John Abercrombie with the Gateway Trio performs in 1995

Happy Birthday to John Abercrombie

John Abercrombie with the Gateway Trio. Click the image for more of their music.

Happy Birthday, John Abercrombie!

Guitarist John Laird Abercrombie was born December 16, 1944 in Port Chester, New York. Abercrombie picked up guitar when he was 14, and studied under Jack Peterson at Berklee College of Music. After his graduation, Abercrombie found himself in high demand for recording sessions in New York City, where he moved.

For many years, Abercrombie played with one of the first jazz-rock bands, Dreams. He also formed his own trio with Jack DeJohnette and Dave Holland.  Then, in 1973 German jazz producer and founder of the ECM label Manfred Eicher invited Abercrombie to record for ECM. He then recorded his first solo album, Timeless, in 1974 with drummer Jack DeJohnette and Hammond organist Jan Hammer. The album was well received and has been critically acclaimed. This release marked the beginning of Abercrombie’s fruitful relationship with ECM. Its understated and subdued sound was also representative of the music Abercrombie continued to make over the course of his career. Abercrombie followed this release in November 1975 with the album Gateway, recorded with DeJohnette and bassist Dave Holland. The second album with this trio, referred to as the Gateway Trio, was released in June 1978.

After the Gateway albums, Abercrombie changed his playing style and instrumentation, moving toward a more traditional format. He recorded Arcade, the Abercrombie Quartet, and M with pianist Richie Beirach, bassist George Mraz, and drummer Peter Donald. Abercrombie said of this quartet, “it was extremely important to have that group . . . it was my first opportunity to really be a leader and write consistently for the same group of musicians.” During the mid-1970s and into the 1980s, he also contributed to ensembles led by DeJohnette and took part in a number of other sessions for ECM, occasionally doubling on electric mandolin. He also toured with guitarist Ralph Towner. During the mid-1980s, he continued to play standards with Mraz, and he played in a bop duo with guitarist John Scofield. Abercrombie began experimenting with a guitar synthesizer in 1984 while recording in a trio with Marc Johnson on bass and Peter Erskine on drums, also using the synthesizer while working in Paul Bley’s free-jazz group in 1986. He continued to do so until around 1990. This trio released three albums during this time showcasing Abercrombie’s synthesizer work: Getting There with Michael Brecker in 1987, Current Events in 1988, and John Abercrombie, Marc Johnson, & Peter Erkstine in 1989. The synthesizer allowed him to play, as he described it “louder, more open music.” Abercrombie continues to tour and make music.

Watch him here, playing with his Gateway Trio:

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