This British guitarist is one of the most important figures in jazz fusion. After a first brush with fame as part of Miles Davis's first electric group in the early 1970s, he went on to become a real superstar with the Mahavishnu Orchestra. This group allowed the musician to execute his complex and bold crossovers to and from rock, jazz and Indian music. He alternates between acoustic and electric projects in his tireless pursuit of experimentation and art as part of a personal spiritual quest.
John McLaughlin was born in Yorkshire, England on January 4, 1942. The young McLaughlin grew up in a musical family-his mother was a violinist-and fostered an ear for music as a child. At the age of five, McLaughlin discovered, and fell in love with, Beethoven's Ninth Symphony. Initially, he played the piano and didn't pick up the guitar until he was 11. At 14, McLaughlin was introduced to jazz through a collection of Django Reinhardt records.
In the early 1960s, the guitarist moved to London to launch his career. At first he played in rock and blues bands, including Georgie Fame & the Blue Flames. In 1969, he assembled a collection of musicians to record an album, Extrapolation, before accepting an invitation to join Lifetime, a group started by former Miles Davis drummer, Tony Williams. It was Williams who recommended the guitarist to Davis.
McLaughlin eventually put his personal stamp on a few major albums by Miles, including In a Silent Way, Bitches Brew (which featured a piece titled... John McLaughlin!) and A Tribute to Jack Johnson.
In 1970, after meeting guru Sri Chimnoy, McLaughlin changed his name to Mahavishnu and became the guru's disciple. He left the Miles Davis band and soon thereafter released the solo album My Goal's Beyond. This album spoke to the kind of musical direction the guitarist was taking. Already, he was exploring a possible dialogue between traditional Indian music, jazz fusion and acoustic music.
With the Mahavishnu Orchestra, created in 1971, McLaughlin quickly gained an international following. With his newfound superstar status, he was now filling major concert venues like the Montreal Forum. The group lasted until 1975. Along the way it welcomed such big names as Jean-Luc Ponty and Jan Hammer.
McLaughlin went on to found Shakti, a group showcasing the talents of tabla player Zakir Hussain. Here, McLaughlin took his fascination with Indian music a step further by taking a more acoustic approach.
In the early 1980s, McLaughlin formed a power trio with fellow guitarists Paco de Lucía and Larry Coryell (who was eventually replaced by Al Di Meola). The Guitar Trio would go on to release the albums Friday Night in San Francisco and Passion, Grace & Fire, each of which marked new heights in guitar virtuosity.
In 1989 John McLaughlin made his debut appearance at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal. Fans were able to gain a first-hand glimpse of his virtuosity, charisma and adventurous spirit-without forgetting his penchant for perfection. That year, the program mentioned that public recognition had not prevented McLaughlin from spearheading a string of innovative projects, be it with the Indo-jazz group Shakti, with guitarist Carlos Santana or even with the London Symphony Orchestra. McLaughlin has always been known to demand a great deal from himself.
Two years later, the guitarist marked a return to the Festival, his previous appearance still fresh in the minds of many: the edgy, almost nervous playing style, the way the man's hands attack the instrument, the technique at once blinding yet full of subtlety... simply fabulous.
This time, McLaughlin appeared as part of a trio completed by percussionist Trilok Gurtu, who had performed at the Festival with the group Oregon, and bassist Dominique Di Piazza, a long-time John Scofield and Didier Lockwood collaborator. Each was a seasoned sideman who helped to make the trio a formidable ensemble.
In 1994, to mark its 15th edition, the Festival created the Miles Davis Award, presented yearly to an international jazz musician for his/her body of work and contribution to the renewal of the genre. The first winner was none other than John McLaughlin, whose collaborations with Miles defined an era. Held at the Théâtre du Forum, the event turned into a major music blowout, with Paco de Lucía and Milton Nascimento taking part.
From Trio to Quintet
After the success of the Guitar Trio in 1996, McLaughlin came back the following year with a new quintet featuring Gary Thomas on sax, Matt Garrison on bass, Dennis Chambers on drums and Jim Beard on keyboards. In the tradition of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, the group released the album The Heart of Things.
The Remember Shakti project, launched in 1999, was conceived with the idea of revisiting the music of the revolutionary Indo-jazz ensemble McLaughlin created in the 1970s with tabla master Zakir Hussain. The 1999 Festival played host to a performance by the two musicians.
McLaughlin and Hussain again shared the stage at the Festival two years later, with the guitarist seated cross-legged alongside the great tabla player at Salle Wilfrid-Pelletier. Some 25 years earlier, the two had boldly coupled the traditional music of India with jazz, sharing their discovery with fans as part of the mythic group Shakti. In 2005, Hussain, host of the Invitation series, again invited the guitarist to join him for a musical dialogue at the summit.
On the album Thieves and Poets, released in 2003, McLaughlin, the inveterate musical explorer, continued to pursue his mission, playing only an acoustic guitar surrounded by a group of classical musicians. The title track, a musical triptych, flirts with flamenco.
In 2009, John McLaughlin played a part in the off-Festival show given by the Five Peace Band, also featuring Chick Corea, Christian McBride, Kenny Garrett and Brian Blade. The following year, he launched To the One with The 4th Dimension, a quartet comprised of keyboardist/drummer Gary Husband, bassist Étienne Mbappé and drummer Mark Mondésir.