Predating both Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian, Eddie Lang was arguably the most influential jazz guitarist of the prewar era. Before his untimely death at the age of 30, he had played and recorded with some of the biggest names of the Jazz Age including Bing Crosby, Louis Armstrong, Bix Beiderbecke, Bessie Smith and Lonnie Johnson.
Born in 1902 of Italian immigrant parents, Lang was performing professionally in his teens. He made his first recording with the Charlie Kerr Orchestra in 1923 and by his mid twenties was established as a session musician as well as holding a fulltime position with Roger Wolfe Kahn’s Orchestra.
In 1929 he joined the prestigious Paul Whiteman Orchestra appearing in the 1930 motion picture, The King Of Jazz.
Lang went on to work with Bing Crosby, who had also been a member of Whiteman’s Orchestra, and is featured with him in the 1932 movie, Big Broadcast.
Watch Bing Crosby and Eddie Lang performing Please
A versatile player whose technique and harmonic skills were advanced for the time, Lang was as at home jamming with Blues guitarist Lonnie Johnson as he was playing solo arrangements of pieces from the Classical repertoire.
Single-handedly responsible for establishing the Gibson L-5 as the rhythm instrument of choice in dance and jazz bands, Lang’s influence can be heard in the playing of Dick McDonough, Carl Kress, Les Paul and scores of other guitarists of the period. Indeed, the guitar/violin duo that he formed with his school friend Joe Venuti established a template that would later be exploited by Django Reinhardt and Stéphane Grapelli.
Eddie Lang died in New York City in 1933 of complications following a tonsillectomy. He was just 30 years old.
According to Robb Lawrence – who claims to own Eddie Lang’s block inlaid L-5 – Lang used the following finger-breaking string gauges!
6 – 73; 5 – 48; 4 – 38; 3 – 30; 2 – 20; 1 – 15