Gil Melle Dies

Gil Melle, a baritone saxophonist, composer, painter and pioneer in electronic music, died Thurs., Oct. 28 of a heart attack at his home in Malibu, Calif. He was 73 years old.

Melle was born in New York City in 1931 and began painting and playing the saxophone at an early age. He signed to Blue Note at 19 and was the first white artist on the label. He made several 10-inch records for Blue Note and Prestige throughout the early 1950s before recording his first full-length LP for Blue Note, Patterns In Jazz, in 1956.

Apart from his musical career, Melle maintained a career as a visual artist and at times the two intersected. His art, beyond showing at various New York galleries, was also used in the cover designs of records by Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and Sonny Rollins, as well as several of his own records.

Melle moved to Los Angeles in the 1960s and focused on painting and composing for film and television. His fascination with science and technology led him in the direction of electronic music and he began collecting and even building his own electronic instruments, including some of the earliest synthesizers and drum machines. In 1967, he performed with the first all-electronic jazz ensemble, the Electronauts, at the 10th Annual Monterey Jazz Festival. His score for the 1971 sci-fi thriller The Andromeda Strain was perhaps the first electronic music score for film.

Melle returned to Blue Note with his 1991 release Mindscapes, which included “The Blue Lion,” a musical eulogy for his lifelong friend and mentor Alfred Lion, who founded Blue Note Records. “Gil was like a beloved son to Alfred,” said Ruth Lion, Alfred’s widow.

“Gil Melle was a true Renaissance man, a multi-talented artist,” said current Blue Note President Bruce Lundvall, “He was one of Alfred Lion’s protégés and remained a great friend of the label right up until his passing.”