DIVERSITY best describes the artistry of guitarist, bassist, and producer Jack Jezzro. His numerous recordings and productions have sold well into the millions, all while continuing to be a highly regarded studio musician and performer with an extensive resume. However, even more than that, Jezzro has a style and taste that are all his own—qualities that are a breath of fresh air to the music of today and qualities that breathe new life into the music of yesterday.
::: The Early Years
Jazz is a natural expression for this West Virginia native, who seems to have been born musical. Jack Jezzro grew up in the small town of Rivesville, starting on piano and accordion when he was very young. “I would go to the piano and start banging out tunes when I was four or five,” he recalls.
His remarkable skill at simultaneously fingering melody and chord changes came naturally to him as a young listener. “I had a stack of Chet Atkins records, and that’s how I learned to play,” Jezzro reports. “As a kid, I’d want to play all the parts. I’d listen to a tune by James Taylor, The Doobie Brothers, Simon & Garfunkel, or whomever. I’d play the bass part, the piano, the vocal—and I’d want to do it all right there on the guitar.”
For his bass-playing skills, Jezzro earned a scholarship to West Virginia University in nearby Morgantown. “I still kept playing guitar, but they didn’t have a guitar program,” he says. “I wanted to go to school there because it was close by, so I picked the bass and really got into it.” The year was 1976. “That fall, the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra came to Morgantown, and I got to meet the principal bass player, Sam Hollingsworth. We immediately hit it off.”
Hollingsworth took Jezzro under his wings, preparing him for a professional career. By 1978, Jack knew that if he wanted to become a professional, it was time to move on. Therefore, he took the year off from school and began playing in the Charleston Symphony Orchestra (CSO).
After a year with CSO, Jezzro won a scholarship and sailed into the sophistication of the prestigious Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. While a student at Eastman, he won an audition for and subsequently played in the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra for two years. Meanwhile, he continued developing as a guitarist by absorbing the sounds of George Benson, Joe Pass, and Jim Hall. After graduation, “it was either New York, Nashville, or Los Angeles, and Nashville felt more like home” where he landed a job with the Nashville Symphony Orchestra and began breaking into the studio scene.
::: The Jezzro Style
For an instrumentalist, speed and flash are often yardsticks. Innovation and technique unquestionably enter into play. Rhythmic invention, tonal dynamics, repertoire selection, or sophistication of arrangement are also called into the discussion. But Jack Jezzro has something more; and that something is taste.
His latest guitar projects combine those elusive qualities instantly recognized when you hear them—discrimination, polish, grace, and artistry. In addition to sheer taste, another element of Jezzro’s unique style is that he’s a contrapuntal guitarist, integrating chordal harmony and melodies into one distinct sound—clean, lucid, and smooth––often performing on a nylon-string guitar.
“I like to be true to a song,” Jezzro begins. “At the same time, I try to do something fresh with a tune. My own sound or style—that’s the freshness. I guess we all try to find our unique voice. That’s what we’re all striving for. I’m always going to be working for it.”
A lot of guitar trio records sound a little thin, so the challenge is to accompany yourself. “One of the things that’s always been there naturally is being my own accompanist,” Jezzro says of his special fingerstyle playing. “I was sort of developing this accompaniment thing before I knew what it was.”
From 1981 to 1991, Jezzro played bass in the Nashville Symphony Orchestra, and in the mid-’80s, he “began breaking into the studio scene with the Nashville String Machine,” Music City’s premiere string section. The String Machine works on all kinds of albums, from Bruce Springsteen to Garth Brooks to Matchbox 20 to Faith Hill to the Beach Boys to Amy Grant as well as major motion pictures including THE ROOKIE, THE GREEN MILE, POCAHONTAS, and CONAIR.
In 1989, Jezzro released the first of his many guitar records, the contemporary jazz outing Step On It, for the major Japanese label Pony Canyon. Step On It was then released in the States in 1991 under the title A Day’s Journey (with a slightly different set list), earning Jezzro a Grammy nomination.
During the 1990s, he recorded many instrumental albums for the Green Hill label, including salutes to the popular music of George Gershwin and The Beatles arranged for guitar and strings, plus an all-original Latin outing entitled Brazilian Nights, which garnered critical acclaim and radio airplay worldwide.
After history’s odometer changed to the 2000s, Jezzro released his first jazz trio recording. This edition, titled Jazz Elegance, was released on Hillsboro Jazz (sister label to Green Hill). With a sound befitting it’s title, Jazz Elegance showcases his taste and finesse on jazz standards as well as his warmth and skill on four original pieces. One of Jezzro’s most recent releases includes a recording of Broadway classics entitled Jazz On Broadway. This project teams him with longtime friend and legendary pianist Beegie Adair and her trio. His most recent outing, Solitude, is a much-requested solo guitar recording of standards.
In addition to his own recordings, Jack Jezzro has produced a wide variety of albums, from Big Band Romance to Lovin’ In The Fifties to platinum-selling Smoky Mountain Hymns to the critically-acclaimed jazz projects including Beegie Adair’s Dream Dancing, Jim Ferguson’s Not Just Another Pretty Bass featuring saxophonist Chris Potter, and Antoine Silverman’s Blue Moods featuring piano virtuoso Stefan Karlsson.
Jezzro has over 200 albums to his production credit. He received a Grammy nomination for A Day’s Journey and seven Dove Award nominations for producing artists such as Brentwood Jazz Quartet, saxophonist Sam Levine, and bluegrass group The New Tradition. He produced the multi-platinum selling Smoky Mountain Hymns recordings, one of which also received a Dove Award nomination. Additionally, The Frank Sinatra Collection by Beegie Adair, produced by Jack Jezzro, won a Nashville Music Award for “Jazz Album of the Year.”
His projects have collectively sold nearly 10 million copies worldwide and feature a variety of styles including Jazz, Latin, Country, R&B, Easy Listening, New Age, Bluegrass, and Pop.
As an internationally acclaimed guitarist and composer, his music has been heard regularly on jazz radio stations all over the world. He has been a special guest on America’s Voice to the World’s “Jazz Vibrations” radio show, a program broadcast to over 100 million listeners. His recordings have been heard in numerous television shows, network specials and movies, such as the 1996 Summer Olympics, Friends, Entertainment Tonight, J-A-G, A&E Biography, Access Hollywood, E! True Hollywood Story, Honey I Shrunk The Kids, Oprah, Martha Stewart Living, and more.
Major airlines such as United, Delta, and U.S. Airways frequently offer his music to their travelers. He has served as producer and featured performer on a full-length recording for Walt Disney Records entitled Disney’s Fairy Tale Weddings. Jack has also authored books containing some of his original compositions for Mel Bay Publications.
Jack Jezzro’s production experience has catapulted him to become one of Nashville’s premiere instrumental music producers.
Contributors: Robert K. Oermann, Amy Parker, and Gregory Byerline