About three months into his studies at Ithaca College in Ithaca, New York, LaFaro decided to concentrate on bass. He often played in groups at the College Spa and Joe's Restaurant on State Street in downtown Ithaca. He entered college to study music but left during the early weeks of his sophomore year, when he joined Buddy Morrow and his big band. He left that organization in Los Angeles after a cross-country tour and decided to try his luck in the Los Angeles music scene. There, he quickly found work and became known as one of the best of the young bassists.
In 1959, after many gigs with such luminaries as Chet Baker, Victor Feldman, Stan Kenton, Cal Tjader, and Benny Goodman, LaFaro joined Bill Evans, who had recently left the Miles Davis Sextet. It was with Evans and drummer Paul Motian that LaFaro developed and expanded the counter-melodic style that would come to characterize his playing. LaFaro replaced Charlie Haden as Ornette Coleman's bassist in January, 1961. LaFaro played a double bass made in 1825 in Concord, New Hampshire by Abraham Prescott. The top of the instrument is a three-piece plate of slab-cut fir; the back is a two-piece plate of moderately flamed maple with an ebony inlay at the center joint; the sides are made of matching maple.
It has rolled corners on the bottom and very sloped shoulders on the top, making it easier to get in and out of thumb position. In 2009, the University of North Texas Press published Jade Visions, a biography of LaFaro by his sister Helene LaFaro-Fernandez. It includes an extensive discography of his recorded work. In 2009, Resonance Records released Pieces of Jade, the first album released featuring LaFaro as a bandleader. The album includes five selections recorded in New York City during 1961 that showcase LaFaro with pianist Don Friedman and drummer Pete LaRoca, as well as 22 minutes of LaFaro and Bill Evans practicing "My Foolish Heart" in late 1960 during a rehearsal. LaFaro died in an automobile accident in the summer of 1961 in Flint, New York on U.S. Route 20 between Geneva and Canandaigua, two days after accompanying Stan Getz at the Newport Jazz Festival.
His death came just ten days after recording two live albums with the Bill Evans Trio, Sunday at the Village Vanguard and Waltz for Debby, albums considered among the finest live jazz recordings. LaFaro's death took an enormous emotional toll on Bill Evans, who was, according to drummer Paul Motian, "numb with grief," "in a state of shock," and "like a ghost" after LaFaro's death. Evans, according to Motian, would play "I Loves You Porgy", a song with which he and LaFaro became synonymous, almost obsessively, but always as a solo piece. Evans also went on hiatus after LaFaro's death for a period of several months. Many believe that Evans never fully recovered from the loss, as well as that it contributed to his pattern of heroin usage, an addiction that would later kill him. Although his performing career lasted only six years, LaFaro's innovative approach to the bass redefined jazz playing, bringing an "emancipation" introducing "so many diverse possibilities as would have been thought impossible for the bass only a short time before", and inspiring a generation of bassists who followed him. Discography: Pieces of Jade, Resonance Records -With Ornette Coleman Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation (Atlantic, 1961) Ornette! (Atlantic, 1962) The Art of the Improvisers (Atlantic, 1970) Twins (Atlantic, 1971) -With Bill Evans Portrait in Jazz (Riverside, 1960) Explorations (Riverside, 1961) Sunday at the Village Vanguard (Riverside, 1961) Waltz for Debby (Riverside, 1962) -With Booker Little Booker Little (Time, 1961) -With Hampton Hawes For Real (Contemporary, 1958) -With Victor Feldman The Arrival of Victor Feldman (Contemporary Records, 1958) Latinsville! (Contemporary, 1958) -With Stan Getz and Cal Tjader Stan Getz with Cal Tjader (Fantasy, 1958) -With Pat Moran Pat Moran Trio (Bethlehem Records, 1957) -With Tony Scott Sung Heroes (Sunnyside, 1959) -With John Lewis Jazz Abstractions (Atlantic, 1960) Read more on Last.fm.
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