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Abercrombie, John locked

  • Barry Long

(b Port Chester, NY, Dec 16, 1944). American jazz guitarist, composer, and bandleader. He grew up in Greenwich, CT, and began playing guitar at the age of 14. He was primarily self taught until he studied at the Berklee College of Music (1962–6) and with Jack Petersen. Abercrombie joined Johnny Hammond’s touring band after the blues organist had spotted him performing with other Berklee students at Paul’s Mall in Boston. After studying briefly at the University of North Texas, in 1969 he moved to New York where he performed and recorded in Billy Cobham’s jazz-rock band Dreams (1970), joined Chico Hamilton’s group, and recorded with Gato Barbieri (1971), Barry Miles (1972), and Gil Evans (1974). Abercrombie attracted wider attention performing with Cobham’s fusion band Spectrum from 1974. He also toured with Jack DeJohnette and recorded his debut album, Timeless (1974), which marked the start of a prolific relationship with Manfred Eicher and his ECM label. As leader of the trio Gateway he performed and recorded (Gateway and Gateway 2) with DeJohnette and Dave Holland, departing from earlier fusion works in favor of the more subdued, “chamber” jazz style featured on his debut. Between 1978 and 1980, Abercrombie toured with DeJohnette’s band New Directions and with Ralph Towner, and recorded three albums for ECM in a traditional quartet with the pianist Richie Beirach, the bass player George Mraz, and the drummer Peter Donald.

During the early 1980s Abercrombie worked in a number of duos: with Towner and Mraz, he explored originals and standards, with John Scofield he examined bebop, and with Beirach he played guitar synthesizer. He continued to perform on that instrument during the mid-1980s in a trio with the bass player Marc Johnson and Peter Erskine; their recording Getting There also featured Michael Brecker. In 1986 he worked with Paul Bley’s free-jazz ensemble. Abercrombie spent the early 1990s performing and recording with a new trio that included the drummer Adam Nussbaum and the Hammond organist Dan Wall. He was also a member of Kenny Wheeler’s large and small ensembles and worked again with Gateway (Homecoming) and Johnson and Erskine. Subsequent collaborations with Andy LaVerne, Joe LaBarbera, Jan Garbarek, and Mark Feldman and his continued relationship with ECM maintained his reputation as one of the foremost modern jazz guitarists.

Selected recordings

As leader

Timeless (1974, ECM), Arcade (1978, ECM), Getting There (1987, ECM), Speak of the Devil (1993, ECM), Open Land (1999, ECM)

of Gateway (with J. DeJohnette and D. Holland): Gateway (1975, ECM), Gateway 2 (1977, ECM), Homecoming (1994, ECM)

As sideman

G. Barbieri: Bolivia/Under Fire (1973, RCA)

D. Liebman: Lookout Farm (1973; B. Cobham: Crosswinds (1974, Atl.)

J. DeJohnette: New Directions (1978)

K. Wheeler: The Widow in the Window (1990, ECM), Music for Large and Small Ensembles (1990)


  • C. Berg: “John Abercrombie’s Six-string Stylistic Summit,” DB, 43/4 (1976), 16
  • B. Milkowski: “John Abercrombie: Seduced by Synths,” DB, 53/9 (1986), 17
  • K. Franckling: “John Abercrombie: Low Cholesterol Organ Trio,” JT, 23/6 (1993), 28
  • C. Stern: “Gateway Trio: an Axis as Bold as Love,” JT, 25/10 (1995), 30
Jazz Times (Washington, 1980-)
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