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Legendary jazz guitarist Joe Beck, one of the instrument’s great contemporary practitioners, died last week of lung cancer at a hospice in Danbury, CT, a few days before his 63rd birthday.

Throughout his career, Beck, who recorded frequently for the New Bedford-based WCS label, worked with some of the very biggest names in jazz and pop. In a career that spanned five decades, Beck accompanied an extraordinary range of giants: Duke Ellington and Gil Evans, Miles Davis, Paul Desmond, Stan Getz, and Brazilian genius Antonio Carlos Jobim. Beck also played in jazz orchestras led by Buddy Rich, Maynard Ferguson, and Woody Herman, and he accompanied fellow guitarists like Larry Coryell and John Abercrombie. He also performed sessions and tours with pop musicians such as Laura Nyro, Paul Simon, Richie Havens, and James Brown.

Legendary guitarist Joe Beck, pictured here with jazz guitarist Doug Proper, died in late July at age 62.
Legendary guitarist Joe Beck, pictured here with jazz guitarist Doug Proper, died in late July at age 62.

Born in Philadelphia and raised on the West Coast, Beck headed to NYC in the ’60s as a teen-versed in both rock and jazz- and quickly made a name for himself as a precocious talent.

His style, characterized by deep creativity, edgy grooves, and remarkable versatility, was one of jazz guitar’s most identifiable techniques, and a golden achievement in the genre.

“He was a really great guitar player.” John Scofield, one of Beck’s peers in the jazz world, told News Times reporter Scott Miller. “He could do anything on the guitar.”

“He could play any song in any key,” said John Abercrombie, another guitar great who toured Europe playing duets with Beck as recently as December and who released an album, Coincidence, with Beck six months ago, on WCS. “You’d ask him what key he wanted to play a song in and he’d say, ‘It doesn’t matter.'”

And it didn’t matter what realm he was working in either. Beck was an accomplished arranger who produced albums for Frank Sinatra, Esther Phillips and Gloria Gaynor. He also wrote commercial jingles. Music flowed through his veins and came out in his hands.

“I thought he was the Bill Evans of the guitar,” Abercrombie said, comparing Beck to one of the greatest of all jazz pianists.

Whaling City Sound, whose Beck catalog boasts five of his titles, including the new Coincidence, mourns, along with the entire jazz community, the passing of the this titan. “We’ll miss his wit, his wisdom and his incredible fluency on guitar,” says Whaling City Sound president Neal Weiss. “He was one of a kind and an immense talent.”

One Comment to “JAZZ GUITARIST JOE BECK DIES AT 62”

  1. on 12 Mar 2009 at 9:24 pmivor

    Truly a loss of unmeasruable proportions! joe was such an eloquent lovely player! and his music will stay in many hearts and minds forever!

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