Larry Coryell

Post-fusion lyricism

A veteran jazz technician
returns with his focus and
lifestyle richly mellowed

Where once Larry Coryell generated guitar heat during fusion jazz's golden years of the 1970s, the now 60-year-old veteran is content to let the Florida sun do the warming.

Larry Coryell
at Jazz Fest

The "Guitar Magic & Vocal Jazz" concert is part of the 10th Annual Hawaii International Jazz Festival

Where: Blaisdell Concert Hall
When: 7 to 9 p.m. Friday
Tickets: $20, $35 and $40
Call: 591-2211 or 526-4400
Note: Coryell will participate in a free jazz clinic with Tierney Sutton and Alan Kaplan from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday in Building B on the ground floor of the Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center on Kalakaua Avenue.

Tired of New York City winters, he followed other snowbirds to central Florida, no longer feeling obligated to live in one of jazz's major capitals. "Not when I've got ready access to the Internet, daily delivery of the New York Times to my home, PBS on the TV and people sending me CDs -- even when I don't want them," the congenial musician said Thursday by phone. "You know, I toured in the North this past year, and I had to do New York -- man, I nearly froze to death and I got so sick! I used to think cold weather was supposed to be good and bracing for your health. Not anymore!"

Coryell's lifestyle has changed quite a bit since his early years. When asked when was the last time he played in the islands, he says, "I think it was around 1981-82 -- although, starting around 1978, I was so busy drinking and getting high, everything else after that was getting to be a blur."

He's now clean and sober, and watches his health. He's looking forward to coming out here as a guest artist for this weekend's Hawaii International Jazz Festival, participating in both Oahu and Maui shows, backed by local luminaries Noel Okimoto and John Kolivas.

Coryell is also looking forward to hitting the Valley Isle golf links for some R&R.

While Coryell has always been an in-demand player over the years, it's nothing like the notoriety he created as one of fusion jazz's more lyrical technicians. He's an overlooked pioneer of the genre who released one of its very first albums, "Spaces," in 1970. It's a project he did with such other soon-to-be-giants of the form as John McLaughlin, Chick Corea and Billy Cobham. Coryell later made a name for himself as leader of the powerhouse fusion band the Eleventh House. In fact, Coryell has done so many different projects (65 and counting) with so many different record labels that it's daunting to pick a career highlight.

ONE OF THOSE highlights is last year's "Cedars of Avalon," a gem of an album on the independent HighNote label. Recorded at the legendary Van Gelder Recording Studio, it's a superb straight-ahead session with his good friend and pianist Cedar Walton, backed by A-list rhythm mates Buster Williams and Billy Drummond.

"The music speaks for itself," Coryell said. "It shows my tendency to lean toward more melodic stuff these days, because that's the way Cedar plays. We're not trying to race through a piece on the album.

"His approach is the kind I want to continue to emulate. I've known him for nearly my whole life. We first met when he was with Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers in the early '60s."

Coryell was about 22 at the time, a fresh-faced jazz phenom who arrived in the Big Apple from Richland, Wash.

Coryell is in such a different space musically today that he says: "I can't go back and play all that (fusion) music. I'm just not into it wholesale. While it's fun to do the occasional reunion with some old band members -- and some of that music still has some lasting value -- I'm just settling into a repertoire where I want to reach people with melodies.

"The change in my guitar playing has been a gradual thing. I can't be specific, saying it happened, say, on Sept. 10, 1981. It's just been a growing tendency to prefer melodic playing over technique, where I would try to impress on a more superficial level."

And even though Coryell particularly loves the sound of the acoustic steel-string guitars Maui musician Steve Grimes creates for clients such as him and George Benson, Coryell knows it isn't all about the instrument.

"Really, the sound of any guitar depends on the hands and heart of the person playing it. The instrument is only a means to an end."

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