I Remember - Larry Coryell


Getting the call to perform with a legend always struck me with a sense of ambivalence. On the one hand, it would be a thrill to do it, but on the other hand, there was always a sense of some foreboding. Perhaps the legend would turn out to be a jerk. Or perhaps I’d screw up.

It was with that kind of mishmash of feelings that I found myself, having received the telephone call inviting me to perform with Larry Coryell. During the early 1970s Larry had attained quasi-divine status in the world of jazz-fusion. As a teenager I had seen him live at a university in Montreal. I don’t remember the music of that concert as much as I remember the awe and amazement of sitting near the front row and just being present in front of Larry Coryell and Alphonse Mouzon. In those days, I was a young and committed jazz-fusioneer.

It was years later when I got the call to be part of the quintet in Montreal. But I was no longer into jazz-fusion. By now I was a bebopper. So it was with mixed feelings that I showed up that first night to play with the hero from my earlier days. I hadn’t been following Larry’s career and I wondered what kind of music he was into.

This was a two night gig in a packed club, with no rehearsals. Just show up, shake hands, and play. Larry was great – a total gentleman. No attitude, no issues. And he played his ass off, beautiful new material that he had written, material which was not fusion at all, but was very mainstream jazz. Jeez, I thought, I never even knew he played that stuff.

So there we were, jumping into the first tune of the night. After a few minutes, the newly-formed band felt comfortable and solid, and we all began to push the envelope. Comping behind Larry Coryell was…, uh – well, fun. It’s one thing to listen to someone play, but quite another thing to perform with them. That’s when you get to influence their playing. Larry’s antennas were fully up that night, and he responded instantly to my harmonic and rhythmic urgings. But I think it was even more exciting for me personally, because here I was in concert with a musician we all used to worship. In my teenage years, Larry was a demigod. We copied his licks, transcribed his music, and listened to his recordings with reverence.

Then came my little “incident”. Larry had written a unison line on a blues and placed the sheet on my piano. It was a line to be played in unison with guitar, and at breakneck speed. Not being a great sight reader, I fumbled through it. After that night was over, I went home and practiced that line until I no longer needed the sheet music, and I could play the thing upside down and sideways. The next night, Larry called the tune and I gobbled it up. Without the chart. In the midst of the tune Larry yelled out “You MEMORIZED it!” Glad you noticed, I thought, and grinned at him.

4 comments:

  1. That's a great story, and being far from the best sight reader myself, I can relate to your predicament.

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  2. I saw you play with Larry at the Rising Sun in '84. I was there with a friend who was a fan of LC but I was not familiar with his music. His opening piece was quite obscure and inaccessible and I remember thinking, "oh no, if the whole show is like this..."

    It wasn't of course and it was one of the best jazz shows I had seen.

    Saw you a lot around that time at various places in Montreal around then. (QE Hotel, Biddles etc)

    rws23@rogers.com

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  3. I too wondered (with some trepidation) what kind of music Larry would be playing, but - as you said - it turned out to be great music.

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