Friday, July 25, 2008

R.I.P.: Joe Beck

Joe Beck - master guitarist and a dear friend
(born on July 29, 1945, in Philadelphia, Pennsylvannia;
died on July 22, 2008, in Woodbury, Connecticut)

I discovered Joe Beck when I was 12 years old: his first collaboration with Esther Phillips, "What A Diff'rence A Day Makes", became a dance hit all over the world, and the album was released in Brazil by the Top Tape label. Despite its success, Joe's solo debut LP on Kudu, "Beck", never came out in a domestic issue and I had to buy an imported copy. I could never imagine that, 26 years later, I would be supervising its CD reissue in Japan, as well as writing liner notes for it.
Needless to say, since my childhood I began to collect all albums featuring Joe Beck as a leader or as a sideman, including virtually ALL his sessions for CTI/Kudu backing Hubert Laws, Hank Crawford and many others.
His outstanding solos on Don Sebesky's "The Rape of El Morro" and Idris Muhammad's "Power of Soul" LPs are specially impressive. Not to mention his ferocious playing on a series of Joe Farrell albums for which he also contributed many great tunes: "Penny Arcade", "Upon This Rock" and "Canned Funk". Now we can add to the list the recently released live date, "Hurricane Joe!", captured at the 1973 Berlin JazzFest, ie, during the CTI heyday, with Beck, Farrell, Steve Gadd and Herb Bushler burning down the house.
From his great CDs for the DMP label in the 80s and 90s, I recommend "Relaxin'" (a straight-ahead keyboard-less trio 1983 date with Jay Leonhart and Grady Tate, including a version of Baden Powell's "Berimbau"), "I Won't Be Back" (with Mark Egan, Lonnie Smith, David Matthews, George Young, Lew Soloff), "Friends" (featuring Michael Brecker, Mark Egan, Steve Gadd and the late/underrated Don Grolnick, who shines on "Golf Swing"), and "The Journey", on which Beck plays my friend Bobby Scott's "A Taste of Honey" and pays homage to the NY club he was performing often in the early 90s, "Zanzibar", on which I attended many of his gigs.
It's impossible to comment all aspects of Beck's huge discography, but I must also recommend, for big band fans, his dates with Woody Herman (the Grammy-winning "Giant Steps") and Gil Evans ("Where Flamingo Flies", on which, besides guitar, he plays mandolin on a 17-minute killer version of Kenny Dorham's "El Matador", vocalized by Flora Purim). There's also the last Gil Evans/Helen Merrill "Collaboration", from 1987.
Joe Beck playing the bossa nova beat a la Joao Gilberto on acoustic guitar? Don't miss "Samba with Some Barbecue", the opening track from Paul Desmond's 1968 "Summertime" LP, which I selected for the first volume of my compilation series "A Trip To Brazil" in 1998.

Joe Beck's band performing at the "Zanzibar" club in Manhattan, NYC
from left to right: Joe Beck, Mark Egan, Lew Soloff, Ronnie Cuber (and Danny Gottlieb hidden)
Photo by Arnaldo DeSouteiro

This is a link to the liner notes I wrote for two Japanese CD reissues of Joe Beck's "BECK" album in 2001 and 2007. I feel devastated. I have all his albums, attended many of his gigs at "Zanzibar" in New York... now I need to look for the pics we took together. I grew up listening to his recordings for CTI/Kudu. A superb musician and a gentleman who will be forever missed.

(Arnaldo DeSouteiro with Ithamara Koorax and Joe Beck in New York)
For more information about Joe Beck on this blog:

Obituary on JazzTimes website:
(there are many mistakes...Beck never recorded with Jobim, unfortunately. And his debut album on Kudu, "BECK", wasn't "issued only in Japan"; it came out in the USA in 1975 and was reissued in 1979 with a different cover; appeared on CD in 1987 on CBS/Sony under the title "Beck & Sanborn"; currently, it's out-of-print in the USA but it's available in Japan with the original cover art and my liner notes)

Guitarist Joe Beck Dead at 62
Date: July 25, 2008
Written By: Jeff Tamarkin

Joe Beck, an acclaimed jazz guitarist whose career began in the 1960s, died of complications from lung cancer on July 22nd in Woodbury, Conn. Beck would have turned 63 on July 29th.
Born in Philadelphia, Beck recorded numerous albums as a leader and in tandem with other artists. A list on a Yahoo Web site credits Beck with having contributed to recordings by Miles Davis, Gil Evans, Duke Ellington, Buddy Rich, Paul Desmond, Maynard Ferguson, Woody Herman, Stan Getz, Larry Coryell, Gene Ammons, Sergio Mendes, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Laura Nyro, Houston Person, Roger Kellaway, Richie Havens, Paul Simon, Joe Farrell, James Brown and Gato Barbieri.

Beck made his professional debut with Paul Winter’s group in 1964, then went on to play with Gary McFarland, Charles Lloyd and Chico Hamilton. Beck joined Gil Evans’ orchestra from 1967 to 1971. During this period he also became the first guitarist in a Miles Davis band (in 1967), recorded as a sideman for CTI Records and recorded his first album under his own name, 1969’s Nature Boy on Verve. In 1970 Beck and the flamenco guitarist Sabicas recorded an album together, Rock Encounter, which was intended to merge the seemingly disparate worlds of flamenco and rock.

In 1971, Beck left music for three years to become a dairy farmer, citing frustration with his career. He returned in the mid-’70s and recorded an album for the CTI spinoff Kudu Records, which was issued only in Japan—he also continued to work as a sideman for CTI-related projects. Beck also recorded for Polydor, Columbia and, primarily, DMP, on which he released a string of albums from the mid-’80s to 2001. His most recent release was Coincidence, an album of duets with fellow guitarist John Abercrombie on the Whaling City label. Previous co-artist projects included recordings with Mike Mainieri, John Babarian and David Sanborn.

Beck also maintained a lucrative three-decade side career as a composer for TV and film, and produced and arranged for other artists, among them Frank Sinatra and Esther Phillips.

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