Larry Young’s Self-Questioning Jazz (via The New Yorker)

The organ has been a jazz instrument since the nineteen-twenties, when Fats Waller recorded solos at a converted church in Camden, New Jersey, but it didn’t come to the fore until the mid-nineteen-fifties, when Jimmy Smith fused his bebop virtuosity with gospel exhortations. The organists who followed, such as Brother Jack McDuff, Shirley Scott, and Baby Face Willette, also merged contemporary jazz with popular rhythm-and-blues traditions. But one organist in particular, who led his first record date at the age of nineteen, in 1960, pushed the jazz organ headlong into modernity: Larry Young.

Influenced by John Coltrane, Young made an extraordinary series of recordings from 1964 to 1969, for the Blue Note label, in which his original ideas and avant-garde tendencies came to the fore. Then he went electric, recording (uncredited) with Miles Davis on “Bitches Brew,” with the drummer Tony Williams and the guitarist John McLaughlin in the hard-edged jazz-rock band Lifetime, with McLaughlin on “Devotion,” and with McLaughlin and Carlos Santana on “Love Devotion Surrender.” Young then recorded his own free-jazz-slash-fusion-jam album, “Lawrence of Newark,” in 1973, followed by some funk-styled albums that weren’t big hits. He died (officially of pneumonia) at the age of thirty-seven, in 1978. What Young didn’t do, apparently, was leave an accidental trove of unreleased live recordings from his prime, in the mid-to-late sixties to early seventies.

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