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Gil Melle: 1931-2004
Gil Melle
baritone saxophone, composer

Born: December 31, 1931 in New York, NY
Died: October 28, 2004 in Malibu, CA

Baritone saxophonist, composer, inventor

by Todd S. Jenkins
Copyright © 2004 Todd S. Jenkins

Gil Melle was one of the most fascinating and underappreciated figures in post-bop jazz. A prodigy as both a musician and painter, he was a pioneer of jazz/classical fusion and electronic music. Compositions like "The Gears", "Mindscape" and "Funk for Star People", while never destined to become standards, typified the advances he made in American musical conception. Melle died suddenly at his home in Malibu, California, on October 28, 2004, at the age of 72.

Melle was born in New York City on December 31, 1931, and abandoned by his parents while still a toddler. He was raised by friends and showed early promise as an artist, winning several major painting competitions before high school. He took up the saxophone around the age of 14 and was playing professionally in Greenwich Village within two years.

In 1950, at nineteen, Melle became the first white musician signed to Blue Note, and also designed several album covers for the label. He also took the climactic step of introducing Alfred Lion to his friend, recording engineer Rudy Van Gelder, whose methods became an essential element in the Blue Note sound. From the get-go Melle's music was well advanced beyond modern jazz of the time, reflecting early developments in the classical/jazz fusion he later dubbed "Primitive Modern". His 1956 album Patterns in Jazz was one of the label's most modernistic releases for years to come. Later that year he signed to Prestige, for whom he recorded three albums in one year before leaving the jazz scene in favor of studio work.

In the early 1960s Melle began working as a film and television composer in Los Angeles, writing music for Rod Serling's "Night Gallery", "The Andromeda Strain", and over 125 other movies and TV shows along with more standard orchestral works. Many of his scores were entirely electronic, completely innovative at the time. Melle also pioneered many developments in electronic music, including early analog synthesizers and drum machines. His band The Electronauts was the first all-electronic ensemble to perform at Monterey. Melle only recorded sporadically from the late 1960s until his death, preferring in the end to concentrate on painting and digital art.

Todd S. Jenkins
Todd S. Jenkins is a member of the JJA, author of Free Jazz and Free Improvisation: An Encyclopedia (Greenwood Press, 2004) and I Know What I Know: The Music of Charles Mingus (Praeger, 2006), and a contributor to Down Beat, All About Jazz, American Songwriter and Route 66 Magazine.


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