Joe Pass (born Joseph Anthony Jacobi Passalaqua; January 13, 1929 – May 23, 1994) was an American jazz guitarist. Pass worked often with pianist Oscar Peterson and vocalist Ella Fitzgerald. Pass was born in New Brunswick, New Jersey, on January 13, 1929.
Pass found work as a performer as early as age 14. He played with bands led by Tony Pastor and Charlie Barnet, honing his guitar skills while learning the ropes to the music industry. 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. He moved to New Orleans for a year and played bebop for strippers. Pass revealed to Robert Palmer of Rolling Stone that he had suffered a “nervous breakdown” in New Orleans “because [he] had access to every kind of drug there and was up for days […] [he] would come to New York a lot, then get strung out and leave.”
Pass spent much of the 1950s in and out of prison for drug-related convictions. In the same Rolling Stone interview, Pass said, “staying high was my first priority; playing was second; girls were third. But the first thing really took all my energy.” He recovered after a two-and-a-half-year stay in the Synanon rehabilitation program. Pass largely abandoned music during his prison sentence.
He also played on Pacific Jazz recordings by Gerald Wilson, Bud Shank, and Les McCann. He toured with George Shearing in 1965. During the 1960s, he did mostly TV and recording session work in Los Angeles. Norman Granz, the producer of Jazz at the Philharmonic and the founder of Verve Records, signed Pass to Pablo Records in December 1973. In 1974, Pass released his solo album Virtuoso on Pablo. Also in 1974, Pablo released the album The Trio with Pass, Oscar Peterson, and Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen. He performed with them on many occasions throughout the 1970s and 1980s. At the Grammy Awards of 1975, The Trio won the Grammy Award for Best Jazz Performance by a Group. As part of the Pablo roster, Pass recorded with Benny Carter, Milt Jackson, Herb Ellis, Zoot Sims, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Ella Fitzgerald, and Count Basie.