Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Larry Coryell, a guitarist who...

..."was among the first musicians to bring a rock sound and sensibility to jazz," died at age 73.

I have to confess, I had never heard of Mr. Coryell before. From his obit in the Times (my emphasis):

Most established jazz musicians regarded rock with suspicion if not hostility when Mr. Coryell arrived in New York from Washington State in 1965. But a younger cohort, steeped in the Beatles as well as bebop, was beginning to explore an approach that bridged the stylistic gap. Mr. Coryell, who had grown up listening to a wide range of music, became one of the leaders of that cohort.

He initially attracted international attention in 1967 with the vibraphonist Gary Burton’s quartet, which some music historians call the first jazz-rock band. But he had been experimenting with what would soon come to be called fusion even before then.

In 1966 he recorded an album with the Free Spirits, a short-lived rock band that mixed radio-friendly melodies with adventurous stretches of instrumental improvisation. Most of the group’s members — including the drummer Bob Moses, who would also join the Burton quartet, and the saxophonist Jim Pepper — had jazz backgrounds.

Remind you of anyone?

Okay, if I can work a reference to Seinfeld into an economist's obituary I can surely bring up the Doors today, right? (The news is slow.)

Ray Manzarek*, who was an excellent storyteller (you can see a lot of him on YouTube), explains in this video how the Doors came up with the hit song, "Light My Fire." Both he and drummer John Densmore had backgrounds in jazz (although I would say Manzarek owed more to Chicago blues) while guitarist Robby Krieger had specialized in flamenco guitar (you can hear it in his solo on that song, can't you?).

For someone like me who doesn't know anything about music it's really interesting to hear exactly how a song like that was created. And Manzarek makes reference to two jazz greats, Vince Guaraldi and John Coltrane, as well as Bach and others. (In another video -- which I can no longer find -- Manzarek admits, "we'd steal from anybody." Which reminds me of that famous quote, " the good ones borrow; the great ones steal.")

Now I know what you're thinking: "Light My Fire" wasn't released until 1967; Coryell's obit mentions he "arrived on the scene" back in 1965. Yeah, but the Doors were founded in the summer of 1965 and "Light My Fire" was recorded in 1966, and may have been written as early as 1965. So it's essentially a tie. Either way -- great song, great video.

* And, yes, I've been to the house in which Manzarek, a St. Rita grad, grew up in McKinley Park on the Southwest Side. Read all about it here.

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