John Abercrombie (guitarist)

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John Abercrombie
John abercrombie.jpg
Abercrombie at Bratislava Jazz Days, 2007
Background information
Birth name John Laird Abercrombie
Born (1944-12-16)December 16, 1944
Port Chester, New York, U.S.
Died August 22, 2017(2017-08-22) (aged 72)
Cortlandt Manor, New York
Genres Jazz, jazz fusion, free jazz
Occupation(s) Musician, composer
Instruments Guitar
Years active 1969–2017
Labels ECM
Associated acts Dreams, Gateway, Jack DeJohnette, Ralph Towner, George Mraz, Richie Beirach, Michael Brecker, Marc Johnson, Peter Erskine, Dan Wall, Adam Nussbaum, Andy LaVerne

John Laird Abercrombie (December 16, 1944 – August 22, 2017) was an American jazz guitarist.[1][2] His work explored jazz fusion, free jazz, and avant-garde jazz. Abercrombie studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. He was known for his understated style and his work with organ trios.[3]

Career[edit]

Early life and education[edit]

John Abercrombie was born on December 16, 1944, in Port Chester, New York.[3] Growing up in the 1950s in Greenwich, Connecticut he was attracted to the rock and roll of Chuck Berry, Elvis Presley, Fats Domino, and Bill Haley and the Comets. He also liked the sound of jazz guitarist Mickey Baker of the vocal duo Mickey and Silvia. He had two friends who were musicians with a large jazz collection. They played him albums by Dave Brubeck and Miles Davis.[4] The first jazz guitar album he heard was by Barney Kessel.[4][5]

He took guitar lessons at the age of ten, asking his teacher to show him what Kessel was playing. After high school, he attended Berklee College of Music.[6] At Berklee, he was drawn to the music of Jim Hall, particularly on the album The Bridge by Sonny Rollins, and Wes Montgomery on his albums Boss Guitar and The Wes Montgomery Trio. He met George Benson and Pat Martino while they performed at a local club and was inspired by them.[4] He often played with other students at Paul's Mall, a jazz club in Boston connected to the larger club, Jazz Workshop. Appearing at Paul's Mall led to meetings with Michael Brecker, Randy Brecker, and organist Johnny Hammond Smith, who invited him to go on tour.[3][5]

Dreams and Gateway[edit]

Abercrombie graduated from Berklee in 1967 and attended North Texas State University before moving to New York City in 1969.[3] He became a popular session musician,[5] recording with Gil Evans in 1974, Gato Barbieri in 1971, and Barry Miles in 1972.[6] In 1969 he joined the Brecker Brothers in the jazz-rock band Dreams.[6] He continued to play fusion in Billy Cobham's band, though he was disappointed that he was playing more rock than jazz.[4] His reputation grew with the popularity of Dreams. The band shared billing with such rock acts as the Doobie Brothers, and Abercrombie found his career taking an unexpected direction. "One night we appeared at the Spectrum in Philadelphia and I thought, 'What am I doing here?'. It just didn't compute."[5]

An invitation from drummer Jack DeJohnette led to the fulfillment of his desire to play jazz. Around the same time, record producer Manfred Eicher, founder and president of ECM Records, invited him to record an album. He recorded Timeless, his first solo album, with DeJohnette and Jan Hammer,[4][3] who had been his roommate in the 1960s.[4] In 1975 he formed the band Gateway with DeJohnette and bassist Dave Holland, recording the albums Gateway (1976) and Gateway II (1978).[5]

Working as a leader[edit]

The band played Holland's songs, which were in a free jazz style.[4] After the Gateway albums, Abercrombie played in a more traditional style. He recorded Arcade, The Abercrombie Quartet, and M with pianist Richie Beirach, bassist George Mraz, and drummer Peter Donald. Abercrombie said of this quartet, "it was extremely important to have that group...it was my first opportunity to really be a leader and write consistently for the same group of musicians."[5] During the mid-1970s and into the 1980s, he also contributed to ensembles led by DeJohnette and took part in a number of other sessions for ECM, occasionally doubling on electric mandolin. He also toured and recorded two albums (Sargasso Sea, 1976 and Five Years Later, 1981) with guitarist Ralph Towner. During the mid-1980s, he continued to play standards with Mraz, and he played in a bop duo with guitarist John Scofield.[3]

Abercrombie began experimenting with a guitar synthesizer in 1984 while recording in a trio with Marc Johnson on bass and Peter Erskine on drums and while working with Paul Bley in a free jazz group. He played the guitar-synth until around 1990.[3] The synthesizer allowed him to play, as he described it "louder, more open music." Abercrombie's trio released three albums during this time showcasing the guitar-synth: Current Events (1986), Getting There (1987) with Michael Brecker, and John Abercrombie, Marc Johnson, & Peter Erskine (1989).[5]

The 1990s and 2000s marked a time of constantly changing associations. In 1992, Abercrombie, drummer Adam Nussbaum and Hammond organist Jeff Palmer made a free-jazz recording. He then started a trio with Nussbaum and organist Dan Wall and released While We Were Young (1992), Speak of the Devil (1994), and Tactics (1997). He added trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, violinist Mark Feldman and saxophonist Joe Lovano to the trio to record Open Land (1999). The Gateway band reunited for the album Homecoming (1995).

Abercrombie continued to tour and record and remained associated with ECM, with whom he had a relationship for more than 40 years. While firmly grounded in the jazz guitar tradition, he also experimented with electronic effects. As he said in an interview, "I'd like people to perceive me as having a direct connection to the history of jazz guitar, while expanding some musical boundaries."[5]

Abercrombie died of heart failure in Cortlandt Manor, New York, at the age of 72.[7][8]

Discography[edit]

  • Albums are listed by release date.

As leader or co-leader[edit]

With Gateway

With Andy LaVerne

As sideman[edit]

With Franco Ambrosetti

With Gato Barbieri

With Billy Cobham

With Marc Copland

  • Second Look (1996)
  • That's for Sure (2002)
  • ...And (2002)
  • Brand New (2004)

With Atmospheres Featuring Clive Stevens

  • Atmospheres Featuring Clive Stevens & Friends (Capitol,1974)
  • Voyage to Uranus (Capitol, 1974)

With Jack DeJohnette

With Danny Gottlieb

With Dave Liebman

With Rudy Linka

  • Rudy Linka Quartet (Arta, 1991)
  • Mostly Standards (Arta, 1993)
  • Lucky Southern (Quinton 2006)

With Charles Lloyd

With Jeff Palmer

With Enrico Rava

With Lonnie Smith

  • Afro Blue (1993)
  • Purple Haze: Tribute to Jimi Hendrix (1995)
  • Foxy Lady: Tribute to Jimi Hendrix (1996)

With Collin Walcott

With Kenny Wheeler

With others

References[edit]

  1. ^ Robinson, J. Bradford; Kernfeld, Barry (2002). "Abercrombie, John (Laird)". In Barry Kernfeld. The New Grove Dictionary of Jazz (2nd ed.). New York: Grove's Dictionaries Inc. pp. 4–5. ISBN 1561592846. 
  2. ^ Cook, Richard (2005). Richard Cook's Jazz Encyclopedia. London: Penguin. p. 1. ISBN 0-141-00646-3. 
  3. ^ a b c d e f g "CONSORT Libraries /All Locations". Oxfordmusiconline.com.dewey2.library.denison.edu. 2010-10-06. Retrieved 2015-03-09. 
  4. ^ a b c d e f g Barth, Joe (2006). Voices in Jazz Guitar. Pacific, Missouri: Mel Bay. pp. 1–21. ISBN 0786676795. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h "John Abercrombie Biography". All About Jazz. Retrieved August 23, 2017. 
  6. ^ a b c "CONSORT Libraries /All Locations". Oxfordmusiconline.com.dewey2.library.denison.edu. 2010-10-06. Retrieved 2015-03-09. 
  7. ^ Russonello, Giovanni (August 23, 2017). "John Abercrombie, Lyrical Jazz Guitarist, Dies at 72". The New York Times. 
  8. ^ Chinen, Nate (August 23, 2017). "John Abercrombie, Wry And Exploratory Jazz Guitarist, Dies At 72". NPR Music. 
  9. ^ "John Abercrombie". AllMusic. Retrieved 31 January 2018. 
  10. ^ "John Abercrombie Discography". ECM Records. Retrieved 31 January 2018. 

External links[edit]