Larry Young Jr.
was born Larry John McCoy in Newark, New Jersey on October 7, 1940 to Agnes McCoy and Larry Young Sr. who was a professional organist. The rehearsals that took place at his home and the records he played drew his son into music at a very early age. Larry McCoy began making music at the family piano as a toddler and soon his father was versing him in classical music and jazz. Larry McCoy attended Arts High School in Newark, New Jersey in 1954. While at Arts High, Larry was a bass singer in a vocal group called the Challengers, a member of the Operetta Club and the leader of his own jazz combo. In high school, Larry already had the title of “genius of virtuosity” and would go to jam sessions even though he was under age. The Challengers members, Dave Blocker, Lawrence McCoy, Norman Baldwin, Jennifer St. Luscious Brown and Florien “Lucky” Jenkins, sang and played together from 1954-1960. Larry McCoy started using the name Larry Young Jr. when he and his father, Larry Young Sr. were both performing in the neighborhood clubs at he same time.
Early influences Art Tatum, Bud Powell and Monk, was formed during those years. After some basic tutoring from his father, Larry studied formal classical piano with Mrs. Olga von Till. In early adolescence, Larry’s interest in music began to wane, but when he was fourteen; his father opened a Newark nightspot called the Shindig with an organ permanently installed on the bandstand. Larry began fooling around on the instrument and was immediately taken with its variety of sounds and musical possibilities. It opened up his imagination and became his primary instrument, though he never totally abandoned the piano.
By 1957, music had become a consuming passion for Larry and he began working professionally, at first with local R&B bands around Newark and Elizabeth, New Jersey and switched to the Hammond organ. He had become totally accomplished on the impossibly difficult Hammond organ, generating more sounds and music out of the instrument than anyone else around, HAMMOND DUBBED Larry Young as THE MOST TALENTED INNOVATOR of the Hammond B-3 Organ and presented Larry with an award. Jack McDuff called him the “Coltrane of the organ”.
On August 2, 1960, Larry Young made his first album for Prestige Records, TESTIFYING, with Joe Holiday on tenor sax, Thornel Schwartz on guitar and Jimmy Smith on drums. Larry went on and recorded an album with Jimmy Forrest in 1961. In 1962, Larry Young and Dave Blocker formed a jazz ensemble with Woody Shaw a trumpet player who also went to Arts High, Bill Brooks on drums. The Trio went to Paris and Dave Blocker remained stateside. Later that year, he made his vinyl debut as leader with Groove Street. He procured the services of top guitarist Grant Green and signed to Blue Note, made classic records with artists such as Joe Henderson, Woody Shaw, Donald Byrd and Lee Morgan.
In 1965 he visited Europe, playing piano on Nathan Davis’s Happy Girl. Larry was so taken by John Coltrane’s music, he recorded with Coltrane and inducted drummer Elvin Jones to record a modal Jazz album with Joe Henderson, Woody Shaw and Elvin Jones: Unity (Blue Note) is regarded by many as the best Jazz organ recording. When all of these albums hit the streets in 1965, Larry Young was instantly seen as a force to be reckoned with.
By late February or early March, Larry was back in the states and reunited with Grant Green and Elvin Jones on March 31 for the recording of “Green’s Street of Dreams” with vibist Bobby Hutcerson added. Woody Shaw meanwhile joined the Horace Silver Quintet in June, sharing the frontline with Joe Henderson.
Larry, Grant and Elvin would work in the New York area whenever possible. Larry Coryell remembers moving from Washington state and running up to Harlem to hear them on his first time in town and how powerfully moved he was by the performance of Larry’s song TYRONE. Tyrone was recorded in 1964 the same year Ritha was recorded and dedicated to Tyrone’s mother who passed away in the spring of that year. Tyrone was the nick name of his son, Larry the 3rd born October 16th 1959. Larry Jr. dedicated this song to his son. TYRONE was later recorded by Grant Green and Larry Coryell.
In 1966, Larry was recognized by receiving the LARRY YOUNG ORGAN TALENT DESERVING WIDER RECOGNITION DOWN BEAT JAZZ CRITICS POLL 1966 award. A few days after Larry’s last Blue Note date, John McLaughlin moved from London to New York to join Larry and Tony. He played on Miles Davis’ IN A SILENT WAY soon after arriving, Miles offered him a gig, but he turned it down because he was so enthusiastic about Williams’ new band. The band consisted of Tony, Larry and John and became the Lifetime trio. The trio recorded a double album (unheard of at the time) on Polydor, which they recorded on May 26-28 1969.
In the summer of 1967, Larry played piano in Lionel Hampton’s band for a brief period but decided to go out on his own. John Spruill who replaced Larry on piano said,” Larry was played the piano like he was Chopin. He was my mentor and a real genital giant”.
In 1968, Larry recorded Heaven On Earth which included Larry Young (Organ), Herbert Morgan (TS), Byard Lancaster (AS), George Benson (Guitar), Edward Gladden (Drums) and Althea Young (Vocal) on “My Funny Valentine”.
On May 14, 1969, Larry played on a long jam session with Jimi Hendrix, bassist Billy Cox and drummer Mitch Mitchell on “Hells Sessions” and “Nine to the Universe”. That track finally came out in 1980 as YOUNG\HENDRIX on Hendrix’s “NINE TO THE UNIVERSE” on Reprise records. On McLaughlin’s U.S. debut album, “DEVOTION”, on Douglas Records, Larry played both organ and electric piano. On August 20 and 21, he played electric piano on four of the six tunes which comprised Miles Davis “BITCHES BREW”. Larry also played on the November 28 Miles Davis session which produced “THE LITTLE BLUE FROG”, which was issued on a 45 rpm single, and an untitled unissued piece.
1970 Tony Williams’ next album; “TURN IT OVER”, with the recording of John Coltrane’s “BIG NICK”, was a feature for Larry on live gigs. Writing about the original trio, James Isaacs put it most succinctly, “The Tony Williams Lifetime sounded like no other band in the world. The were the first and, with out a doubt, the most honest and creative ensemble in fusion music. They spawned many imitators, including McLaughlin’s own Mahavishnu Orchestra. Fusion eventually became a sterile, predictable, manufactured form of what was first meant to be startling and revolutionary. And everyone went to the bank, except Larry and Tony. Larry stayed on with Tony after McLaughlin’s departure in early’71.
1971, Larry Young was rated the #1 Top Organist in the World. Hammond recognized Larry Young a.k.a as Kahlid Yasin by awarding him the HAMMOND EXCELLENCE AWARD KAHLID YASIN 6-19-1972. Larry appeared on the album EGO and made a final European tour before leaving. When John McLaughlin and rock guitarist Carlos Santana, both at the height of their powers commercially and artistically, joined forces in 1972 to record LOVE, DEVOTION AND SURRENDER for CBS and follow the album with a tour. Larry Young was the organist for both events. Larry also recorded “Love Cry Want” on New Jazz label that year with Nicholas, Joe Gallivan and Jimmy Molneiri.
In 1973, Larry made his next album “LAWRENCE OF NEWARK” for the small independent label Perception. The album came and went rather quickly because the label soon folded. September 1973, Larry recorded “Live in Chicago” with Billy Cobham at the Chicago Amphitheatre.
In 1975, Larry recorded with the Lenny White Sextet with Lenny White, Raymond Gomez, Doug Rodrigues, Onaje Allen Gumbs and Doug Ranch on the album “Venusian Summer”. Larry also signed with Arista Records, and made two albums “Larry Young’s Fuel” and in 1976, “Spaceball” which did not sell. The experience of playing before huge audiences on other tours had warped his judgment. He could not understand why musicians of far less ability and vision were so successful in the commercial marketplace while his efforts in the same idiom were not. Larry’s personal frustration was never abated. He could not accept the economic triumph of lesser music by lesser artists. He knew his worth, his foresight and his innovations, and that made his lack of recognition all the more disheartening.
He spent much of 1977 working with Houston Person and leading his own group with tenor saxophone Buddy Terry and drummer Joe Chambers. In November, he made a beautiful duet album with Joe under Chamber’s name Muse, DOUBLE EXPOSURE with Larry primarily on organ and Joe on drums and piano.
1978 started out a much better year for Larry. He was working on his music with renewed enthusiasm and developing a new group. On Tuesday, March 28, 1978, Larry’s new girlfriend gave birth to his second daughter born 3 days before his death. Larry’s two daughters, Fatimah born in 1977, Aziza born in 1978. Larry’s son, Larry the 3rd (Tyrone) received a music scholarship at USC and Larry Jr, a rather lucrative deal with Warner Brothers was finalized and Larry was to open the night at a New York club with his new band.
After Larry returned from California, he suddenly passed away under mysterious circumstances which are being investigated presently by the authorities. Like Jimi Hendrix, Janice Joplin and other artist of that period who passed away under mysterious circumstances appears that now you can add Larry Young to that category. Larry Young died a needless death at the age of 37. Larry Young was a wise, kind and loving man whose imposing stature was betrayed by his deep gentleness and respect to people who was close to him. He was very versatile, inventive and a pioneering musician who left the planet with a lot of unfinished musical business. We miss the man and the music he made very much.