Jack Petersen (guitarist)

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Jack Petersen
Birth nameJack Leroy Petersen
Born (1933-10-25) October 25, 1933 (age 90)
Elk City, Oklahoma, U.S.
Occupation(s)Musician, composer, educator

Jack Leroy Petersen (born October 25, 1933) is an American jazz guitarist and educator. He was a pedagogical architect for jazz guitar and jazz improvisation at Berklee College of Music, University of North Texas College of Music, and University of North Florida.


His father, Harold Petersen, worked for LTV and his mother, Effie, worked at Russel-Newman Manufacturing Company. When Jack Petersen was five years old, his family moved to Denton, Texas. He began playing guitar when he was 16 under the influence of Western swing.

He won a course in guitar from a radio contest. The teacher was Bob Hames, a former soldier who was attending University of North Texas. Hames introduced Petersen the music of Charlie Christian, Herb Ellis, Tal Farlow, Barry Galbraith, Barney Kessel, Carl Kress, Oscar Moore, Remo Palmieri, Chuck Wayne. While in high school he and his friend Dick Crockett listened to North Texas Lab Bands and the small groups that performed on campus, and developed their playing style. Petersen graduated from Denton High School 1951.[1]

In 1955, he enlisted in the Army to perform with the 8th US Army Band in Seoul, Korea. While in Seoul, Petersen met many musicians and played eleven gigs a week.[2] After leaving the Army, he attended the University of North Texas to study music. He played cello and double bass in the orchestra and guitar and piano in the jazz ensemble where he collaborated with faculty members Gene Hall and Floyd Graham.

Petersen was proficient on double bass, cello, and piano. This gave him sight-reading skills, an advantage for guitarists of the day who were earning money in recording studios and dance orchestras. Sight-reading and maneuvering jazz progressions (beyond blues, pentatonic, and classic rock) made him a popular guitarist in recording studios, with big bands, and musicians who had little time to teach parts to their sidemen.


  • 1957: Petersen joined the Hal McIntyre Orchestra on September 8, 1957, in Knoxville, Tennessee, for its European tour.[3]
  • 1958-1962: Petersen was a Dallas studio musician recording jingles, first as a guitarist and sometimes pianist, then as producer, composer. Much of the work was making IDs for radio stations all over the country. Petersen once remarked in an interview that people don't realize the work that goes into it — "In 20 seconds, you've got to write a whole symphony".[2]
  • 1960: Gene Hall hired Petersen to teach with him at Stan Kenton Band Clinics. As of 1977, Petersen has been with Stan Kenton Band Clinics for some 17 years.
  • 1962: Petersen accepted an invitation by Lawrence Berk, Berklee, to design and chair the first formal guitar curriculum at Berklee College of Music. Berk discovered Petersen through his affiliation with the Stan Kenton Band Clinics.
  • 1965: Petersen returned to Dallas because of high demand to work as a performer and studio musician.
  • Mid 1970s: Leon Breeden invited Petersen to develop the jazz guitar program at North Texas.[4] Petersen, with jazz pianist Dan Haerle, helped lead a jazz improv curriculum that Rich Matteson had revamped.
  • 1974: Petersen, along with Rich Matteson and Phil Wilson, founded the music publishing company Outrageous Mother, a Texas corporation, to distribute their arrangements.
  • 1988: Matteson hired Petersen, his longtime colleague, to build a jazz guitar program. Rich Matteson, who had been teaching jazz at the University of North Texas for 13 years, was hired in 1986 by the University of North Florida to build a program focusing on jazz. Petersen taught at UNF as resident artist and associate professor until his retirement in 1995, retiring fully in 1999.
  • 2003: Petersen moved to Prescott, Arizona, and performed as guest and clinician around the country.

He has worked with Dave Brubeck, Randy Brecker, Dallas Symphony Orchestra, Buddy DeFranco, Herb Ellis, Fort Worth Symphony Orchestra, Milt Hinton, Lena Horne, Stan Kenton, Peggy Lee, Michel Legrand, Henry Mancini, Lou Marini, Ellis Marsalis Jr., Rich Matteson, Matteson-Phillips Tubajazz Consort, Rufus Reid, Doc Severinsen, Billy Taylor, Clark Terry, and Nancy Wilson.

His students include John Abercrombie, Morris Acevedo, James Chirillo, Corey Christiansen, Vincent Gardner, Mick Goodrick, Jerry McGeorge, Marcus Printup, Richard Smith, John Tropea, Cynthia Nielsen, Clint Strong, and Doug Wamble.

Guitar lab innovation[edit]

While at Berklee, Petersen introduced a guitar lab concept that transformed guitar education, particularly jazz guitar, with respect to sight reading and with respect to accommodating large numbers of guitar students. He created a big band composed of 12 guitars in three units of four – one unit would cover the woodwinds of a big band, one would cover the trombones, and one would cover the trumpets. The guitar players read single notes, just like horn players — no chords.[2] Later, Petersen helped his colleague at North Texas, Rich Matteson, develop a similar concept for low brass, creating a big band composed solely of low brass instruments. The Matteson-Phillips Tubajazz Consort was composed mostly of renowned professional artists and educators.


Compositions and arrangements[edit]

  • 1981: Up Tight (BMI)
  • 1995: Magic of Brazil (BMI)
  • 1999: Hey Man
  • 2002: Denton Blues
  • Scrapbook, Dallas Jazz Orchestra, Jazz Mark


  • c1979: Jack Petersen, Jazz styles & analysis, guitar: a history of the jazz guitar via recorded solos, transcribed and annotated, Vols. I & II, Maher Publications
  • 1980: Jack Petersen, "Django Reinhardt's Guitar in 'Festival 48'", Down Beat Music '80, p. 52-53
  • 1981: Jack Petersen & Rich Matteson, Up Tight
  • 1981: Rich Matteson & Jack Petersen, Art of melodic motion: an improvisational study
  • c1983: Dan Haerle, Jack Petersen, Rich Matteson, Jazz Tunes for Improvisation: A Graduated course of study for the jazz musician, Alfred Publishing
  • 1995: Rich Matteson, Jack Petersen, Music Minus One: The Art of Improvisation, Vol. 1, Music Minus One
  • 1995: Jack Petersen, Magic of Brazil
  • 2002: Jack Petersen, Beginning Guitar: Mastering the Keys: The Jack Petersen Guitar Series, Mel Bay
  • 2003: Jack Petersen, Chords Galore: A Systematic Approach to Voicing Chords on Guitar, Mel Bay

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Denton H.S. Will Graduate 135 Seniors, Denton Record-Chronicle (May 6, 1951)
  2. ^ a b c Schneckloth, Tim (March 24, 1977). "Jack Petersen". DownBeat: 32–33.
  3. ^ Peterson to Tour With Dance Band, The Denton Record-Chronicle, col. 5, pg. pg. 2, September 8, 1957 ("Petersen" is misspelled in article as "Peterson"
  4. ^ Charles Chapman, Mel Bay Presents Interviews with the Jazz Greats — and More Mel Bay (June 1, 2001)