Gil Melle, the baritone saxophonist, composer, painter, and all around Renaissance man, died yesterday of a heart attack at his home in Malibu, California. He was 73 years old.
Melle was born on the last day of 1931 in New York City and began painting and playing the saxophone at an early age. When only 19 years old, he was signed to Blue Note Records by label founder Alfred Lion, becoming the first white artist on the storied jazz label. He made several 10" records for Blue Note and Prestige Records throughout the early 1950s before recording his first full-length 12" LP for Blue Note, Patterns In Jazz, in 1956.
Apart from his musical career, Melle maintained a career as a visual artist, and at times the two intersected. His art, beyond showing at various New York galleries, was also used in the cover design of records by Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk and Sonny Rollins, as well as several of his own records.
Melle moved to Los Angeles in the 1960s and his jazz recording became sparse as he focused on painting and composing for film and television. His fascination with science and technology led him in the direction of electronic music and he began collecting, and even building his own, electronic instruments, including some of the earliest synthesizers and drum machines. In 1967, he performed with the first all-electronic jazz ensemble, The Electronauts, at the 10th Annual Monterey Jazz Festival. His score for the sci-fi thriller The Andromeda Strain (1971), based on a novel by Michael Crichton, was perhaps the first electronic music score for film.
Melle returned to Blue Note with his 1991 release Mindscapes, which included The Blue Lion," a musical eulogy for his life-long friend and mentor Alfred Lion. Gil was like a beloved son to Alfred," said Ruth Lion, Alfred's widow. Gil Melle was a true Renaissance man, a multi-talented artist," said current Blue Note President Bruce Lundvall, He was one of Alfred Lion's proteges and remained a great friend of the label right up until his passing."
At the time of this writing, no information about memorial services was known.
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