Content on this page requires a newer version of Adobe Flash Player.

Get Adobe Flash player

Lenny Breau Bio

"Lenny remains the Pacific Ocean of fingerstyle jazz guitar inspiration. Unmatched technique, stylistic diversity beyond belief and that musical wistful intelligence that I doubt we'll ever see again. It's great to have a musical hero you can still be amazed at after 40 years of study." - Kent Hillman


Lenny BreauPainting by John Froehlich

The late Lenny Breau was a guitarist with staggering technique and a mind for innovation; he played with an evocative style that effortlessly jumped between genres. Beyond Breau’s breath-taking skill, he was equally known for his gentle nature and warm smile.

Born August 5, 1941, in Auburn, Maine, Breau came into a musical family; his parents, Harold “Hal Lone Pine” Breau and Betty Cody (Coté), were professional country singers who enjoyed a good measure of success in the northeastern U.S.A. Lenny Breau began playing guitar at 8, and by 14 was picking lead, billed as “Lone Pine Junior”, in his parents’ band.

The family moved to Winnipeg, Manitoba, in 1957, where they continued performing and recording, and had their own radio show. When he lived there, Breau taught guitar; one promising student was future Guess Who and BTO guitarist, Randy Bachman, who regards Breau’s lessons as “life-changing”.

The stuff of legend, Breau was reprimanded by his father for improvising during a live performance, and he left the family band to seek out jazz musicians who would give him the freedom to explore the sounds in his head, to improvise all he wanted to.

Soon Breau was playing the prestigious Village Vanguard in New York City and appearing on network television shows like Jackie Gleason and Joey Bishop. When he returned to Canada he served as a session guitarist for CBC Radio and Television.

Breau started out in country, but was drawn to jazz, developing a unique style that literally and figuratively had one foot in New York and the other in Nashville. Flamenco, Middle Eastern influences and other styles were evident in his playing. He pioneered concepts using techniques such as artificial harmonics, seemingly on a mission to expand the boundaries and so-called limits of the guitar.

Along the way Chet Atkins caught wind of Breau and a life-long friendship began. Breau’s major-label debut, “Guitar Sounds of Lenny Breau”, was released on RCA in 1968, overseen by his mentor, Atkins. “The Velvet Touch of Lenny Breau” was recorded live in 1969 at the famed Shelly’s Manne-hole in Hollywood. His chord/melody work was an epiphany for generations of guitarists from all genres.

Lenny BreauA transient life came with the territory; Breau lived in Canada and the United States, spending time in Nashville and Maine, teaching master classes and writing for Guitar Player magazine.

Although Breau had a long history of drug issues, he seemed to have moved beyond that when on August 12, 1984, his body was found in a Los Angeles swimming pool. The circumstances of his death were mysterious; his wife, Jewel, was suspected but never charged, and the case remains unsolved to this day.

A documentary film, “The Genius of Lenny Breau” was released in 1999, produced by his daughter, Emily Hughes. CBC Radio made two documentaries on Breau’s life, including, “On the Trail of Lenny Breau”.

Although he has been gone for decades, Breau’s legacy lives on in the countless guitar players he inspired and the joy he brought to his many fans. When it comes to Lenny Breau’s guitar playing, the best said that he was better, and his peers said he has none…

Quotes

"Lenny Breau played more great stuff at one time than anybody on the planet... with feeling and tone. He was the best that ever lived, bar none."
-Danny Gatton

"He is one of the true geniuses of the guitar. I suppose he is a musician's musician. His knowledge of the instrument and the music is so vast, and I think that's what knocks people out about him. But he's such a tasty player too. I think if Chopin had played guitar, he would have sounded like Lenny Breau."
-Chet Atkins, CGP

"[Lenny] is the best I have ever heard, and I have heard some players!"
-Jerry Reed, CGP

"He had the ability to reach into your heart."
-Larry Carlton

"He dazzled me with his extraordinary guitar playing... I wish the world had the opportunity to experience his artistry."
-George Benson

"Lenny Breau was the most innovative guitarist since Wes Montgomery."
-Phil Upchurch
(Phil also mentions that Wes became a huge Lenny fan after hearing just one album by him in the late 60s - most likely "Velvet Touch")

"What really got me was the soul behind all the playing."
-Mike Stern

"Regardless of style, few musicians have been universally held in such high esteem by their peers."
-Jim Ferguson, "Lenny Breau Remembered", Guitar Player Magazine 1984

"The late Lenny Breau was an uncrowned king of jazz fingerstyle guitar. A relatively unknown voice on the instrument, he startled newcomers to his music by his ability to comp chords behind himself sounding like two guitarists, ring out lengthy bell-like harmonic passages, tastefully blend his influences of country, jazz and flamenco and fluidly improvise in this style."
-Brawner Smoot, "The Immortal Lenny Breau" 1986

"It was the freshest, most exciting thing I had heard in years. ... He...was doing things that I never dreamed of. It was one of the greatest days of my life, the first day I heard Lenny."
-Chet Atkins

"Lenny is the greatest guitar player in the world today. I think he knows more guitar than any guy that's ever walked the face of the earth, because he can play jazz, he can play a little classical, he can play great country--and he does it all with taste."
-Chet Atkins

"My first reaction was a combination of jealousy, envy, admiration - because he was so good and so original. I thought, 'Oh my God. This guy is light years ahead of me and so many other people around here.'"
-Ed Bickert

"I have found a better player than I am."
-Merle Travis, describing a then 12-year-old Lenny

"Breau was perhaps the most technically brilliant guitarist of our time. ... Gatton thought Breau was the best ever."
-Steve Wolf, article from Danny Gatton's official hall of fame page

"It must be remembered that Coltrane's Jazz in 1962 was better known for experimentation.... This type of eccentric and unorthodox playing, which most musicians and guitarists could not comprehend, nor play, appealed to Lenny. When Lenny sat in...when Lenny's turn came to play, the effect was electrifying. Coltrane leaned over with eyes wide-open, looked at Lenny's hands, and smiled."
-George Sykornyk, on Lenny's encounter with John Coltrane

"Even when Lenny noodled, it was a feast!"
-Frank Zappa's words through Steve Vai

"The late Lenny Breau was a true jazz guitar genius who ranks alongside Django Reinhardt, Charlie Christian and Wes Montgomery as one of a select few inspired innovators who set new standards of creative artistry in Jazz Guitar history.
Lenny's musical influences were truly diverse. They ranged from Country fingerstyle master Chet Atkins, Jazz Guitarists Johnny Smith and Tal Farlow, Flamenco virtuoso Sabicas, Jazz pianist Bill Evans and sax titan John Coltrane. Drawing from these eclectic sources Lenny created a truly unique voice in the guitar world.
Lenny's unprecedented technical facility and depth of musical insight allowed him to play Bill Evans style chord voicings simultaneously with improvised single note lines. His country and classical right hand techniques allowed for great independence of parts and subtle tonal and dynamic shadings. Lenny possessed a singular blend of techniques and musical knowledge that often created the illusion of two and sometimes three musicians eminating from a single guitarist."
-Guitarchives

"He was the best electric bassist ever including Jaco [Pastorious]. He played the best solo on bass that you ever heard. It was ridiculous. Lenny was so advanced on bass that most guys wouldn't even try to do what he was doing because it was light years beyond anything they could ever think about."
-Don Thompson, universally regarded one of the greatest jazz bassists and multi-instrumentalists ever

"One day I was at Chet's and he told me he wanted me to meet this guitarist. Lenny was upstairs playing. Even before I made it half way up the stairs I was hearing things that were astonishing. Ten minutes later I was sitting with Lenny who began to play harmonics such as I have never in my life, and then I started learning right there and then. Chet, and he mentions it in his autobiography, always regretted that he didn't film that session. To this day, there is no one in the world who can do what Lenny did and we are all indebted to his legacy."
-Tommy Emmanuel

"Then Lenny Breau came along, and he could play like everyone: Chet, Joe [Pass], Bill Evans, Gene Autry [laughs], and that's what really floored me. When you're learning what Lenny does, you're learning everything, because he was covering so many genres. It was frustrating, really."
-Phil deGruy

"His intuition was the predominant force in his playing, rather than his intellect. ... He knew the chords he was playing, and he could spell them out if he had to, but he was more into musical colors, which he largely achieved using harmonics'simultaneous, cascading, and various amalgamations. He was always finding something new."
-Phil deGruy

"One night I heard out of the blue just as I was getting ready to go to sleep this guitar player singing quietly with harmonics, and different voicings, and I felt this electric bolt go through me. I sat up and I couldn't believe what I was hearing."
-Lorne Lofsky

"He was just this great, wonderful personality that I was attracted to because he seemed so free in his own right. Lenny had the guts to play what he wanted to play. He always played from the heart and he never pretended anything when he was playing, never tried to impress. He didn't buy into the bullshit. There was just total honesty all the time and that was why he was so special. Didn't matter who was around, he was continually himself. He didn't know how to do anything else or be anything else. That's one of the reasons I loved him so much: he was always, always true."
-Judi Singh

"Lenny was amazing, one of those people who make you feel like you've arrived."
-Peter Appleyard

"I was stunned; stunned is the word. Here was this little guy with this ready smile who had so much respect for other people and their music and was so encouraging about whatever you were doing. Completely selfless in that way. Then he picked up his guitar and it was like someone from another planet playing - effortless genius, just effortless. Totally apropos, no matter what it was. Every note that came out of his guitar would be like it was dictated from the music muses of the universe.
He just totally tuned into what I was doing, which is why every one of those takes [on the album] is a first take (virtually all of the recordings on Lenny's official albums were first takes)... As far as I was concerned, I felt I had the good fortune to accompany a genius on that album."
-Beverly Glenn-Copeland
(referring to her eponymous debut album from 1970)

"Every great guitarist I have been privileged to know - and the list includes Oscar Castro-Neves, Mundell Lowe, Gene Bertoncini, Ed Bickert, Reg Schwager, the late Emily Remler, and more - has considered Lenny a wunderkind at minimum, even some kind of musical miracle. The universality of Lenny's interests on the instrument led him to the most total technique on guitar I have ever heard."
-Gene Lees, legendary music critic

"When you look over the guitar literature of the past, Sor, Tarrega, the transcriptions of Segovia and more, when you look back down through the instrument's history to the time before it had six strings, you are compelled to think that more than just maybe, Lenny Breau was the most accomplished guitarist in history."
-Gene Lees

"He was a mess.... he was a mess...."
-Leonard Cohen

Lenny Breau documentary on DVD

The Genius of Lenny Breau - Documentary DVDThe Genius of Lenny Breau (1999)

The Genius of Lenny Breau is Hughes' film biography of her father, the Canadian jazz guitar genius who died under mysterious circumstances in 1984. Through making the documentary, Hughes discovered the life of a father she saw very seldom as a child.

This documentary explores and celebrates the all-too-short, heartbreaking but triumphant life and unworldly talent of Lenny Breau, considered by many to have been the greatest guitar player of all time. Long before the term "fusion" was coined, Lenny was melting musical boundaries to produce original pieces that borrowed from styles as diverse as jazz, classical and flamenco. Through a combination of never-before-seen archival footage and interviews with family and colleagues, viewers are offered a close-up look at a sensitive, selfless but flawed musical genius who redefined what the guitar could do.

$25.00 USD + $10.00 shipping & handling
*** The option to purchase this DVD is coming soon. Please stay tuned!