Billy Bauer: A Life in the Bebop Guitar Business

Steven P. Bec

Jazz guitarist Billy Bauer had a professional career spanning more than seventy years. During that time, he performed in a variety of contexts from cabaret groups and Swing era big bands to modern jazz combos. Bauer’s affiliation with pianist Lennie Tristano garnered him greater acclaim than any other association of his career.  Their work includes the earliest recorded examples of free group jazz  improvisations, and Bauer’s style exhibited on these and other Tristano recordings from the  late 1940s and early 1950s constitutes a landmark  in  jazz guitar.
Jazz critics of the period lauded Bauer’s playing with Tristano, and the guitarist won annual magazine readers’ polls in Metronome (1949–1953) and Down Beat (1949–1950). While historians of the  music justly continue to celebrate this association, there are negative repercussions to th at acclaim. The critical tendency toward exalting Bauer’s work with Tristano obscures the wealth of additional material he recorded and performed. By extension, this tendency ignores the fact that precedent for Bauer’s Tristano-era work exists in the guitarist’s discography, and that Bauer continued to develop his style after leaving the pianist’s combo.

Utilizing interviews, unpublished documents, Bauer’s autobiography, and other resources, this thesis seeks to evaluate Billy Bauer’s entire career. It considers the guitarist’s early commercial work, association with Woody Herman, recordings with Chubby Jackson, affiliation with Tristano, Benny Goodman, and Lee Konitz, session andstudio work, as well as recordings made under his own name. Additionally, this research examines Bauer’s careers as publisher and guitar instructor, the dominant activities during the final thirty -five years of his life. Ultimately, a complex portrait of the  man emerges, one in which insecurity affected his jazz career as dramatically as any critical tendency.  Organization NameRutgers, The State University of New Jersey

Billy Bauer: A Life in the Bebop Guitar Business

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