Remembering Larry Coryell

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Larry Coryell performs at The Jazz Kitchen in Indianapolis on May 23, 2015.

In late August, he began going to Chicago restaurants and sitting in with local bands. “I’d just walk up to them with my black Cort and ask, ‘Can I sit in?’ And they’d let me,” he said. “I did this over and over until I gradually started getting my strength back. I sat in at the Jazz Showcase during the Charlie Parker celebration that [venue founder] Joe Segal does every August. I played with Ira Sullivan. I listened to his band the first set, then I went up and said, ‘Can I play?’ He let me sit in, and he let me play as much as I wanted on the second set. Half the stuff I had never played before in my life … tunes like ‘I Get A Kick Out Of You.’ That was the best I ever played, and I didn’t even know the tune. It always goes like that. Tunes that I know too well I sound like shit on. Jazz is all about spontaneity.”

By October, Coryell had regained enough chops to go out on a mini-tour of Europe with a special edition of The Eleventh House that featured Joey DeFrancesco on trumpet and organ (filling in for Randy Brecker, who was performing in China) along with original Eleventh House bassist Danny Trifan (Lee was locked into commitments with the Dizzy Gillespie Alumni All-Star Band) and drummer Guido Bay (filling in for an ailing Mouzon, who was fighting a debilitating kidney disease).

The new Eleventh House album isn’t due out until June, but Barefoot Man should satisfy Coyell fans until then. His fleet-fingered solos are apparent from the funky opener “Sanpaku” to the mysterioso vibe of “If Miles Were Here” to the wailing “Improv On 97.” The collection closes on a swinging note with “Blue Your Mind,” which has Coryell dropping in quotes from “Flying Home” and “Seven Come Eleven” in tribute to Charlie Christian, another one of his guitar heroes.

Since recovering from his health scare this summer, Coryell has returned to the scene with a vengeance, exuding that same joyful spirit he brought with him to the Big Apple more than 50 years ago.

“Larry’s got this almost childlike enthusiasm about music,” Lee said. “It’s exhilarating when you’re about to go on stage with him because he’s always so excited to do it. It was the same way during my 10 years with Dizzy. We could be traveling 16 hours to get to a gig, and he might be exhausted, but once he hit the stage it was always a party. Dizzy was always excited to put on a good show, keep it positive and make it fun. And Larry’s the same way. He’s got a great energy and is such a loving, giving human being. I love this guy to death, man.”

(Editor’s Note: The preceding article was written by Bill Milkowski and published with the title “Back from the Brink” in the February 2017 issue of DownBeat. After the article’s publication, Larry Coryell wrote a letter to DownBeat, which was published in the Chords & Discords section of the April issue.)

Coryell’s Letter to DownBeat

I need to walk back some of the statements I made to DownBeat (“Back from the Brink,” February). I am no longer angry about the election; I accept it. I have musician friends who did not vote my way. I have no place implying, as I did in the article, that their votes were insincere or illegitimate; that is a sacred choice for all Americans and it needs to be respected.

Also—and this is very important—I believe that I have a responsibility to transcend politics, focusing instead on finding ways to touch people’s hearts through music. I never want to forget all the great players who mentored me in the art of demonstrating restraint regarding hot-button issues; these men and women advised me to exercise discretion, and to behave with exemplary humanity. I need to follow that advice.

I regret that I may have offended anyone. DownBeat is, after all, a journalistic haven for art and creativity. DownBeat and the other jazz magazines assiduously focus on America’s greatest art form: jazz. We need for these publications to continue their mission of creating value through promoting and exploring jazz. My comments did nothing to further the cause of our music. I apologize.

With best regards from Berlin, Germany,

Larry Coryell

(To read a preview of the forthcoming album by The Eleventh House, click here.)

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