The U.S. is in mourning this week after the death of legendary jazz guitarist John Abercrombie, who was known as one of the top improvising musicians of his generation. He was 72 years-old.
The New York Times reported that Abercrombie’s family confirmed that he died of heart failure.
Abercrombie first became famous in the 1970s as a jazz-rock guitarist. However, as his career developed, he moved away from the rock side and more towards a classic jazz technique. He played in multiple bands, including groups led by the drummer Jack DeJohnette and the saxophonist Gato Barbieri, before ECM Records released his first album as a leader, “Timeless,” in 1975. This album featured Abercrombie ranging from sharp-edged electric fusion dosed with Indian classical influence to ballads of wandering irresolution and on to barreling post-bop.
Over the next few decades, Abercrombie became known for his responsive touch on both acoustic and electric guitar.
“Mr. Abercrombie has a light, keyboard-like manner of developing performances, sometimes spreading from a sweeping line of single notes to a fullness that suggests an organ,” New York Times writer John S. Wilson wrote while reviewing a performance Abercrombie did with the bassist George Mraz at the Greenwich Village nightclub Bradley’s in 1986.
Wilson added that on ballads, Abercrombie “moves through light, almost diaphanous lines that gain in strength through their rhythmic flow and increasing melodic exposition.”
“Even a tune you play over and over again — if you keep it fresh in your mind and you approach it with a fresh outlook, then it stays fresh. You don’t have to find new and exciting types of music to play,” Abercrombie said in 2014. “That stuff just happens when your attitude is really good, when you approach things with an open mind.”
Abercrombie is survived by his beloved wife Lisa, who he was married to for 31 years. Rest in peace, John Abercrombie!