Larry Coryell: Making the Changes
In 1969, Coryell began an association with McLaughlin that led to their collaboration on Spaces, which included an influential acoustic duet, "Rene's Theme"; session producer Danny Weiss took both guitarists to meet guru Sri Chinmoy, who sparked their interest in Eastern philosophy and spirituality. Coryell began to collaborate with Indian classical artists like violinists L. Subramaniam and L. Shankar and bansuri (a transverse bamboo flute) players Hari Prasad Chaurasia and Ronu Majumdar, a direction he still pursues with Bombay Jazz, a quartet featuring Majumdar, Vijay Ghate on tabla, and George Brooks on tenor sax. Coryell reports that he continues to be influenced by "Eastern phrasing" and tries to combine Carnatic (South Indian classical) music with jazz improvisation. "There's a lot of Indian and Arabic musicians who are learning to play on changes and the Americans or Europeans that they play with are now learning to play more of their type of modality and both are complex and very rich," he observes; "If everybody puts the right kind of effort into it, it comes out good."
In 1973 Coryell formed Eleventh House with drummer Alphonse Mouzon and did various fusion-oriented projects with Randy Brecker, Mike Lawrence, Terumasa Hino and Steve Khan, as well as acoustic outings with Philip Catherine, Stephane Grappelli and Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen. He also began writing an instructional column, "Contemporary Guitar," for Guitar Player magazine and, in 1978, hung out and made an unreleased recording with Miles Davis. His substance abuse during this period became increasingly unmanageable but by 1981 he had cleaned up his act and remains sober to this day. Soon after his recovery, following the exhortations of Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Buster Williams, Coryell became a chanting Buddhist, a practice to which he attributes further positive changes in his life.
His work remained voraciously eclectic, including: recording three transcriptions of Stravinsky ballets for Teo Macero; hosting a Tokyo FM radio program featuring jazz and pop musicians; a Brazilian album with producer Creed Taylor, followed by a second collaboration that included a "digital duet" with Wes Montgomery in which Coryell overdubbed the original version of "Bumpin' on Sunset"; a straight-ahead release, Shining Hour, with Kenny Barron, Buster Williams and Marvin "Smitty" Smith; two orchestral commissions, "Concerto pour Cote d'Opal" and "Sentenza del Cuore," the latter to commemorate a terrorist bombing in Italy; adaptations of Barber, Gershwin, Ravel, Rodrigo, and Vivaldi and a variety of fusion projects combining jazz with rock, classical, and new acoustic musics.
Today, after more than 45 years on the scene, Coryell is in great health, living in Florida, happily married and fast becoming an elder statesman of jazz, his chops as fiery as ever, his enthusiasm for the music undampened. He's still searching for the perfect guitar, one that will marry the sound of an acoustic to the playability of an electric, while technically he's trying to effect a smooth sonic transition between passages played with a pick to those executed with thumb and fingers.
While he maintains that his mindsetie, improvising over song forms by applying scales appropriate to the chord changeshas never really changed over the years, he has gradually assimilated advice he once received from Miles Davis, who tersely remarked, "Don't finish your phrases." As Coryell explains, "When I was coming up in my middle 20s, I was really focused on what I was putting in to a solo and now I'm focused more on what I leave outthat, I think, is more important." As his life and music unfold, Coryell continues to make the changesmusical and otherwise. He feels an obligation to pass on what he knows to younger players, advising them to learn the vocabulary, swing and play in tune, trusting that the spiritual aspect of the music will take care of itself: "The music itself, by osmosis, will bring about the spiritualityjust listen to the ending of 'Naima' or just listen to 'Ornithology'I mean, it's there."