RIP: Larry Coryell, jazz guitarist from Pacific Northwest

Jazz guitarist Larry Coryell passed away earlier this week on Sunday, February 19th. The NY Times carried a cool headline for his obituary – “Larry Coryell, Guitarist of Fusion Before It Had a Name, Dies at 73.” As this obit pointed out, he was “a virtuoso guitarist who in the 1960s was among the first musicians to bring a rock sound and sensibility to jazz, and who continued to blur the lines between genres throughout his career.”

The LOUIE documentary team behind this webpage was fortunate to work with Larry when he brought his Bombay Jazz project to San Francisco in 2010. We assembled a multi-camera production of this performance, and were fortunate to conduct an interview with him.

Larry was very proud of his Pacific Northwest heritage. He graduated from Richland High School, in Richland, Washington, where he played in handful of local bands (the Jailers, the Rumblers, the Royals, and the Flames), as well as the Checkers from nearby Yakima. While his main interest was jazz music, he also enjoyed playing rock music, which gave me more opportunities as a professional musician. Sometime around 1961, he moved to Seattle to attend the University of Washington, and joined a popular teenage R&B band know as the Dynamics, participating in the recording of a few singles for the Seafair-Bolo record label.

Larry enjoyed the comradery of the Pacific Northwest music community, and talked how exciting it was to see the Fabulous Wailers perform in the TriCity area. Here’s a little snippet where he talks about that experience.

Here’s a photo of Larry playing with the Dynamics at the Spanish Castle – the legendary nightclub located between Seattle and Tacoma.

Larry became best friends with Rich Dangel of the Fabulous Wailers, and they wound up renting a houseboat together before Larry eventually moved to New York, where his career as a jazz musician took off in a big way.

Larry Coryell released more than 60 albums under his name. He recorded with lot of fellow jazz legends including Charles Mingus, Chico Hamilton, Gary Burton, Chet Baker, Stéphane Grappelli, Miles Davis,John McLaughlin, Paco de Lucía, Al DiMeola and Charlie Byrd.

His final performances took place on Friday and Saturday in New York City at the Iridium, the same nightclub where guitar pioneer Les Paul performed every Monday night for many years.

Rest in peace, Larry.

BONUS NOTE: Some of you may recognize the cartoon illustration of Larry from the out-of-print book “Dance Halls and Teen Fairs” by Don Rogers. My friend Dennis Loren drew that image based on a Dynamics group photo. You can order an original 1st edition copy of that book, or a CD-ROM copy direct from Don by visiting this link.

NY Times obituary on Larry Coryell
Wikipedia on Larry Coryell
Pacific Northwest Bands page on The Dynamics
Northwest Music Archive article on The Dynamics (Peter Blecha)

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