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Howard Roberts was born on October 2, 1929 in Phoenix, Arizona and taught himself to play the guitar at the age of seven. By the time he was twelve he was studying with Horace Hatchett who influenced Roberts to listen to and appreciate the full spectrum of music for the guitar from the classics to jazz. He then studied guitar fingerstyle technique for a while with classical guitar player Howard Heitmeyer and later on studied the Schillinger system with Fabian Andre. During World War II Howard played guitar professionally around the Phoenix area acquiring important experience.
In 1950 Howard Roberts relocated to Los Angeles. Right after he arrived he went to hear jazz guitar legend Barney Kessel playing with Dave Brubeck at The Hague jazz club in Los Angeles. During the evening Kessel introduced him to guitarist Jack Marshall who was also in the audience. With Marshall’s assistance Roberts soon established himself as one of the leading studio guitarists in Los Angeles. Over the next twenty years Howard was included on literally countless recordings and on lots of TV and movie soundtracks.
In the early 1970s he ended up being really concerned about teaching and began to appear at many guitar workshops all over the United States. He then formed his own publishing business called the Playback Publishing Company. In partnership with other guitar players, including Jimmy Stewart, Howard Roberts wrote and published a number of excellent jazz guitar books covering chord melody soloing and improvisation. He was a co-founder of the Guitar Institute Of Technology (G.I.T.) with Pat Hicks in 1976.
With the assistance and guidance of Howard Roberts G.I.T. ended up being one of the world’s most respected educational establishments for guitar players. Roberts also became involved in guitar design and construction. The Epiphone Guitar Company produced their first Howard Roberts Model in the late 1970s. In the early 1980s the Gibson Guitar Company, having purchased the Epiphone Guitar Company, launched a brand-new variation of the initial model as part of the Gibson guitar line.
Howard Roberts always maintained an interest in jazz and was very active in helping to develop in 1966 the famous “jazz guitar night” at Donte’s club in Los Angeles. For many years Roberts was featured with lots of jazz artists including Shorty Rogers, Buddy De Franco, Pete Jolly, Bud Shank, Bill Holman, Bob Cooper, Al Haig, Chico Hamilton, Gerry Mulligan, Oliver Nelson, Bobby Troup, and Dave Grusin. In 1965 he won Downbeat magazine’s “New Star” award and then went on to write an excellent monthly column for numerous years for Guitar Player magazine.
Several of his later recordings reveal him as a jazz-rock fusion style guitar player, however his earlier recordings established him as one of the best all round jazz guitarists following in the tradition established by jazz guitar pioneer Charlie Christian. In the last few years prior to his death from prostate cancer in 1992, Howard Roberts started to travel all over the world teaching and playing jazz guitar. He has left guitarists the world over an important legacy of jazz guitar educational books and recordings.
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