Larry Coryell is a Jazz/fusion guitarist who was part of the genre from it's very inception. Although he started out playing rock and roll with various bands in the Pacific Northwest during his college years, he gradually switched over jazz after moving to New York City in the mid 1960's. This was a very exciting time for music in New York City as the folk and jazz revivals were in full swing and the British invasion was taking hold. Larry networked himself playing with various jazz and rock and roll outfits, but eventually he devoted his career to the music he loved... jazz. After releasing a few records of his own, in 1971 he teamed up Chick Corea, John McLaughlin, Billy Cobham and Miroslav Vitous to make the "Spaces" record. This album may very well be the start of jazz/fusion. Larry eventually went on to a very successful career as a guitarist. His latest release "Aurora Coryellis" showcases three different live shows with three different lineups - full band, trio, and solo artist - at various times in his professional career. I recently corresponded with Larry.
R.V.B. - Congratulations on your new 3 CD release "Aurora Coryellis", it's an amazing 3 CD set that showcases your guitar playing in three different settings. It must of been tough to hold on to these and not release them years ago. Why did you decide to release these great performances in 2015?
L.C. - Quite simply, to answer your first question, it was the right time to release these performances; Cleopatra Records has a good track record of bringing good results from these old recordings.
R.V.B. - The 1972 show with the full band was in Boston at "The Jazz Wokshop"... Can you describe the vibe of the club? How did this band lineup come together at this time? Did you play other area's besides Boston also? Did they serve Chinese at "The Wokshop?"
L.C. - The "vibe" of the Jazz Workshop in Boston was always top-notch; it was run by people who passionately loved jazz music and it was located downtown near Berklee College where scores of young musicians were able to to hear cutting-edge music. There were actually two rooms, the other one being Paul's Mall, which had slightly different, more pop-oriented acts; I heard Earth, Wind and Fire at Paul's Mall. Re "Chinese", I don't think they served that--you could get good Chinese up on Boylston Street, just down the block, if I remember correctly
R.V.B. - The 1976 show was at Clark College in Worchester. What was that venue like? Did you do a lot of smaller type coffee shop shows as a solo artist?
L.C. - Clark College in Worcester was a great place to do concerts--it was a beautiful hall, acoustics-wise, with a rather large capacity. The students were hungry for new music, and their level of intelligence was very sharp. I did not do a lot of "coffee shops", et. al., during those days; the venues were all music-oriented. I did a solo performances at Carnegie Hall as well, at that time, opposite the great Ralph Towner.
R.V.B. - Disc 3 is a relatively recent show from 2002 and features a trio. How did you assemble the rhythm section for this show? Was this an outdoor show? Where in San Jose did this festival take place? How did you enjoy it and did you play in the daytime?
L.C. - San Jose was an outdoor show in a downtown park, in the daytime, with my trio at the time, consisting of Paul and Jeff--we had been on the road in the west right before that gig, so we were comfortable playing with each other.
Was there any event or were there any performers that sparked you into being a guitarist when you were young?
L.C. - What sparked me to getting into the guitar was the mobility of the instrument--I had been taking piano lessons, but the piano, although a great instrument, was large, staid, and kind of "establishment", whereas the guitar was portable--it was like a poor man's piano, and that appealed to me. The seminal "event" to get me serious about playing the guitar was when, as a teenager, I heard somebody my own age play very well--even though it was rock 'n roll, the guy displayed great skill and musicality; so, for me, if he could do that, then maybe I could as well; I was hooked.
R.V.B. - What kind of music did you play in some of your early bands?
L.C. - Early on, I knew no jazz, so I played rock 'n roll and an occasional "Malaguena". We had a boyhood band called the "Royals" and we won a contest one time, and split fifty bucks. I had no idea of what jazz was during that time.
R.V.B. - When you moved to New York in the mid 1960"s... did you have a musical plan? It was a happening time to be there with the folk revival in full swing and also the British invasion was starting to infiltrate the area. How did you work your way into the scene?
L.C. - Good question, well, by the way, by the time I moved to New York I had studied and was playing jazz; I was aware of the "folk revival" and "British invasion" but I concentrated solely on Charlie Parker, Miles, Oscar, 'Trane and Wes Montgomery. I got gigs in so-called "commercial" bands that consisted of only of jazz musicians, and I also moonlighted in an R & B group. It was during that time I saw Wes, Dizzy, Stan Getz, MJQ and Ahmad Jamal, among others, and I dedicated myself to trying to understand this amazing music. However, when I got to New York, I was willing to play any style of music in order to work; jazz was my love (and I was also learning classical) but I did anything just to learn and to play; by this time, Pop music (Rubber Soul, Stones, James Brown, Dylan) was starting to take on some enlightened qualities. I got the idea: what if Coltrane and George Harrison got together? What would that sound like?
R.V.B. - How was playing at "The Scene" and opening for the Rascals? What was that club like? A lot of people that performed there went on to stardom.
L.C. - The "scene" was a hotbed of freedom, creativity and new music. I heard/met everybody there, Zappa, Hendrix, Buddy Buy, Bill Graham, Velvet Underground, Stevie Winwood, Doors, etc., the list was nearly endless. The Rascals were great--they were humble guys from NYC who had a knack for harmony, originality, and, of course, success in the record business--they had hits . . . but they never lost their humility.
R.V.B. - Did you realize that when you were setting a major trend in 1970 by recording the "Spaces" album with Chick Corea, Billy Cobham, John McLaughlin and Miroslav Vitous? This was practically the birth of jazz/rock "Fusion"
L.C. - Very simply: not really; I did not think about the historical ramifications of "Spaces". It was simply a situation where I wanted to record with McLaughlin because I felt he admired the same musicians that I did; and that he, like myself, wanted to honor jazz, but with originality, not just copying what the masters had already done. As we look back it was, as you say, a Fusion birth of some sort, for sure.
R.V.B. - Can you describe the overall gist of the 1971 Montreux Jazz festival. Did you catch any other acts after your performance?
L.C. - The '71 Montreaux fest was, like all the festivals at that time, a celebration of intelligent, spiritual and vibrant jazz-oriented music; there was nothing "commercial", i.e., low-class, pseudo intellectual schlock meant to draw an audience of mindless ticket-buyers. It was, at that time, all real, all creative, all cutting edge. I recall hearing Billy Cobham's performance at that time; it was great.
R.V.B. - In the 70's you formed "The Eleventh House" jazz fusion band and had some success. After that you primarily performed as a solo artist. Was this easier for you to get around and perform?
L.C. - This question has too many aspects to answer; my life got complicated at that time. Suffice it to say that going solo was my only option, but, musically, playing solo performances is always good to help any artist develop his /her creativity.
R.V.B. - What are some of your favorite performances through the years? It's hard to top 'Aurora Coryellis", I realize that, but are there any others that stand out?
L.C. - I really can't point out "favorite" performances; I don't concentrate on documenting my good moments, rather, I want to move on to the next thing, and just be grateful I'm still out here, trying to create some new things that may have the capability to reach peoples' hearts.
R.V.B. - Are there any of your compositions that you are particularly proud of?
L.C. - I like the one I working on right now, an opera, called "Anna Karenina"; it's one and a half hours long, so it won't be ready for a while. I am impressed by certain compositions by my colleagues; McLaughlin and Chick come to mind--I listen to them so perhaps I can compose better.
R.V.B. - Are there any do-overs that you would like to have... any regrets?
L.C. - I wish I would have taken Hendrix's invitation to come out into the room at Record Plant and play "Voodoo Chile" with him' at the time I was too stoned; by the way, I don't drink or take drugs anymore, ha ha . . .
R.V.B. - How do you enjoy passing your knowledge on to the next generation through workshops and lessons?
L.C. - Teaching others is essential--I would be nowhere without my many mentors; I have some really great students; now I have to help them to get ahead, even in this current stifled music-biz scene. After great evil, great good occurs; I have faith that these deserving players will eventually realize their dreams--because they can really play!
R.V.B. - Good luck on your new triple CD release and thank you for considering answering these questions.
L.C. - These were great questions; I did my best; if there's anything else you need regarding this interview, just let me know.
Thanks very much,
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
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