Bill Dearango

Dextrous jazz guitarist


Bill DeArango, guitarist: born Cleveland, Ohio 20 September 1921; died Cleveland 26 December 2005.

One thing the emergent Bebop movement of the mid-1940s was not short of was good guitar players. All of them had been inspired by the single-string solo style of Charlie Christian, who had died at 25 in 1942. Most notable was Barney Kessel, with Bill DeArango, Remo Palmier and others close behind. Kessel rose to deserved fame, but the others soon vanished to obscurity. DeArango, who was notable for his beautiful playing and consistent good taste, emerged occasionally from retirement before having a brief but potent renaissance in the mid-1990s.

In 1946 he played with dextrous articulation and confidence on Dizzy Gillespie's seminal recordings of "Anthropology" and "Ol' Man Rebop", and the two tracks showed that he was already a masterful disciple of the new music.

A self-taught player, DeArango had played with Dixieland bands in Chicago before moving to New York in 1944 after his army service. He sat in with the swing tenor saxophonist Don Byas at the Three Deuces, and was so impressive that he was, to the tenor man's annoyance, immediately hired by Byas's rival Ben Webster. DeArango stayed with Webster for a year, but he was already deeply immersed in the new Bebop language and in 1945 recorded with its early exponents, Sarah Vaughan, Charlie Parker, Erroll Garner and Dizzy Gillespie. The following year he showed up well on his recordings with Ben Webster.

Things looked good, and the guitarist worked with trumpeter Ray Nance and then co-led a band with the vibraphonist Terry Gibbs before, quite suddenly in 1948, his career petered out and he returned to his home town of Cleveland.

DeArango made a brief return to record a fine album in 1954 with the young pianist John Williams but it proved a flash in the pan and his national career wasn't resumed. He ran his own music shop in Cleveland through the Sixties and Seventies and played part-time locally. He became manager of the rock group Henry Tree and recorded anonymously with it in 1970. He played at Cleveland's Smiling Dog Saloon during the Seventies and recorded again in 1981 with the accomplished but under-recognised pianist Kenny Werner.

At the suggestion of the musicologist Gunther Schuller, DeArango recorded again in 1993 with the young local saxophonist Joe Lovano, subsequently himself to become a jazz great. "He was a major mentor for all of us round here," said Lovano.

In the last decade DeArango occasionally played at the Barking Spider in Cleveland but he suffered from dementia and was taken into a nursing home in 1999. Lovano visited the guitarist there on Boxing Day. Two hours after the younger man left De Arango died. "He knew we were there," said Lovano. "His heartbeat raced. He knew we were there."

Steve Voce

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