Thursday, March 12, 2009

Ian Carr, Jazz Trumpeter and Author, Dies at 75

Ian Carr, a Scottish-born trumpeter who, like his formidable influence, Miles Davis, was an early practitioner of jazz-rock fusion and later repaid his artistic debt by writing Davis’s biography, died on Feb. 25 in London. He was 75.

The cause was complications after pneumonia and a series of mini-strokes, Alyn Shipton, Mr. Carr’s biographer, said in an e-mail message. An obituary on the Web site iancarrsnucleus.net — dedicated to the music of Mr. Carr and the band Nucleus, which he founded nearly 40 years ago — said that Mr. Carr had Alzheimer’s disease.

As a writer and researcher, composer and bandleader, Mr. Carr contributed to jazz history both by making music and by explaining it. He started Nucleus in late 1969, a time when jazz musicians were just beginning to find ways of appropriating the tools of rock ’n’ roll. Nucleus mingled traditional jazz instruments (like trumpet, soprano and tenor sax) with rock-band staples (like electric bass and electric guitar) and melded improvisations with a driving, creative bass line and urgent, forward-leaning rhythms. It was a hit at the 1970 Montreux Jazz Festival and the Newport Jazz Festival that year as well.

The band, which had several rosters, dissolved in the 1980s, though there were various reunions for concert dates and recordings into the 21st century. Its sound was clearly related to that of the rock-infused records Davis was producing as the 1960s turned to the 1970s — “In a Silent Way,” “Bitches Brew” and “A Tribute to Jack Johnson” — and Nucleus predated several better-known bands that became mainstays of jazz-rock fusion, including Weather Report and the Mahavishnu Orchestra.

In its heyday in the 1970s, Nucleus recorded a dozen or so albums, including “Belladonna,” “Alleycat” and “Out of the Long Dark,” the last reflecting Mr. Carr’s battle with depression. (Mr. Shipton appropriated the title for his 2006 biography.)

Mr. Carr wrote for several jazz publications, and his first book, “Music Outside: Contemporary Jazz in Britain,” was published in 1973, but his 1982 book, “Miles Davis: A Critical Biography,” was the high point of his writing life. An evenhanded assessment of Davis’s life and music, it distinguished itself by its careful analysis of Davis’s playing and his innovations. Writing about the book in The New York Times Book Review, Bill Zavatsky lauded the clarity of Mr. Carr’s writing and his ability to explain musical technique to the lay reader. (The book was expanded and revised in the 1990s and republished as “Miles Davis: The Definitive Biography.”)

“He has come as close as any writer can,” Mr. Zavatsky wrote, “to upsetting Davis’s famous dictum that music can’t be talked about and should be left to speak for itself.”

Ian Henry Randell Carr was born on April 21, 1933, in Dumfries, Scotland, and grew up in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, in northeastern England. He began playing trumpet as a student at King’s College there, which was then part of Durham University, and received a degree in English and a teaching certificate. He served in the British Army, and afterward, living in Italy, he began playing with local jazz groups.

In 1961 his first band in England, the EmCee Five (which also included his brother), recorded a tune, “Let’s Take Five!,” which received wide radio play. Over the next few years he played with various prominent musicians, including John McLaughlin (later at the center of the Mahavishnu Orchestra) and Eric Burdon, of the Animals. Before starting Nucleus, he joined with the tenor-saxophonist Don Rendell to form the Rendell/Carr Quintet, which became one of the best-known British jazz bands of the decade.

Mr. Carr’s first wife died in childbirth. His second marriage ended in divorce. He is survived by a daughter, Selina.

In later years, in addition to playing with revived incarnations of Nucleus and other bands, Mr. Carr wrote a book about the pianist Keith Jarrett, contributed to several jazz reference books and was a consultant for television documentaries about Davis and Mr. Jarrett.

March 12, 2009
By BRUCE WEBER - NY Times

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