When Larry Koonse contacted iRoM on the weekend, advising us of the passing of guitarist Jimmy Wyble, we asked if he would consider writing an appreciation for the life and the work of this legendary artist. Koonse is a superb and versatile jazz guitarist in his own right, and we are extremely grateful that he agreed to share his memories of a man who was his mentor, teacher and friend.
By Larry Koonse
We lost a giant of jazz guitar with the passing of Jimmy Wyble last Saturday. Jimmy was an important fixture on the global jazz scene from the late 40′s through the 60′s. Starting with his landmark work with Bob Wills and his Texas Playboys in the early 40′s he went on to do equally groundbreaking work with both the Benny Goodman sextet and the Red Norvo Trio in the 50′s. He went on to write what some consider his greatest work in the 70′s with a book of etudes that characterize his swinging, contrapuntal style. There are classical guitarists all around the world that include his works in their repertoire.
After the recent passing of his wife a few years ago Jimmy began to play live for the first time in almost 20 years at the age of 85. Guitar aficionados who witnessed his playing firsthand were always left completely dumbfounded. His mastery of counterpoint in an improvisatory context was unmatched on the instrument and always balanced with the most surprising yet beautiful musical choices.
Jimmy has always occupied a special place in my heart both for his music and his humanity. In my opinion he is one of the great American masters and has a completely original voice in improvisation and composition. My parents had the good sense to send me to Jimmy for guitar lessons when I was fifteen and for three years I had my musical world transformed by Jimmy’s unique vision of harmony and melody. I was witness on a weekly basis to Jimmy’s spontaneous contrapuntal improvisations which spilled out of his hands with no effort. There is no excess in Jimmy’s music ….. melodies trail off into silence …. harmonies are expressed with two well chosen notes ….. silence is just as important as sound ….. and it all comes off sounding like what Bartok might have written if he was born of Cajun parents and schooled with Texas swing.
All that being said, it is his sweet presence that will be missed the most. Jimmy was the most humble, grounded, and kind human being I have ever known.
This video, recorded in 2007 when Wyble was 85, is plagued by audience noise. But it nonetheless provides a brief portrait of his remarkable skills.