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Photo of Eddie Condon in a suit and bowtie holding his Gibson guitar.
[Portrait of Eddie Condon, Eddie Condon's, New York, N.Y., ca. Oct. 1946], William P. Gottlieb Collection, Library of Congress..

Eddie Condon’s Gibson Guitar Finds a New Home at the Library

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The Library of Congress Music Division is proud to be the new home of guitarist and bandleader Eddie Condon’s Gibson L-7 Plectrum guitar, which was custom made for him in 1965. The guitar (pictured below) features a carved spruce top with a sunburst finish. Donated in 2023 by Maggie Condon, Eddie’s daughter, the guitar is a welcome addition to the Library’s renowned collection of musical instruments. Hank O’Neal, a widely respected writer and producer, recently answered some questions about the significance of Eddie’s guitar for “In the Muse.” O’Neal collaborated with Eddie on his book “The Eddie Condon Scrapbook of Jazz” (St. Martin’s Press, 1973). Special thanks to Maggie Condon for contributing several photos for the blog, and for her generous gift to the Library of Congress and American people.

Eddie Condon (1905-1973) was a major figure in American jazz during the mid-twentieth century who The New York Times described as “one of the greatest jazz guitarists.” He was a multi-instrumentalist, concert producer, tv presenter, club owner, and bandleader. Born in the Indiana in 1905, Condon made a name for himself in Chicago and New York, collaborating with numerous artists as a performer and bandleader, and presenting some of the all-time greats in jazz at his clubs and for Town Hall and Carnegie Hall in New York.

Five Questions About Eddie Condon’s Gibson Guitar
[NB – Nicholas A. Brown-Cáceres; HO – Hank O’Neal]

[NB] Why is the Library of Congress the long-term home of choice for Mr. Condon’s famous guitar?

[HO] The Library of Congress is the ideal home for Eddie Condon’s four string circa early 1960s Gibson guitar, a guitar made to his exact specifications, because it is a uniquely American instrument and no other music school or museum would be appropriate. In the 1940s, at the height of World war II, the music made with Eddie’s guitar was broadcast all over the world by the Armed Forces Radio Service (AFRS) and was lovingly called by the announcer “Americondon Music.” It wasn’t jazz or pop or folk or classics. It was its own kind of special American music and the instrument on which this kind of music was played should be in a uniquely American institution/facility and there is none more American than the Library of Congress.

Eddie Condon’s custom Gibson guitar. Courtesy of Maggie Condon.

[NB] Do you have any favorite memories of hearing this guitar played, whether in concert or a private setting?

[HO] In the 1960s and early 1970s, I heard this guitar as part of groups of musicians that were led by Eddie Condon at concerts in Carnegie Hall and Alice Tully Hall in New York City, university auditoriums in New York City and Virginia, and private parties in various locations. Each time these musicians assembled under Eddie’s leadership, something special happened. None was more memorable than what happened on a night in April 1972 when he assembled a five-piece group for a concert in the Kaufmann Auditorium of New York City’s New School for Social Research. It reunited him with two old friends, drummer Gene Krupa and cornetist Wild Bill Davison, and two younger friends, Kenny Davern and Dick Wellstood. The sold out concert was recorded, I issued it a few months later as an LP and it garnered five stars in Downbeat Magazine, the highest rating possible. This guitar was on that record.

[NB] What do you hope future generations of researchers, musicians, and students will learn about Mr. Condon’s life and work by encountering his guitar?

[HO] If a student or someone historically inclined encountered the guitar today it might encourage them to learn more about Eddie’s life and the kind of music he and his friends and associated played so well and for so many years. It might also encourage people to realize how important music can be in bridging some of the divides that are so prevalent in our society in 2024. Eddie Condon was the first jazz musician of any race to regularly record or perform with an integrated band. He collaborated with African-American musicians on his recordings in 1929 and in the same year he was invited to record with both Louis Armstrong and Fats Waller. In those same years he appeared in Vitaphone shorts and made many recordings. Much of this is described in his excellent 1947 autobiography, “We Called It Music.”

[NB] Who are some of the musicians and entrepreneurs who influenced Mr. Condon’s work as a performer, recording artist and impresario?

[HO] By the late 1930s Eddie Condon was a musical celebrity and in the 1940s was even more so. He encountered and worked with hundreds of musicians and entrepreneurs. But he was doing more influencing than being influenced. He had the first jazz show on television in the early 1940s; his Floor Show became a network feature on NBC, also a first, in 1948. His autobiography, “We Called it Music,” was the second by a jazz musician, the first profile of a jazz musician to appear in The New Yorker featured Eddie in 1945, about the same time Eddie Condon’s opened at 47 East 3rd Street in Manhattan, the first jazz club with a musician’s name on the door. Eddie’s four-string guitar was always on the bandstand or in the TV, radio or recording studio.

[NB] Which of Mr. Condon’s recordings do you recommend for readers who want to hear the guitar in action?

[HO] Eddie Condon did not play solo guitar. He began as a banjo player (also four strings) and stuck to an unamplified guitar for his entire career. There are no Eddie Condon solo recordings, but despite this he managed to come in 2nd place in the Downbeat poll as “best guitarist” in 1944, the same year his own brand of Americondon music was so popular in concert halls and with the troops who heard the broadcasts of the Armed Forces Radio Service. One year during the war these broadcasts were voted no. 1 by service men and women all over the world. Eddie himself was no. 5 guitarist in 1942 and moved up to no. 4 in 1943. After his second place in 1944 he never again was in the top five. And during all his active years as a musician years he never electrified, only playing acoustic and kicking the band along simply with four strings and his presence. Someone once said his instrument of choice was being there, on stage, leading the band. There is one AFRS recording where the sound people messed up and left his announcing microphone on during the performance and you can hear his rhythm guitar loud and strong for an entire song. It was remarkably good, but that is the only example I know of.

Black and white photograph of Eddie Condon's guitar resting on his casket surrounded by floral arrangements.
Photograph of Eddie Condon’s custom Gibson guitar resting on his casket at his funeral service on August 8, 1973, New York, New York. Courtesy of Maggie Condon.

Additional Resources

Condon, Eddie, and Richard Gehman, eds. “Eddie Condon’s Treasury of Jazz.” London: P. Davies, 1957.
Condon, Eddie. “An Evaluation of Jazz Today.” [n.p. ca. 1960s]
Condon, Eddie. “We Called it Music: A Generation of Jazz.” Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1970.
Moos Pick, Margaret. “Eddie Condon: Renaissance Man of Jazz,” based on Riverwalk Jazz Script. Stanford Archive of Recorded Sound, 2012.
Wilson, John S. “Eddie Condon, Jazz Leader for 50 Years, Dies at 67.” The New York Times, p. 1., August 5, 1973.

 

 

Comments (2)

  1. Thanks to Ms. Condon for donating her Dad’s guitar for all Americans to enjoy. Any chance you can post a link or follow up post featuring the recording for Armed Service Radio described above? Will his guitar be on exhibit and where can you see it?

    • Thanks for your comment! There’s at least one recording of Condon’s band performing on AFRS available on Internet Archive. We don’t have any recordings available here in the Music Division, but if you’d like to research further you could contact our colleagues at the Library’s Recorded Sound Reference Center. https://ask.loc.gov/recorded-sound?loclr=blogmus.

      We don’t have current plans to display the guitar, but are exploring possibilities as part of future display planning. In the meantime, researchers can contact our curator of musical instruments to inquire about the instrument. https://ask.loc.gov/performing-arts?loclr=blogmus.

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