07/25/08

Guitarist Joe Beck Dead at 62

Joe Beck, an acclaimed jazz guitarist whose career began in the 1960s, died of complications from lung cancer on July 22nd in Woodbury, Conn. Beck would have turned 63 on July 29th.

Born in Philadelphia, Beck recorded numerous albums as a leader and in tandem with other artists. A list on a Yahoo Web site credits Beck with having contributed to recordings by Miles Davis, Gil Evans, Duke Ellington, Buddy Rich, Paul Desmond, Maynard Ferguson, Woody Herman, Stan Getz, Larry Coryell, Gene Ammons, Sergio Mendes, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Laura Nyro, Houston Person, Roger Kellaway, Richie Havens, Paul Simon, Joe Farrell, James Brown and Gato Barbieri.

Beck made his professional debut with Paul Winter’s group in 1964, then went on to play with Gary McFarland, Charles Lloyd and Chico Hamilton. Beck joined Gil Evans’ orchestra from 1967 to 1971. During this period he also became the first guitarist in a Miles Davis band (in 1967), recorded as a sideman for CTI Records and recorded his first album under his own name, 1969’s Nature Boy on Verve. In 1970 Beck and the flamenco guitarist Sabicas recorded an album together, Rock Encounter, which was intended to merge the seemingly disparate worlds of flamenco and rock.

In 1971, Beck left music for three years to become a dairy farmer, citing frustration with his career. He returned in the mid-’70s and recorded an album for the CTI spinoff Kudu Records, which was issued only in Japan—he also continued to work as a sideman for CTI-related projects. Beck also recorded for Polydor, Columbia and, primarily, DMP, on which he released a string of albums from the mid-’80s to 2001. His most recent release was Coincidence, an album of duets with fellow guitarist John Abercrombie on the Whaling City label. Previous co-artist projects included recordings with Mike Mainieri, John Babarian and David Sanborn.

Beck also maintained a lucrative three-decade side career as a composer for TV and film, and produced and arranged for other artists, among them Frank Sinatra and Esther Phillips.

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