Throughout musical history, most professional artists have had numerous opportunities to work with some of the best of their contemporaries, sometimes building up an impressive list of collaborators during a long career. But in at least one case, a pioneering jazz guitarist with a tragically shortened career still left behind a legacy that included working with many stars. Those performances, in addition to his solo virtuosity, made Eddie Lang an inspiration to many and earned him the nickname ‘The Father of Jazz Guitar’.
Born as Salvatore Massaro in turn of the century Philadelphia, he grew up with music a part of his life but it took the form of years of intensive violin study. However, by the time the 1920s began he’d plunged into a musical career as a guitarist and taken the stage name Eddie Lang.
It didn’t take long for the word to get around and Lang was soon much in demand, finding work with bands as diverse as those of Paul Whiteman and Red Nichols. He also frequently collaborated on stage and on records with his boyhood friend, violinist Joe Venuti, and worked at times with the legendary Bix Beiderbecke, Benny Goodman, and the Dorsey Brothers. Lang even made blues records with iconic black singer/guitarist Lonnie Johnson, calling himself Blind Willie Dunn to blend in.
Many well-known singers found Eddie Lang the perfect accompanist, including Ruth Etting and Bing Crosby (video below), and by the 1930s he was even making records as a leader of his own group. Unfortunately, trouble was approaching. Plagued by a hoarse throat and scratchy voice, Lang decided to take Crosby’s advice and have a tonsillectomy. The usually routine operation was performed in New York in 1933, and Lang died from complications. He was just 30 years old at the time.