John Laird Abercrombie (December 16, 1944 – August 22, 2017) was an American jazz guitarist, composer and bandleader. His work explored jazz fusion, post bop, free jazz and avant-garde jazz. Abercrombie studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts. He recorded his debut album, Timeless with Manfred Eicher’s ECM label, and recorded principally with this label since then. Abercrombie played with Billy Cobham, Ralph Towner, Jack DeJohnette, Charles Lloyd, Michael Brecker and Randy Brecker. He was known for his spare, understated and eclectic style and his work with organ trios.
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Abercrombie graduated from Berklee in 1967 and briefly attended North Texas State University before moving to New York in 1969. He quickly became one of the “most in-demand session players,” recording with Gil Evans in 1974, Gato Barbieri in 1971, and Barry Miles in 1972 among others. In 1969, he joined Dreams, one of the first jazz-rock bands, which rose to prominence in the late 60s and early 70s and featured the Brecker Brothers and drummer Billy Cobham. He also recorded on several of Cobham’s albums, Crosswinds, Total Eclipse and Shabazz. Abercrombie’s following began to grow at this point, largely due to Dreams’s growing success. They shared billing with such rock acts as the Doobie Brothers, and Abercrombie found his career taking a direction he had not expected. “One night we appeared at the Spectrum in Philadelphia and I thought, ‘what am I doing here?’. It just didn’t compute.” Joining ECM
In 1973 Manfred Eicher, the German producer and founder of ECM Records, invited Abercrombie to record for ECM. Abercrombie recorded his first solo album, Timeless, in 1974 with drummer Jack DeJohnette and Hammond organist Jan Hammer. The album was well received and critically acclaimed and marked the beginning of his fruitful relationship with ECM. The label’s understated, subdued music was representative of the music Abercrombie continued to make throughout his career. In 1975 he formed the band Gateway with DeJohnette and bassist Dave Holland, recording the albums Gateway (1976) and Gateway II (1978).
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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.”
Abercrombie died of heart failure in Cortlandt Manor, New York, at the age of 72.
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Other Notable Musicians’ Deaths… August 2017
22: John Abercrombie, 72, American jazz guitarist, heart failure.
21: Thomas Meehan, 88, American playwright (Annie, The Producers, Hairspray), Tony winner (1977), cancer.
20: Margot Hielscher, 97, German singer and film actress; Wilhelm Killmayer, 89, German composer, conductor and lecturer; Fredell Lack, 95, American violinist; Jerry Lewis, 91, American comedian (Martin and Lewis), actor (The Nutty Professor) and humanitarian (The Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon), cardiomyopathy; Nati Mistral, 88, Spanish actress and singer (Currito of the Cross, Cabaret, Mis tres amores).
19: Concha Valdes Miranda, 89, Cuban composer; Bea Wain, 100, American singer, heart failure.
18: Sonny Burgess, 88, American rockabilly guitarist, singer and songwriter.
16: Jo Walker-Meador, 93, American music executive (Country Music Association), stroke.