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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

Larry Coryell--An appreciation

Larry Coryell and Dr. L. Subramaniam "Beyond the Flames"

Larry Coryell, who died Feb. 19 at 73, was one of the jazz-rock fusion founders, "a true original and pioneer--and one of the 'ones,'" noted multi-genre guitarist Jimmy Vivino, also the Conan bandleader, via Twitter.

"The sheer nerve to plug that [influential Gibson high-end solid wood archtop guitar] Super 400 into a fuzzbox and wah-wah and create what we later called fusion," Vivino marveled, and he was hardly alone in his sky-high regard for Coryell.

"My collaborations with Larry Coryell and our deep friendship goes back decades," recalled the great Indian violinist L. Subramaniam, whose many cross-cultural collaborators included Coryell.

"Larry has always been one of my favorite musicians, and from having him as a guest on some of my earliest albums, to recording a duet album [From the Ashes], inviting him for numerous tours to India, performing with him in the States, and featuring him on my latest [unreleased] album Beyond Borders, we have collaborated extensively. He was a great musician, virtuosic and soulful at the same time, a true master of his instrument and style. But more important than his musicianship was the kind of person he was: He was a true friend, funny and kind, and a gentle soul, who was filled with positivity and light. I feel his loss personally, and I'll miss him dearly."

Legendary Chicago blues-rock-classical harmonica-piano player Corky Siegel performed with Coryell by way of the Subramaniam connection.

"I saw Larry not too long ago at the Jazz Showcase in Chicago," said Siegel. "I was so happy when I saw how he honored color, rhythm, articulation and dynamics with such mind-blowing subtlety. He was a joyful explorer diving to the depths of musicality supported by a brilliant technical ability--saved for the most appropriate applications. [He embodied] perfection and outrageous art. That's what we mean when we use the word 'master.'"

Coryell's mastery, added Siegel, "just flowed through him from the heavens into the room. I was with Larry on the Subramaniam tour that landed us at Lincoln Center in 2012. [Siegel's wife] Holly was the tour manager, and we bonded with Larry right away and had a lot of fun. We were very much hoping to see him again."

Jazz guitarist/writer Sam Graham, who heads the Sam Graham Trio in Los Angeles and whose books include the acclaimed e-book Before the Beginning: A Personal and Opinionated History of Fleetwood Mac (2014), was lucky to have taken guitar lessons from Coryell.

"You don't need me to discuss his influence as one of the very first true fusion players, bringing jazz chops to rock, funk, etc. before spending his career bouncing around between a dizzying variety of genres," said Graham in an email. "So I'll keep it personal: Some 40 years ago, when I was an 'underdeveloped' guitar player living in Fairfield County, Conn., I saw Larry Coryell come out of a shop in Westport and managed to get him to give me some lessons. It was wonderful to listen to him play at close range: I recall clearly the sheer wonder of sitting across from him, desperately trying to keep up with his bewildering technique."

Leo Kottke likewise remembered his first meeting with Coryell.

"We met in the basement of a hotel in Boston--playing a club called Paul's Mall--when I was lost and looking for a joint and he was looking for an E string," said Kottke, also via email. "Neither had either."

"But Larry told me something that I have kept close ever since: 'Man, if you learned a little music you'd really be something.' He later thought that was an insult, but for me it was a compliment!"

Tweeted Jimmy Webb: "Larry Coryell played with inhuman precision but never without transcendence. He belongs high overhead in a constellation of special stars."



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