Personalities | John Abercrombie | Free Jazz & Collaborations | Guitar Heroes

John Abercrombie (b. 1944) is a stylist who has managed to incorporate flavours of folk and rock along with world-music influences into his jazz-based repertoire. He was a highly influential fusion guitarist in the late Sixties and Seventies and has had an abundant career, working solo and with a multitude of collaborators, including Billy Cobham, Ralph Towner, Jack DeJohnette and the Brecker Brothers.

Abercrombie was born in Port Chester, New York, and attended Boston’s Berklee College of Music from 1962 to 1967. While at Berklee, he toured with bluesman Johnny Hammond. After relocating to New York in 1969, Abercrombie worked in groups led by drummers Chico Hamilton and Billy Cobham. Abercrombie first received widespread attention in Cobham’s Spectrum group. He also recorded two albums with the jazz-rock band Dreams in 1970.

Abercrombie’s first album as leader was Timeless (1974), a trio album with drummer Jack DeJohnette and keyboardist Jan Hammer. Abercrombie and DeJohnette reunited for Gateway (1975) and Gateway 2 (1977), with bassist Dave Holland replacing Hammer. He began his association with Towner on Sargasso Sea (1976); the duo again teamed for Five Years Later (1981). In 1987, Abercrombie began a five-album collaboration with organist Jeff Palmer.

Most recently, Abercrombie has broadened his circle of collaborators, appearing on Three Guitars (2003) with Badi Assad and Larry Coryell; Speak Easy (2004) with Jarek Smietana, Harvie S and Adam Czerwinski; As We Speak (2006), with the Mark Egan trio and Danny Gottlieb; and Baseline: The Guitar Album (2007) with Hein Van De Geyn.

Abercrombie’s twenty-first century work includes Cat ‘N’ Mouse (2002), Class Trip (2004), A Nice Idea (with pianist Andy LaVerne) (2005), Structures (recorded with a single microphone) (2006), Third Quartet (2007) and Wait Till You See Her (2009).

Abercrombie has augmented his playing and recording with contributions as clinician and teacher. Explaining his approach to standards, he said, ‘As much as I’ve played those tunes over the years, I still enjoy playing them. And because I know them so well, I’m very free with them. I’m just as free with them as when I’m playing no chords at all. That, to me, is free jazz.’

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