RIP: Larry Karush, 1946-2013.

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Larry Karush's piano playing made me think about the definition of an entertainer. He said he thought of himself as basically a boogie-woogie guy, which may seem silly if you've heard some of his more abstract conceptions, but the line between entertainer and artist shifts according to the performer and the listener. While thinking of themselves as entertainers, Art Tatum, Fats Waller and Bud Powell regularly crossed the line into obvious Artistry; without trying, Karush lived on the art side of the line. He entertained himself and people who had a clue about razor-edged technique and the enormous synthesis of world musics he accomplished.

It doesn't pay to be a genius in a world where only the broadest of abstract artists can buy lunch, so it was lucky that this playful intellectual had a real vocation as an educator as well as a player. He did clubs and concerts because a musician needs an audience, not because he was trying to be famous.

Still, it's a little scary that a pianist of Larry Karush's originality and ability wasn't better known. And after his death from cancer on Wednesday, genii of the future have one less window on what's possible.


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Read my review of two 2011 Karush performances here.

Comments (3)

Alex Cline:
I have not been able to adjust my myself to this bit of news. Indeed, Larry was truly brilliant, often mindbogglingly so, a genuine virtuoso player, a profoundly original composer/thinker/synthesizer of elements, and a great artist, not to mention a wonderful person. While it's hardly surprising that a genius like Larry is not famous or widely appreciated, it's still deeply sad that he is not. He is missed and will continue to be, even as his music and its resonance continues on.
g.e. stinson:
i'm stunned. larry was a great guy and a great musician. so sorry to hear this. we have hung out and talked many times.
john payne:
Thanks for this, Greg. Larry was a fantastic musician and all-around excellent human being. Will miss him big time.