Remembering Larry Coryell’s ’60s jazz-rock band, The Free Spirits


Larry Coryell, on the cover of his 1971 album “Barefoot Boy.”

The great jazz fusion guitarist Larry Coryell died on Sunday, at the age of 73, after playing two shows this weekend at the Iridium in New York. You can read more comprehensive obituaries about him elsewhere, but I just want to focus, here, on something that will probably get just a brief mention in most of them: His time in the ’60s New York-based jazz-rock group, The Free Spirits.

“Who?” most of you are probably asking. This was a group, after all,that sold few albums, and received little radio airplay, and Coryell didn’t really become famous until he left them and went solo. But The Free Spirits was an important band in the development of jazz-rock, and left behind one great studio album, made at the famed Van Gelder Studio in Englewood Cliffs: Out of Sight and Sound (1966).

More important — to me, at least — my father, Bruce Lustig (who worked in the music industry only briefly) was their co-manager. (In 2013, I wrote a long piece on my father and the band for The Star-Ledger; you can read it here).

You can listen to some of the band’s music, below. “Don’t Look Now (But Your Head Is Turned Around)” in particular, is, I think, a song that could have been a hit, but was, maybe, a bit ahead of its time, even in the adventurous days of the post-Beatles rock revolution.

“I got to the city (New York), and all this rock’n’roll, blues, and pop music was just as popular as jazz,” Coryell told journalist Richie Unterberger for the liner notes of the 2006 CD reissue of Out of Sight and Sound. “I got into the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan. We were all into the Beatles. The world was into the Beatles! I was not pursuing jazz stuff exclusively. I was doing everything, and a lot of that included trying to write songs.

“I wanted to try to create a new type of music that would express my generation. I was imagining what it would be like if John Coltrane met George Harrison.”

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Geoff Geiss February 21, 2017 - 6:23 pm

Larry Coryell was the best inventor of jazz rock fusion! When I went to Berklee College of Music no one knew who Larry was, they were all caught up in old jazz. Larry could play it old or new. His spaces album was the great start,he even did a duo with John Mclaughlin the king of jazz fusion at the time on that album. I met him and he was a real people person,he will be missed.

carol ross February 22, 2017 - 10:23 am

larry was my very first client when i entered the pr business, he was managed at that time by vince cirrincione – he was an amazing musician and to follow his fingers on the guitar was awesome – he deserved more recognition then he received …..i re-connected with him a few years back when he and his wife were writing a screenplay….i am so sad to hear this news…..carol ross

Don Jay Smith February 22, 2017 - 10:42 am

I was a huge fan of Larry’s starting in the sixties when he joined the Gary Burton Quartet. I was following Burton at the time, having seen him with the great Stan Getz, so when I saw the new quartet with this young, innovative guitarist backed by bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Roy Haynes, I was blown away. I went to see the group perform so many times that I got to know each one of them well enough to sit with them between sets. Larry turned me on to The Free Spirits and my own jazz-rock quintet covered two of his compositions: Early Morning Fear and LBOD. That band should have been a success back then but for some reason never caught on. Thanks for sharing these memories, Jay.


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