. You can't taste it, but you know when its been left out."
Orchestra leaders feel many times that they can do without guitar and have less problems than if other instruments are eliminated. Most guitarists today, who want to make a good living, must be able to play amplified guitar and so they spend most of their time developing this skill. The only guitarists I have found that do take rhythm guitar seriously are the ones that do not play amplified guitar. When a orchestra has a guitarist, the charts almost always have amplified parts to play, and the leaders are more insistent that the guitarist be able to play these parts than be an extraordinary rhythm man. Most guitarists in dance bands today are primarily amplified guitarists, who have to play rhythm as part of the job and make an effort at it. A player of this sort, while being a good amplified player, would not make the kind of rhymthic contribution needed from a rhythm guitar. [Editor's note: One notable exception to this comment was Barry Galbraith, a great rhythm guitarist and a great soloist.]