Guitarist Larry Coryell, Godfather Of Fusion, Dies At 73 : The Record The jazz-rock pioneer passed away in his sleep Feb. 19 in New York City.
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Guitarist Larry Coryell, Godfather Of Fusion, Dies At 73

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Guitarist Larry Coryell, Godfather Of Fusion, Dies At 73

Guitarist Larry Coryell, Godfather Of Fusion, Dies At 73

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

Though it might be hard to imagine today, there was a time when jazz was a staple of Top 40 radio. Think Dave Brubeck or Ramsey Lewis. By the mid-1960s, rock was taking over, and that's when a young guitarist named Larry Coryell figured out how to do both. Coryell helped pioneer jazz rock fusion and recorded more than 60 albums. He died Sunday in New York of natural causes at the age of 73. As NPR's Tom Cole says, Coryell's talents went far beyond the genre for which he was best known.

TOM COLE, BYLINE: Larry Coryell was a lifelong student of music. In interviews, he could play other musicians' solos off the top of his head. Born in Texas, he grew up in Seattle where he listened to country music. But it was his ability to play the blues that got him noticed.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHICO HAMILTON SONG, "LARRY OF ARABIA")

COLE: That's a 23-year-old Coryell from his recorded debut with drummer Chico Hamilton's group.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

LARRY CORYELL: Blues is the basis of all jazz music.

COLE: And that's Coryell from a 1987 interview with University of Washington public TV.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CORYELL: Blues is the essence, I believe, of America's contribution. Blues is also the basis for all rock 'n' roll music.

COLE: Coryell managed to combine rock, jazz, blues and country into a sharp-edged sound that put him at the forefront of a new musical movement, a movement that pitted the propulsive drumming of rock with electrified jazz improvisation.

(SOUNDBITE OF LARRY CORYELL SONG, "SPACES - INFINITE")

COLE: Though fusion fans loved Coryell for playing fast and loud, the guitarist could play just about anything. He loved classical music, everything from Webern to Ravel.

(SOUNDBITE OF LARRY CORYELL PERFORMANCE OF RAVEL'S "PAVANE DE LA BELLE AU BOIS DORMANT")

COLE: He told Guitar Player magazine in 1974 that, quote, "my calling on this planet is to be a searcher in search of something new." And he was eager to share what he found with listeners.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

CORYELL: I think there's a basic human need to express to other people. And as soon as I discovered that I had the ability to learn to play some of the stuff that I revered and didn't know if I could do it or not, I consciously or unconsciously set my sights that.

COLE: Larry Coryell kept at it right up to the end, performing at a club in New York City the night before he died. Tom Cole, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF LARRY CORYELL SONG, "THEME FOR ERNIE")

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