Born: Jan. 17, 1937 in Port Arthur, Texas
Died: May 29, 1998
Born in Port Arthur in 1937, Ted Dunbar's musical interest
began at age seven after attending a Duke Ellington concert with his mother. By age ten, having become proficient in both guitar and trumpet, he began playing professionally. Dunbar attended Texas Southern University to study pharmacology in the late 1950s. After graduation, Dunbar took a job with the Hook drug chain in Indianapolis. There he heard a performance by influential jazz guitarist Wes Montgomery, whose mellow style became a lifelong influence. He studied with Montgomery and Dave Baker, and developed an interest in modal jazz.
While continuing to work as a pharmacist, Dunbar moved to New York City in 1966. He amassed a wide range of experience playing in theater orchestras, small groups, and big bands.
In 1972, Dunbar became the first "jazz professor" at Rutgers
University. His imprint on that institution was just as large as his impact on the jazz world. His former students include Kevin Eubanks, a fusion guitarist and leader of the house band for The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. He also performed with the Rutgers Livingston Jazz Professors, touring the U.S. and Southern Africa.
Dunbar also achieved success as a composer, arranger and
publisher, composing twenty-five original pieces, arranging several albums and publishing four volumes concerning jazz. He toured the U.S. and abroad. The venues included Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy Center with artists Gil Evans, Billy Taylor, and Sonny Rollins, among others.
Like Wes Montgomery, Dunbar used his thumb to pick the
strings of his guitar, creating a subtler sound that led some listeners to overlook his idiosyncratic music. Perhaps his finest showcase is “Jazz Guitarist,” a 1982 solo guitar recording in which he took on several demanding pieces written for the piano. His honors include the Outstanding Guitarist Award from Downbeat Magazine and a nomination in Ebony Magazine's "Black Music Poll" of outstanding musicians.