Tom Williams (University of Surrey, UK)


Notions of aesthetic ‘purity’, tradition, nostalgia and identity are at the core of how traditionalists ascribe identity and authenticity to jazz guitar. To talk about the development of the electric guitar without discussing distortion is impossible and yet discourse rarely places emphasis on the developing use of effects and technology in jazz guitar culture specifically. While often met with disdain from traditionalists, distortion is now one of many devices which have enabled traditional notions of performative/compositional devices to be expanded, extending the creative possibilities for jazz guitar improvisers and composers. 

This paper will explore the changing landscape of jazz guitar as viewed through the prism of distortion, production and wider notions of the emergence of a post-modern jazz ‘guitarscape’ more aligned with the progressive, which embraces technology, and by extension distortion, as part of its identity. Case studies will be used to build a narrative across the development of jazz guitar to demonstrate the many ways distortion has been used both as an aesthetic effect and as a creative tool in and of itself, how creatives may adopt such practices, and finally how embracing a modernist approach is crucial in enabling the progressive and developmental elements which define jazz guitar culture today.