Guitar giant and ‘Godfather of Fusion’ Larry Coryell dies aged 73

Renowned fusion guitarist Larry Coryell died on Sunday 19 February aged 73. He was staying in a New York hotel and, according to his publicist Jim Eigo, passed away due to natural causes – the news coming just days after his last two concerts at the city's Iridium Jazz Club.

One of the most individual guitar stylists in jazz, Coryell's career spanned over 60 albums, incorporating elements of rock and blues with the finesse of a bebop virtuoso. Born in Galveston, Texas in 1943, he played piano from age four, but switched to guitar in his teens and had an early love of rock music. He studied journalism but his move to New York from his family home in Washington in the mid-1960s saw his reputation as a musician grow on the NYC jazz scene, eventually going on to replace Gabor Szabo in Chico Hamilton's band, with whom he made his debut recording on the drummer's 1966 album, The Dealer. His status as a gifted guitarist was consolidated through his solo albums Lady Coryell, Coryell and 1969's Spaces, which also featured preeminent fusion maestro John McLaughlin on a guitar-heavy summit.

Coryell was to make an indelible mark as a pioneer of jazz fusion with his 1970s band Eleventh House, which pre-dated Return to Forever and Weather Report, the group also featuring keyboardist Mike Mandel and the earth-shattering drumming of Alphonse Mouzon. The success of his fellow fusioneers eluded him, yet Coryell changed tack and explored acoustic territory in a wide range of high-level collaborations with the likes of Phillipe Catherine, John Scofield, Joe Beck and notably a memorable trio with McLaughlin and Paco De Lucia. He also recorded with such luminaries as Stéphane Grappelli, Charles Mingus and Sonny Rollins, while his later years saw a return to his fusion roots with several new line-ups alongside players such as Paul Wertigo, Chester Thompson, Victor Bailey and Lenny White, and even a reformed Eleventh House with original bandmate, trumpeter Randy Brecker.

He is survived by his wife, Tracey, his daughter Annie, his sons Murali and Julian, and his daughter Allegra, as well as six grandchildren. A memorial service is being planned on Friday 24 February 24 at the S.G.I-USA Buddhist Cenre, New York at 7 p.m.

– Mike Flynn

– Photo by Tim Dickeson

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