Eddie Lang (October 25, 1902 – March 26, 1933) was an American jazz guitarist, considered by many to be the finest of his era, and to be the greatest rhythm player of all time. He played a Gibson L-4 and L-5 guitar, providing great influence for many guitarists, including Django Reinhardt.
Lang was born Salvatore Massaro, the son of an Italian-American instrument maker in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He studied violin for 11 years, but switched to the guitar. He loved classical music, Italian folk songs, and this thing called jazz. He worked during his James Campbell High School Orchestra days on various local club dates and later legendary recordings with his boyhood (and neighborhood) buddy, jazz great, Joe Venuti, who many credit today with virtually creating the jazz violin. Lang was playing professionally by about 1918, playing violin, banjo, and guitar. He worked with various bands in the USA's north-east, worked in London (late 1924 to early 1925), then settled in New York City.
Venuti said, they were playing in the Knickerbocker Hotel in Atlantic City in 1923 where "we used to play a lot of mazurkas and polkas, but just for fun, started to play them in 4/4 rhythm. Then, we’d start to slip in some improvised passages...we'd just sit there and knock each other out." They wrote a whole new chapter in jazz history.
Lang led and/or co-led with Venuti some 20 sessions on various labels. under names such as Joe Venuti's Blue Four that became the standard of small group jazz. He played with the bands of Venuti, Adrian Rollini, Roger Wolfe Kahn and Jean Goldkette in addition to doing a large amount of freelance radio and recording work. Leonard Feather wrote in The Encyclopedia of Jazz that they, "achieved a unique style, a tonal finesse and jazz chamber-music quality hitherto unknown in jazz." Eddie, a superb ensemble player, could hold a session together and yet take stunning solos that made jazz history. He worked with pop, swing, blues and straight jazz groups. He was scooped up along with Bix Beiderbecke and Venuti by Paul Whiteman, who never really claimed to be a jazz great, but who clearly knew who was, and can be seen and heard in the movie The King of Jazz.
Lang was also much sought after by pop singers of the day such as Russ Columbo, Cliff Edwards , Ruth Etting and many others because, as one critic noted, he made them sound better. He also worked with blues icons Bessie Smith and Victoria Spivey under his pseudonym of Blind Willie Dunn.
Bing Crosby, one of the few white singers who sang great jazz vocals loved Lang's playing so much he brought him to Hollywood to work with him in films. They appeared together in the film The Big Broadcast in 1932. It was reportedly Crosby who suggested to Lang that he get an operation for his laryngitis. The poorly performed operation causing the loss of too much blood killed Lang. It left Crosby, and many in the jazz world devastated at his early demise.
Lang's pupil, Marty Grosz, said, "Lang was the first, he had to think the whole thing out for himself." Barney Kessel, said , "Eddie,first elevated the jazz guitar and made it artistic." Crosby reportedly searched vainly for another comparable accompanist but that there were none. As one writer noted, "There was only one Eddie Lang."
(info mainly from allaboutjazz.com)
In this precious fragment, jazz guitar pioneer Eddie Lang and partner Joe Venuti chase out a 'Wild Cat'.