Born: December 25, 1912 | Died: 1981 Primary Instrument: Guitar
Oscar Moore’s guitar licks are among the most memorable in Americana, though his name may not draw knowing nods from the listeners of today.
Moore is perhaps best known for his impeccable contributions to Nat “King” Cole’s version of “The Christmas Song (Chestnuts)” a tune which is among the most standard of great American standards and a staple of the holiday season. The momentous track, recorded in 1946 by the original King Cole Trio, represents a high- water mark in the productive career of the famed bandleader and was one of a select handful of pop hits in the era to feature beautiful jazz-tinged post-Charlie Christian guitar playing.
Moore’s decade-long tenure with Cole’s group began in 1937. During this period he also recorded with notable jazz artists like Art Tatum, Lionel Hampton, and Lester Young. By the mid 1940s, Moore was the music’s newest star and was rated Number One Guitarist in the prestigious Down Beat magazine Reader’s Poll and the Metronome poll every year from 1945 to ’48. He also received the coveted Esquire silver and gold awards in these years. Moore left the Nat King Cole Trio in ’47 when the leader opted for simpler pop vocal songs and lush string arrangements over the drummer-less jazz trio he had established in the ’40s.
In the ensuing years, Moore relocated in Los Angeles and recorded all too infrequently. During this period he is best remembered for an R&B stint from 1947 to ’54 with his brother, guitarist Johnny Moore, in the Three Blazers, and his jazz work in a quartet with pianist Carl Perkins from ’54 to ’55.
Initially overshadowed by the appearance of Charlie Christian in the late ’30s, Moore was recognized as a harmonically-advanced and highly accomplished player in the following decade. As such, he is an important “missing link” in the evolution of the electric guitar during the swing era, the subsequent rise of bebop and birth of modern jazz.
Moore’s innovations fill the gap in the crucial period beginning with the death of Christian in 1942 and the emergence of new players like Barney Kessel, Johnny Smith, and Tal Farlow in the late ’40s and early ’50s, though he was not part of that particular stream. In fact, in many ways his rhythmic, bop and blues-inflected lines presage more modern stylists like Grant Green and Wes Montgomery.
A true unsung hero of jazz guitar deserving of greater recognition, Oscar Moore passed in 1981.
Source: Wolf Marshall