Ivor Mairants

Ivor Mairants (1908-1998) was a major contributor to the development of the guitar in the UK from the early jazz era (where he initially played banjo in one of the greatest banjo bands of the period) to the Blues boom of the 60s and 70s. Through his recordings, performances, publications, and running his world-famous guitar store in London, he has had a major influence on many players.

The young Ivor studied banjo with the great Emile Grimshaw, the leading banjo player and educator in England at the time. Here are two sides of a 78rpm recording of Emile Grimshaw’s Banjo Quartet playing from my own collection. They were an incredibly tight ensemble:

Whistling Rufus and Swanee Sing Song  

Line up: (Left to Right) Stan Hollings, Emile Grimshaw, Ivor Mairants and Monty Grimshaw.

Like many great and fine early jazz guitar players, Ivor started out as a tenor-banjo player, although Mairants studied banjo with Emile Grimshaw for “only 12 lessons…his interest in my career went far beyond that of a teacher…my guardian angel.” (See Mairants’ autobiography, My Fifty Fretting Years – recommended reading, not just for Mairants’ own life, but as a history of jazz, classical, flamenco, blues and pop music in the UK).

Although Mairants was said to be a fine jazz improviser, there is unfortunately little recorded evidence. His Ivor Mairants’ Guitar Group made some recordings, but, as with the banjo quartet above, the emphasis was more on ensemble arrangement. He seems to have been a laid-back player, lacking the fire of a Django (one of his heroes) perhaps, but having a beautiful, lyrical, singing quality instead. Here are a couple of examples from a 1950s BBC recording:

I’ve Got You Under My String:

and Idle Gossip


Although he published many guitar books, the two that I have found most useful and interesting are the Ivor Mairants Complete & Up To Date Guitar Tutor In Theory And Practice (1965), and Eight World-Famous melodies…based on the Harmonies of George Shearing (no date).

Ivor Mairants Complete & Up To Date Guitar Tutor
In Theory And Practice (1965)

The image above is of my own green-tape-edged copy – I added the tape myself to save it falling apart.

This is a curious guitar tutor, in four main parts.

Part 1: The Basics: how to hold the guitar, how to read notation (no tab, of course), theory of chord and scale construction, plectrum exercises (Mairants advocated strict down-up strokes, always starting the bar on a down stroke – he also used a free-floating right hand, not anchored in any way), and scales: major, melodic and harmonic minor. Also triads all over the fretboard for major, minor, diminished and augmented chords. All this stuff is still relevant, of course.

Part 2: Exercises. These are 12 solo pieces which, when played without open strings, could then be transposed to other keys, simply by moving them up and down the fretboard. As they do jump around a lot, this is not as easy as playing the same scale fingering in a different position. These are great sight-reading pieces, in various keys and rhythms, employing single-note runs interspersed with mainly three and four-part chords. There then follows a section on arpeggios: major, minor, V7, diminished 7, augmented 5, major 7, major 9, minor add 9, V9, V11, V13, major add 6, minor 7, minor 6, V7#5, V9#5, V11+, V7b5, V9b5, V7#9 – fairly comprehensive.

Part 3: Seven full and fine arrangements of jazz and popular standards: Chinatown, My Chinatown; Blue Skies; Shine On, Harvest Moon; Chloe; My Melancholy Baby, You Forgot To remember; After You’ve Gone. These are well worth studying. Here’s my attempt at the first: Chinatown, My Chinatown. The solos are all quite full, so I have not recorded the accompaniment parts.

Be prepared to steal licks and progressions from everything you read or hear – all players do it. For instance, in bars 15 to 17 we have what is basically a ii/V/I cadence, which Mairants realises as Dm7, Em7 (the Em being a Relative Minor Substitution of G), Dm7, Db9 (being a Tritone Substitution of G7), C6.

Part 4: Here Mairants copies the first Guitar Method by George Van Eps – it’s almost a straight lift from GVE’s book, except Mairants harmonises the vi chord of C Major as A minor. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve been asked why GVE harmonises it with an F chord. He said in an interview with Ted Green, that most guitar players at the time did not expect a minor chord there, or something to that effect. Well, for those who find that upsetting, here is the version you have been looking for. Despite changing GVE’s harmonisation of the vi chord, he does preserve some of GVE’s “odd” left-hand fingerings – see the third chord in formation 4 below:

He does the same for the harmonic and melodic minor scales.

There follows an appendix largely devoted to The Electric Acoustic Guitar, and is quite amusing from a modern perspective. Mairants seems to assume that most people don’t know what a pickup or an amplifier is. Although this book was published in 1965, it does seem backward looking at times.

Eight World-Famous melodies…based on the
Harmonies of George Shearing (no date)

This is a wonderful book, the closest we get to Ivor Mairants the jazz musician. Here is my performance of Over The Rainbow, and below it, the score:


Here is the complete score as a pdf file: Rainbow-Mairants-Shearing

Let’s look at the first page of the arrangement, as it gives the outline for all the pieces in the book.

The solo guitar part is complete in itself, and that is what I play in the video. It could have the second guitar part added, and I’d like to try that some day. Between the two parts, the full outline of George Shearing’s reharmonisation can be realised. On top we have a voice part, with some guitar chords for an alternative, semi-improvised accompaniment. That’s a lot of information. In short, we have George Shearing’s reharmonisations, rearranged for guitars and voice. The arrangements for guitar are brilliant, and sometimes quite tricky.


The Great Jazz Guitarists

There are two volumes of transcriptions Mairants published under the names of The Great Jazz Guitarists Volumes 1 & 2:






However, there is an expanded edition, with 642 (!) pages, in a limited run of 100 copies. It is a large, heavy tome, gilt-edged, and beautifully printed, and must have been Ivor’s Magnum Opus. I managed to find a copy online for only £65. Here are some images from it:

Although his transcriptions (I’ve been informed) are not exactly 100% accurate, it’s still an edition worth having. That also goes for the two-volume paperback editions. As Jim Hall says in his Foreward:


I had hopes for “8 To The Bar Guitar”, but it consists of a hundred or so ways of playing a boogie-woogie-style bass line. I had thought it would be interesting jazz licks in eighth notes, but no…Avoid, unless boogie-woogie bass lines are your thing. That said, you can hear similar things in heads by Benny Goodman’s sextet with Charlie Parker, but you’d be better off transcribing them instead.


This book also looked hopeful, and, to be fair, it is a lot better than “8 To The Bar Guitar”. It’s a posthumous work, edited by Tim Pells from an incomplete manuscript. Because of this, it is a bit patchwork, with no gradual path through the book, but there are some individually very attractive patches to be found. For example, here’s an interesting way to go from C7 to F:


As you can see, the book has tab. There are some complete pieces, not just exercises, but they tend to be for fingerstyle technique.


Mairants advocates a free-floating right hand, and strict alteration of down and up strokes, beginning each bar with a down stroke. “Part 1: Chromatic Scales and Exercises and all major and minor Scales with many fingerings in all positions. Incorporating the full range of the fingerboard. Part 2: Studies, Arpeggios and exercises in single string runs and chords in major and minor keys to help finger facility and extemporisation. Incorporating the full range of the fingerboard. Chords of the dominant including seventh, ninth, aug. fifth, flattened fifth, aug. ninth, flattened ninth, etc. Special scales on diminished chords and augmented chords. Whole Tone Scales.”

In short, this is a major workout for any plectrum player.


The Jazz Sonatas book is for classical guitar, but could be played fingerstyle on an archtop. Very advanced technique and reading required. These are Mairants’s most advanced jazz or classical compositions. I believe they were recorded by classical guitar maestro, Simon Dinnigan, but I haven’t heard that recording. But we can all listen to the brilliant Eric Hill play these and many other pieces on his website: http://www.erichillguitardownloads.co.uk/mairants.htm – thanks, Eric! These are high-quality compositions, and great guitar solos.

I asked Eric for his reminiscences of Ivor:

“As a teenager, I had plectrum guitar lessons from Ivor at “The Central School Of Dance Music” in London. At the time, I was recovering from poor classical guitar teaching. eg. I had been taught to rest your right hand little finger on the bridge. Ivor’s lessons were a revelation. An instinctive autodidact, Ivor’s work ethic was inspirational. You were in no doubt that regular practice was necessary. His technical principles for the left hand were transferable to the classical guitar, which I later concentrated on. Eg Knuckles parallel to the fingerboard and on ascending scales keeping fingers pressing down when on the same string.  Ivor’s “Daily Exercises Tutor Book” formed the core of the lessons, (down and up plectrum technique), and he often finished off by playing his latest composition or an arrangement I remember him playing the lovely Vernon Duke tune “I Can’t Get Started” in a very complex arrangement. He also dazzled me with his answer to Paganini; a piece called “Moto Perpetuo”.  He was always very enthusiastic.  I bought a new “Hofner Committee” guitar off him, paid for by working in a farm, and my dad came along to sign the HP forms. Ivor said to him, “This boy could be a professional”; this planted the seed in me. It didn’t go down too well with my dad though.

This was just before the solid electric guitar and rock guitar groups really  took off. The style of guitar playing that Ivor taught matched my own aspirations. My local heroes were Dave Goldberg, Judd Proctor, Ike|Isaacs and, of course, Julian Bream. 

Ivor had a dream of combining classical technique with jazz “feel” and wrote a substantial repertoire to that effect. They were all written down; ie there was no space for improvisation. The selection that I recorded was  drawn from his tutor books and appeared on an audiocassette, (hence the sound quality), and was done with Ivor as the producer. He was very exacting! My favourite is “Theme and Improvisation in A” where Ivor is great on rhythm guitar in a style drawn more from Freddie Green than Django.  We did a couple of concerts together around that time, (early 80’s); I remember Rolf Harris sitting in the front row, and Ivor generously lent me his wonderful Fleta guitar for a Purcell Room concert. 

I did some performances of the Claude Bolling’s guitar concerto  with the John Horler Trio, (John, Jeff Clyne and Trevor Tomkins), and Ivor was very helpful in the rehearsals with the difficulty, at that time, of balancing a classical guitar against a jazz trio. We forget how revolutionary it was to make an acoustic classical guitar loud without destroying it’s sound quality.

For a guitarist running a business, (with his wife Lily), under the epithet “Britains Leading Guitar Expert” Ivor was surprisingly quite modest and unassuming about his own abilities. I remember an interesting conversation about the physical nature of guitar playing that can only be obtained by hours of sustained practice as opposed to the somewhat easier intellectual knowledge of where to put your fingers. I remember that  the supposedly illiterate Django Reinhardt featured in the chat. We both loved his playing.”


Other Ivor Mairants books which might be of interest are the following.

As always, your comments/suggestions are welcome below.

Rob MacKillop
Edinburgh, 2018