John Abercrombie, Jazz Guitarist, Dies At 72 John Abercrombie helped define the sound of jazz guitar: from jazz-rock fusion to funky organ combos to the distinctive less-is-more sound he created on dozens of albums for the ECM label.

John Abercrombie, Jazz Guitarist, Dies At 72

John Abercrombie, Jazz Guitarist, Dies At 72

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John Abercrombie helped define the sound of jazz guitar: from jazz-rock fusion to funky organ combos to the distinctive less-is-more sound he created on dozens of albums for the ECM label.



That's guitarist John Abercrombie. He created a sound uniquely his own over a career that spanned more than half a century. It's a sound that influenced many younger jazz guitarists, and it's a sound that fell silent yesterday. John Abercrombie died in a hospital near his Hudson Valley, N.Y., home after a long illness. He was 72 years old. NPR's Tom Cole has this appreciation.

TOM COLE, BYLINE: For John Abercrombie, it was very much about the sound.


COLE: The sound of the electric guitar first caught his ear as a teenager growing up in Connecticut, as he told NPR in 2007.


JOHN ABERCROMBIE: I just heard this sound of an electric guitar kind of drifting over to my porch where I was sitting. So I walked over, and here was this guy with his feet up, playing an electric guitar, just strumming chords. And I was so fascinated with it that that's when I started talking to my parents. I said, I really want an electric guitar.

COLE: Needless to say, they got him one. And after high school, he was off to what was then called the Berklee School of Music in Boston. From there, he was off to help pioneer jazz rock fusion in the band Dreams.


COLE: But just a few years later, his sound changed. While he grew up listening to rock guitarists, Abercrombie told NPR in 2000 that he'd started to hear other musicians at Berklee.


ABERCROMBIE: If I name my influences, they all probably have a similar - you'll see a strain - you know, if I say Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Jim Hall, Wes Montgomery. There's a connection between all those people. And I think it is that they played with a slightly softer sound and still projected a lot of feeling and emotion and swing. They didn't have to play edgy to do that.


COLE: Abercrombie's long tones and rich harmonies almost don't sound like a guitar. He later became an early adopter of guitar synthesizer but ultimately returned to standard electric and acoustic and even dropped the pick to get a more personal sound.


ABERCROMBIE: It just felt better because all of a sudden, the flesh of my hand was right on the string. I didn't have this piece of plastic that kind of interfered, you know?


COLE: John Abercrombie worked on his sound over the course of some 30 albums of his own and through collaborations with saxophonist Charles Lloyd, bassist Dave Holland and drummer Jack DeJohnette, among many others. And it kept evolving, as he told New York University's jazz studies program three years ago.


ABERCROMBIE: For me, a lot of it was finding an identity. And I think that's what music does. It takes a long time before that identity becomes a little more personal. I mean that's something you work your whole life to get to, you know? And you don't know if you ever really get there because you're too busy trying to get there, you know?

COLE: He got there. Tom Cole, NPR News.


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