These are emotional times for John McLaughlin and Jimmy Herring: Video

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This year each of them has lost a number of close personal friends, and of course John is preparing for his final tour of North America—which might also be the end of his touring career. Recently I spoke separately with both of them in order to give AllAboutJazz readers and Talking2Musicicans listeners an inside look into John McLaughlin’s Farewell Tour of America. In addition, I also spoke with Souvik Dutta, the founder of the Abstract Logix label, who is acting as agent, director, and manager for the Farewell Tour.

The main reason John McLaughlin and Jimmy Herring are in Manhattan at this time is that Chick Corea is celebrating his 75th birthday with a multi-week series of gigs at the Blue Note.

McLaughlin, whose friendship with Corea goes back nearly five decades, is one of the many special guest performers, and Herring flew up from North Carolina to check out a show. Since they’re both here, it only makes sense that they’d get together to talk about their upcoming tour. Over the next hour they do discuss that, and much else. McLaughlin comes off as a more expansive storyteller, while Herring, ever the Southern gentleman, tends to politely defer to his hero. But each man has plenty to say about his formative influences, the nature of improvisation and, of course, the undying allure of the guitar.

“My 75th birthday is right around the corner,” the guitarist, composer and bandleader explains, sitting in the living room of his Manhattan crash pad on a cloudy, cool afternoon just before Christmas. Trim, healthy and vibrant, he speaks with a distinctively cosmopolitan accent that glides from France to America to his native Yorkshire within a few syllables. “I’ve been on the road since I was 16. I want to do less traveling now.”

Nearly five decades have passed since John McLaughlin set foot in America as a relatively unknown musician to join the fusion band Lifetime, with the great drummer Tony Williams and equally great organist Larry Young. Two days later he was in the studio with Miles Davis recording In a Silent Way. The breadth and scope of his musical endeavors in the ensuing decades boggle the mind. It’s doubtful we will ever fully know the impact he has had on music in general and the influence he’s had on guitarists in particular. Naturally we focus on jazz first, but his influence stretches far beyond jazz to artists few people might suspect. For example, the artist, guitarist, singer/song writer, producer Todd Rundgren was interviewed on the Marc Maron’s WTF podcast in 2016 and without prompting shared this:

“So I had a band that I played with, and I continued to make solo records, although most of the touring in that era was with the band (Utopia.) It was this collaborative musical exploration. For us as players, we started to think of ourselves a players, you know you play enough to get kind of good at what you are doing, and there are these gravitational influences that come by, and one of them was Mahavishnu Orchestra. It blew everybody’s mind, not just my mind, everybody’s mind, we were collectively blown. What those things do is usually to open you up to possibilities you didn’t think of, playing in modes you didn’t think of before. Creating melodies that don’t have the typical cadences that you’re used to, and that sort of thing. Creating textures that are hard to pin down in terms of the tonality… They called it jazz fusion or fusion rock, but it was all about having those jazz chops, and after all John McLaughlin was a famous jazz musician, and a lot of the guys he played with had some reputation, but weren’t as well known…” At this point Maron interjected a question which changed the subject, but the point is, who would have guessed that John Mclaughlin had such an impact on Todd Rundgren? Hardcore Allman Brothers fans know, and Jaimoe has confirmed, that Bitches Brew, In a Silent Way, and Tony Williams Lifetime !Emergency were among the influential albums that the original Allman Brothers Band had in heavy rotation.

His influence does not appear to be waning with younger guitarists. Last year I interviewed Zayn Mohammed, the winner of the UK TV competition Guitar Star, and after we finished the interview he shared this with me about John McLaughlin: “I realized that my soul and his, we’re dancing already somewhere up in the cosmos, and he’s the reason that I play fusion. At the age of 3 my father was taking me to see Shakti until the age of 12, so I grew up with John McLaughlin and U Shrinivas as a kind of enigma, and as I’ve grown up I realize his soul and mine are made from the same tree—that’s a huge, huge—it almost sounds arrogant for me to say that, but what I mean is just in our essence, in our soul.”

Image result for John McLaughlin and Jimmy Herring

Image result for John McLaughlin and Jimmy Herring

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