Guitarist who worked with Sinatra and Kiri Te Kanawa

Born: April 21, 1922;

Died: December 2, 2017

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MUNDELL Lowe, who has died aged 95, was one of the most versatile and adaptable guitarists in jazz. In a career that began in his early teens, he played with an amazing range of musicians and singers, including Billie Holiday, Frank Sinatra, and Charlie Parker. He also accompanied Tony Bennett, Barry Manilow and the Everly Brothers as a television and recording session player and produced TV theme tunes including Starsky & Hutch and Hawaii Five-O.

Lowe was born in Laurel, Mississippi and grew up on a farm. When he was eight his sister gave him a tenor guitar and once he had done his homework and farming chores he would teach himself songs from the radio. Within a few years, at the age of 17, he was playing on one of the radio shows he had been listening to, the Grand Ole Opry, with Pee Wee King’s Nashville-based western swing band.

First, however, he had moved to New Orleans with his family and found jobs in jazz bands playing on Bourbon Street. Not long afterwards Lowe heard the innovative jazz guitarist Charlie Christian playing with the Benny Goodman band. Christian became a major influence and after Lowe completed his army service in 1945, John Hammond, the record producer and talent scout, helped to find Lowe a job in the jazz orchestra led by drummer Ray McKinley, who had previously worked with Glenn Miller.

Lowe spent two years touring, broadcasting and recording with McKinley and a further two years with Dave Martin’s New York-based band. This led to gigs with pianist Ellis Larkins and with vibraphonist Red Norvo’s trio, whose bassist, Charles Mingus, became a friend and colleague.

By the early 1950s, having also worked in Broadway musicals, Lowe was established as an in-house musician on the staff with the broadcaster NBC. He also freelanced with the Eddie Sauter-Bill Finegan orchestra and played what turned out to be a trial gig in Harlem with Charlie Parker, who motioned for Lowe to solo on chorus after chorus on the first number, Just Friends, “just to see how deep the water was.” Parker was suitably impressed and called Lowe for further gigs.

After 13 years with NBC, during which his trio with drummer Ed Shaugnessy and bassist George Duvivier stood up for mixed race groups appearing on peak-time TV, Lowe moved to California. There, as well as working with Peggy Lee, he spent much of his time writing advertising jingles and television theme music.

Eventually tiring of studio work, Lowe decided to get out and play live and singers Sarah Vaughan and Carmen McRae were among those keen to hire his services. He also worked with Andre Previn, trumpeter-cornetist Ruby Braff and saxophonist Richie Kamuca in addition to leading his own trios, quartets and quintets. He later joined Previn and bassist Ray Brown in accompanying Kiri Te Kanawa on the opera singer’s 1992 jazz album.

Lowe continued playing into his nineties, latterly staying mostly close to his adopted hometown, San Diego.

He is survived by his wife, jazz singer Betty Bennett, son, Adam, daughters Debbie, Jessica and Shari, and step-daughters Alicia and Claudia.

ROB ADAMS