John Abercrombie and his guitar (Photo by John Rogers, courtesy ECM)
Harmonies That Welcomed Imagination—Remembering John Abercrombie (1944-2017)
(Photo © by John Rogers, courtesy ECM)

Harmonies That Welcomed Imagination—Remembering John Abercrombie (1944-2017)

John Abercrombie set the template for me as far as how to play music with an open mind. His manner towards fellow musicians was one of total respect and equality. Through his playing and compositions, John embodied the essence of the truly great musicians that came before him.

While we all have spent/spend time practicing, John was more focused on using the process of playing as the main way to learn and get better. He loved it!  In his groups, he unselfishly provided an encouraging environment to grow and deepen as a musician / player.

Thomas Morgan, John Abercrombie and Joey Baron looking over a score during the recording session for the 2009 album Wait Till You See Her (Photo © Robert Lewis, courtesy ECM).

Thomas Morgan, John Abercrombie and Joey Baron looking over a score during the recording session for the 2009 album Wait Till You See Her (photo © Robert Lewis, courtesy ECM).

The special thing that stands out about John is his natural democratic manner as a player and writer. He could not help it—it’s just the way he was. John always welcomed his bandmates’ ideas and was a fearless team player. He had the whole package: energy, beauty, surprise, lyricism, soul, and swing.

The special thing that stands out about John is his natural democratic manner as a player and writer.

I never witnessed John having a “bad night.”

I remember he was a special guest on Jim Hall’s last gig (November 2013 at Lincoln Center’s Allen in New York.) Jim started the evening playing solo. John and I were backstage listening and John just started freaking out waving his hands up and down exclaiming, “Holy shit! That’s Jim Hall out there! He’s my hero! And he’s playing his ass off!!! What the hell am I supposed to do when I go out to play!!!!”

John made me feel that same way whenever I played with him.

An early ECM promotion photo of John Abercrombie (Photo © by Robert Masotti, courtesy ECM)

An early ECM Records’ promotion photo of John Abercrombie (Photo © by Robert Masotti, courtesy ECM).

In spite of the countless hardships that life as an artist in an oppressive society presents, John never gave up his commitment to making music the way he wanted. He wrote beautiful melodies and harmonies that welcomed imagination. What a gift!

I believe that when a person we love passes, despite the traumatic, deep sense of loss and sadness, we get to keep the best parts of that person forever through memories. I am forever grateful to have been part of John’s life and music. He was one of a kind. An incredible listener. A truly great artist. With tears on my face and a smile in my soul, I miss you John.

Drew Gress, Marc Copland, John Abercrombie and Joey Baron (photo © by Bart Babinski, courtesy ECM).

Drew Gress, Marc Copland, John Abercrombie and Joey Baron in 2013 (photo © by Bart Babinski, courtesy ECM).

NewMusicBox provides a space for those engaged with new music to communicate their experiences and ideas in their own words. Articles and commentary posted here reflect the viewpoints of their individual authors; their appearance on NewMusicBox does not imply endorsement by New Music USA.

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