Howard Alden was born in Newport Beach, California in 1958. He began playing music at age ten, inspired by recordings of classic jazzers like Louis Armstrong and Count Basie. Instruments were always available at the Alden household, and Howard began by learning a few chords and picking out melodies on banjo. A jazz purist from the beginning, Howard turned to the guitar sounds of Barney Kessel, Charlie Christian and George Van Eps for his early musical guidance. At age twelve, having taught himself to play a number of standards, he began playing with a band at a local pizza parlor. This turned into a two-year engagement playing every Friday and Saturday night.
He then began playing professionally around Los Angeles in groups ranging from traditional to mainstream to modern jazz, as well as playing in pit bands for some Broadway shows running in LA. On Barney Kessel's recommendation he began to study with guitarist Jimmy Wyble. In 1977 he studied with Howard Roberts for one year at the Guitar Institute of Technology, where he was then invited to teach for the next couple of years while gigging in the Los Angeles area.
He quickly became a very in-demand guitarist. In 1979, he joined vibraphonist Red Norvo's band (following in the footsteps of his hero George Van Eps) for a four-month engagement in Atlantic City. He moved to New York City in 1982 and recorded with artists like Ruby Braff, Joe Williams, Warren Vaché and Woody Herman.
He began recording as a bandleader in 1985, recording mostly on the Concord label. In 1992 he switched to playing only seven string guitar, again following in George Van Eps' footsteps, and recording several albums with his guitar hero before Van Eps' unfortunate death in 1998 due to pneumonia.
His latest album, My Shining Hour, is Alden's first unaccompanied guitar album. It has been very well-received by jazz critics. Ken Dryden of allmusic.com says that the recording has a "freshness that makes it sound as if one is hearing each piece for the first time."
Howard Alden was voted "Best Emerging Talent-Guitar" in the first annual Jazz Times critic's poll, 1990, and "Talent Deserving Wider Recognition" in the 1995, 1992, and 1993 Downbeat critic's poll.
The following is a list of Alden's albums as a leader:
- No Amps Allowed (1985, Chiaroscuro)
- Swing Street (1986, Concord Jazz)
- Swinging into Prominence (1988, Famous Door)
- Plays the Music of Harry Reser (1988, Stomp Off)
- The Howard Alden Trio Plus Special Guests Ken Peplowski & Warren Vache (1989, Concord Jazz)
- The ABQ Salutes Buck Clayton (1989, Concord Jazz)
- Snowy Morning Blues (1990, Concord Jazz)
- 13 Strings (1991, Concord Jazz)
- Misterioso (1991, Concord Jazz)
- Hand-Crafted Swing (1991, Concord Jazz)
- Good Likeness (1992, Concord Jazz)
- Your Story: the Music of Bill Evans (1994, Concord Jazz)
- Encore! Live at Centre Concord (1994, Concord Jazz)
- Concord Jazz Guitar Collective (1995, Concord Jazz)
- Take Your Pick (1996, Concord Jazz)
- My Shining Hour (2002, Concord Jazz)
The list of albums he has appeared on is enormous; it includes albums with Mel Tormé, Susannah McCorkle, Dick Hyman, Kenny Davern, Ruby Braff and others. A good list is available at allmusic.com, however, it is far from complete as most jazz albums are out of print and relatively little information is available on them (especially online).