The weekend with Larry Coryell

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One of the first jazz albums I heard when I was a teenager just getting into jazz was Gary Burton’s Duster, featuring a young Larry Coryell on guitar. Larry’s playing on that album, which covered the gamut from country-tinged melodies to pretty out-there free improvisation, made a deep impression on me – as a matter of fact, I ended up playing one of the tunes from that album, General Mojo’s Well Laid Plan, at my college senior recital (which I’m sure I have a reel-to-reel tape of somewhere, though I’d be scared to listen to it now).

Larry’s 1974 album Spaces, which features an all-star cast of the era (John McLaughlin, Chick Corea, Billy Cobham, etc) is widely cited as one of the most influential jazz guitar albums of the seventies.

This past weekend I got the chance to attend a jazz clinic Larry gave for the Seattle Jazz Guitar Society at the Mercer Island Community Center. Larry told some great stories about his life in jazz, leaving Seattle at the age of 21 in 1965 to move to New York to seek out the jazz muses. Then several of us got to take turns playing duos with Larry. I had my upright bass, and when I got up to play I have to admit to being pretty nervous about playing a duo in public with someone as accomplished as Larry. I acquitted myself fine (though I don’t think I played at my most brilliant) and Larry was kind enough to say warm and encouraging things about my playing (even asking, kiddingly I think, if I wanted to go on the road with him!).

That evening Michele and I and a couple of other friends went down to Jazz Alley to hear Larry playing with Mose Allison, another long-standing hero of mine (and an old college friend Milo Peterson was playing drums). Larry opened the show playing a few solo pieces, including a beautiful arrangement of the Beatles’ She’s Leaving Home.

Larry had told us stories about how there was no rehearsal time with Mose, illegible charts, and quirky complicated tunes. He managed to sound fine through the evening, with a few notable points where he obviously hadn’t heard the song before (better him than me, that’s for sure!).

Today I downloaded two of Larry’s more recent albums – Tricycle (a trio date with Paul Wertico on drums and Marc Egan on bass) and Cedars of Avalon (with Buster Williams on bass, Cedar Walton on piano, and Billy Drummond on drums) from eMusic (DRM-free, of course). Both are terrific, and I feel really privileged to have gotten the chance to spend a few hours with an artist of this caliber.

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