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John Abercrombie (December 16, 1944 – August 22, 2017)

It is with a very heavy heart that I must pass on the sad news that the jazz guitar world has lost another guitar great John Abercrombie.

John Laird Abercrombie, a supremely eloquent and lyrical player whose career over the last four decades included seminal jazz fusion music and eminently refined ECM albums alike, died Tuesday of heart failure. He was 72.

John had had health problems in recent years, including a stroke earlier this year. John died peacefully after a long illness at Hudson Valley Hospital outside of Peekskill, N.Y., in the presence of his family.

Born in Port Chester in Westchester County, New York in 1944, Abercrombie did not begin playing guitar until he was 14. A few years later, in 1962, he attended the Berklee College of Music. His breakthrough album was the 1975 ECM disc Timeless, which featured him with drummer Jack De Johnette and keyboardist Jan Hammer. Abercrombie would record more than 30 records as a leader, the bulk of which were on ECM, including this year’s album Up and Coming, which featured him with his latest working band, which included pianist Marc Copland, bassist Drew Gress and drummer Joey Baron.

Pianist Copland, who played with Abercrombie off and on for almost 50 years, wrote me in an email Tuesday night: “To my mind John was his generation’s Jim Hall.

“His playing was always oriented around interplay with others, harmonic richness and flexibility, and tended more towards understatement a time when so many guitarists were moving in the opposite direction.. Like his music, John never aggressively sought the limelight; he simply tried to make the best music he could.”

Copland continued: “Piano and guitar together can be tricky, but with John the collaboration was effortless. Possibly this is because of our long-shared musical journey and aesthetic, but I think it goes deeper than that. John was a real listener. He taught me by example early on that complementing other players to create a group sound and feel, with interplay, can make a band sound larger and fuller than the sum of its parts. And it’s immensely satisfying on a very deep level. Or as we like to say: it’s a lot of fun.”

Other recordings from the late 1970s on featured Abercrombie with a who’s who of collaborators of his generation, including pianist Richie Beirach, Canadian multi-instrumentalist Don Thompson, pianist Andy Laverne, trumpeter Kenny Wheeler and saxophonist Charles Lloyd. The co-op trio Gateway, which released four albums on ECM, consisted of Abercrombie, drummer DeJohnette, and bassist Dave Holland.

Condolences to John's family.

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