Back in the summer of 1965, when I was 19, I traveled out to Seattle, chasing after my college sweetheart who couldn’t return with me to Indiana University in the fall. My parents in Philly gave me the OK, as long as I supported myself and took some courses at the University of Washington. Little did I know, that summer would be musically the most extraordinary three months of my young life. The city was lit up with jazz, soul and R&B. There was so much music I forgot about my girl the first week there, and also met a gregarious, crew-cutted, fresh-faced guitarist who played like no one else I had ever heard. His name was Larry Coryell, and he had a nightly gig at a club called the Embers, leading an exciting B-3 organ trio. An affable former journalism student also at UW, he hailed from Galveston, Texas, and was gifted with prodigious bebop chops and a style drenched in the blues—and rock ’n’ roll, if he felt like going there. In short, this guy could play anything he heard in his head, and the extroverted nature of the music plus his outgoing personality would just draw you in.
Larry was kind enough to let me sit in whenever I felt like it, and we became fast friends. The next thing I knew, I was working all over town with great local cats thanks to him.
I went back to Indiana, and during the next year our big band won a State Department tour of the Middle East and Asia at a festival competition. So in early ’66, off I went on a life-altering four-month tour, after which I was determined to move to New York. I got back to Philly in late July, and one night I went down to the famed Showboat to hear Chico Hamilton featuring Ron Carter. With them was a longhaired guitarist dressed like Carnaby Street, and when I heard him and looked closer, I said to myself, “Holy shit! That’s Larry!” Every once in a while, Chico would yell, “Texas!!” and Larry would blues it out and the crowd would go wild.
I was moving to New York in September and that was it: We played together for all the ensuing 50-plus years until his untimely passing on Feb. 19. He introduced me to all his friends and his band, which was literally the first jazz-rock band: the incredible Free Spirits featuring great and influential players like Jim Pepper, Bob Moses and Chris Hills. Larry was writing and singing memorable songs with them, and Dave Liebman and I would follow them around and sit in whenever we could. There’s even a fine release called The Free Spirits: Live at the Scene February 22nd 1967 that Bob Moses put out from a live tape, and it features Lieb and I sitting in.
Around 1973 Larry formed the Eleventh House with keyboardist Mike Mandel, bassist Danny Trifan, the great drummer Alphonse Mouzon and myself. We recorded the classic Introducing the Eleventh House for Vanguard Records and toured the world. I regrettably left a year or so later to join Billy Cobham’s band, and eventually formed the Brecker Bros. Band. But we got together under the Eleventh House moniker many, many times after that—crazy gigs all over the world and unforgettable memories, including a gig in Beirut right after their civil war had ended.
Our last performances were a week at the Blue Note in New York in August of 2015, which led us to record Seven Secrets in St. Augustine, Fla., the following January. Both the gigs and the recording featured the Eleventh House Reunited, with Alphonse, John Lee on bass (who had replaced Danny in the original band) and Larry’s son Julian on guitar, an incredible player. The recording came out great and garnered wonderful reviews, and we had big plans to go out on the road. But that was not to be. Sadly, we lost Alphonse to cancer on Christmas Day 2016. Then, a mere two months later, Larry was gone, having suffered heart failure in his sleep following a gig at the Iridium in New York. As Tracey, his loving wife who made him so happy in his later years, said through many tears: “He just never came home.”
Well, he and Alphonse are still playing together I like to think, and I’m so thankful for all the great times and music we shared. Larry (and Al) was a major force in my life, and will always live deep in my heart.