Joe Pass (born Joseph Anthony Jacobi Passalaqua; January 13, 1929 – May 23, 1994) was an American jazz guitarist of Sicilian descent. He is considered one of the greatest jazz guitarists of the 20th century. He created possibilities for jazz guitar through his style of chord-melody, his knowledge of chord inversions and progressions, and his use of walking basslines and counterpoint during improvisation. Pass worked often with pianist Oscar Peterson and vocalist Ella Fitzgerald.
Born in New Brunswick, New Jersey, Joe Pass was the son of Mariano Passalaqua, a Sicilian-born steel mill worker. He was raised in Johnstown, Pennsylvania. He received his first guitar, a Harmony, on his ninth birthday. His father recognized early that his son had “a little something happening” and pushed him to learn tunes by ear, practice scales, play pieces written for other instruments, and to fill in the space between the notes of the melody.
As early as 14, Pass started getting jobs performing. He played with bands led by Tony Pastor and Charlie Barnet, honing his guitar skills while learning about the music business. He began traveling with small jazz groups and moved from Pennsylvania to New York City. Within a few years he had developed an addiction to heroin, and spent much of the 1950s in prison. He eventually recovered after a two-and-a-half-year stay in the Synanon rehabilitation program. During that time he “didn’t do a lot of playing”. In 1962 he recorded Sounds of Synanon. Around this time he received his trademark Gibson ES-175 guitar as a gift, which he used on tours and records for many years.