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Van Eps, George (Abel)

Van Eps, George (Abel)

Van Eps, George (Abel), noted jazz guitarist, son of Fred van Eps; b. Plainfield, N.J., Aug. 7, 1913; d. Newport Beach, Calif., Nov. 29, 1998. He had three brothers who were professional musicians: Bobby (piano), Freddy (trumpet), and John (tenor sax); their father, Fred van Eps, who recorded extensively in the 1910s and 1920s, was a noted ragtime banjoist; their mother played piano. George began doing gigs at 13, playing banjo in a band led by his brother, Fred; he did his first solo broadcast at 14 and was teaching at 15. He studied watch-making, but began touring with Harry Reser’s Junior Artists and then worked with the Dutch Master Minstrels before joining Smith Ballew from 1929-31. Van Eps spent six months working with his idol, guitarist Eddie Lang; then, after a two-year spell with Freddy Martin, he worked with Benny Goodman in 1934 and 1935; he left in summer 1935 to work with Ray Noble’s Orch., working with him for a year. He then moved to Hollywood for freelance studio work, remaining there until late 1939. He designed a seven-string guitar (featuring an extra bass string) and wrote a text on guitar playing. Van Eps worked again with Ray Noble from autumn of 1940 until spring of 1941, spent two years in his father’s sound laboratory, and then moved to the West Coast to recommence prolific studio work. He participated in the film Pete Kelly’s Bluesand in the television series of the same name in the middle and late 1950s. He played various festivals in the 1960s and 1970s. Illness restricted his activities during the early 1970s, however, and from then until his death he performed only occasionally. He worked with Peanuts Hucko in 1986. Van Eps was the seventh recipient of the American Federation of Jazz Societies Benny Carter Award (1997).


Mellow Guitar (1956); My Guitar (1965); George Van Eps’s Seven-String Guitar (1967); Soliloquy (1968); Hand-Crafted Swing (1991); Seven & Seven (1992).

—John Chilton/Lewis Porter

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