Howard Roberts had many musical accomplishments and was a very influential musician. His career spanned from the early 1950's, for example he was the winner of a Down Beat New Star Award in 1955, until his death in 1992. For many years he was the top studio guitarist in Los Angeles. You have probably heard his playing many times and didn't realize it. For example, did you know that the theme to the show The Twilight Zone was played by H.R.? The approximately 20 albums recorded under his leadership are an outstanding testament to his abilities.

Samples of Howard Roberts' Guitar Playing

Here are some examples of his playing. The choices are somewhat arbitrary but are meant to span his career reasonably well. Also there are some rare recordings that I've acquired and I have put some of these up too so that others can hear them.

The .ra files are in Real Audio format so you have to have this installed. Also for some of these you have to have the G2 or version 7 (or later) player for the files to play.

Live at The Banque in Seattle 1975

Here is about two hours of Howard Roberts live at The Banque in Seattle in 1975. Many thanks to Mal Tomlin for putting this up on Youtube.

Personnel; Howard Roberts - guitar, Dan Dean - bass, Bob Nixon - Rhodes, Dean Hodges - drums, ? sax.

Concerto for Electric Guitar and Orchestra

I spoke with the composer Duane Tatro concerning this piece of music which is titled "Dialogue for Amplified Guitar and Chamber Orchestra". Mr. Tatro was for many years a composer of film and television music (Mash, Streets of San Francisco and many others) in Los Angeles. While he is not involved in this activity currently he is still active as a composer.

The composer was very generous and sent me a recording of this music from its first (here is the program), and so far only, performance at the Los Angeles County Museum of the Arts in January, 1977 with Howard Roberts and the Studio Arts Orchestra under the direction of Charles Blackman. This was a significant event and was written up in the L.A. Times, January 13, 1977. An excerpt of the score and more information about Duane Tatro can be found in Guitar Player, June 1979, p. 57.

As related by Mr. Tatro the suggestion for the piece came from Howard and it was composed using the Schoenberg method. H.R. was actively involved with Mr.Tatro during the composition process giving advice on what was playable on the guitar, etc. This piece is one of the few compositions written specifically for the electric guitar with an orchestra and perhaps it is the first.

Mr. Tatro made some interesting comments concerning the outstanding musicianship of Howard Roberts and the observation that he literally never saw him without a guitar in hand. Also he recalls scheduling a single rehearsal for the piece (with 30 musicians) and Howard not being able to make it at the last moment because he was stranded in Alaska! Instead he sent another guitarist (Mike Anthony) who sight-read the work!

I've listened to the piece several times now and I find it to be quite interesting. As has happened to me several times in putting the site together and collecting recordings that Howard Roberts played on, I've discovered I like a style of music that I had never been much exposed to before. For example, a similar thing happened when I listened to Pete Rugolo's recordings of Stan Kenton's music with Howard Roberts in his orchestra. In this case the music is 12 tone music and I find it quite appealing. It is quite abstract and not melodic or highly rhythmic. There are lots of large intervallic leaps and strange harmonies. As a piece it is quite cohesive and effective - really fascinating. Here is the introduction to the concert and a bit of the music in Real Audio format.

Dialogue for Electric Guitar and Orchestra

The score (obtained thanks to guitarist Michael Cado of Richmond Hill, Ont.) indicates the following instrumentation for the piece: flute (doubling piccolo), oboe (doubling English horn), clarinet in Bb (doubling Bb bass clarinet), bassoon, horns in F, trumpets in Bb, trombone, tuba, percussion (timpani, glockenspiel, medium gong, large gong, cymbals, vibraphone, xylophone, triangles, snare drum, grande cassa, chimes, wood blocks, slap stick, drum set),amplified guitar, piano (doubling celesta), violins (6+6), violas (4), violoncellos (2) and double bass (2 with 1 doubling Fender bass). It is interesting to listen to the piece and try to follow along in the score.

After listening to the piece it occurred to me that Howard Roberts was indeed an outstanding musician. Not simply for his technical prowess, which was outstanding, but for the wide range of music he played and contributed to. From playing with the Monkees, to ranking as one of the all-time greats of the jazz guitar, to playing the most modern kind of formal music he did it all. A truly impressive person.

Many thanks to Mr. Tatro for helping to document an important moment in the history of the electric guitar.

For those interested in Duane Tatro's music there is a CD of material recorded in 1954/55 called Duane Tatro's Jazz For Moderns initially on Contemporary but reissued in 1996. This contains 11 compositions by Duane Tatro and performed by Stu Williamson, Bob Enevoldsen, Joe Eger, Vincent De Rosa, Lennie Niehaus, Joe Maini, Bill Holman, Jimmy Giuffre, Bob Gordon, Ralph Pena and Shelly Manne. This is much more jazz influenced than the Concerto but some of the music is similar. The liner notes also contain much more biographical information about the composer.

Gig Book

Here is a copy of some pages from H.R.'s gigbook from the late 70's. I got this thanks to Mike Irish, Director of Jazz Studies at Michigan Technical University. Here is a quote from Mike.
"I have attached a .pdf file that contains scans of pages from Howard's gig book that he used when he traveled in the mid-late '70's. I got them from (then) Detroit drummer Danny Spencer. Howard played at Baker's Keyboard Lounge in Detroit in 1976 or 1977 and his backing group for that gig was Detroit/Pittsburgh keyboard great Eddie Russ, Danny on drums and, I believe, Ron Brooks (or possibly Mike Grace) on bass. They did 3 nights with Howard and it was just "electric". Somehow, Howard forgot one of his books, and Danny ended up with it. He let me photo-copy some pages of tunes that I was interested in, and then I returned the book to him. I don't know if Danny still has posession of the book. So, I scanned these copies and am sending them to you. The circled numbers on the copies are not original from Howard's book, but everything else is. They are written on manuscript paper from North Hollywood, and I suspect that some (or many) are in Howard's own handwriting. I do remember a comment that Danny made to me after having played with Howard. He said that the rehearsal was really laid back and that Howard was just a great cat. So, he (Danny) expected the gigs to be like backing Kenny Burrell. To his (and the other musicians') surprise, the gigs were like a nuclear explosion. Danny said that Howard's playing was infused with some of the most intense energy that the trio had ever experience. Truly incredible. I wish that I could have heard Howard "live" - it would've been awe-inspiring!

Sheet Music

There are a number of pieces and studies written by H.R. that appear in his various instructional books. In addition I know of the following published pieces.

Donte's Jazz Club

Donte's Jazz Club
4269 Lankershim Boulevard
North Hollywood, California

Sketch by Rowland Harris (see an actual picture here)

Donte's was a jazz club in Los Angeles that operated during the 1960's. H.R. played there quite frequently. There was a weekly guitar night at this club that became quite famous among guitar players. If you have any additional information, please let me know.

Here is some information from Los Angeles session and jazz guitarist, Mitch Holder.

Donte's first opened in 1966 (the year I met him) and Howard's group opened the club, playing on a consecutive Friday & Sat. It turned into an LA jazz icon over the years. It was fantastic. A different group was featured during the weeknights and a headline group appeared each Fri. & Sat. night. Over the years, Howard consistently had his groups appear as the Fri.-Sat. headliner. He would usually play one weekend per month or sometimes, every other month depending on his schedule.

Many people think Howard started the famous Donte's Monday Night Guitar Nights. This is not the case and I corroborated that today as I met with Bob Bain for lunch and asked him about it. He said Guitar Night was originally Jack Marshall's idea and the first guitarist to do Guitar Night was George Van Eps. Many guitarists did the Monday Guitar Nights including Barney Kessel, Herb Ellis, Bob Bain, Al Hendrickson, Christopher Parkening (Jack's nephew), Joe Pass, Al Viola, Tony Rizzi's Five Guitars, Barry Zweig, Thumbs Carlisle, Larry Carlton, Lee Ritenour and many others that I can't remember. My group played on some of those Monday nights and Donte's holds some of my fondest playing memories, everyone had a blast there.

Here is another description I found on a website deicated to Warne Marsh.
cover charge was $2.50 to sit at a little bistro-like table OR it was FREE if you went to the bar! It was just a small place. Average size for a southern California jazz club -- fit about 120 people comfortably. All the cats from Johnny Carson would finish their afternoon taping of the show (the musicians in Doc Severinson's tv band) and you'd see them in there all the time -- it was the scene up in the "Valley" over the hill from Hollywood (North Hollywood was separated by a row of hills, the same hills where the Hollywood Bowl is. At the front door of Dontes was a night blooming jasmine bush about 6 foot tall ( jazz men, get it?) and on warm summer nights Carey would leave the door open and this hugely aromatic jasmine smell would fill the room. Warne died on the stage years later. And Carey died at his desk. I don't know what's there now. Contributed by Mark Weber. Albuquerque, New Mexico. February 21, 2005.