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Lawrence S. Karush ’68

A picture of Lawrence Karush

Lawrence S. Karush ’68, August 27, 2013, in Los Angeles, from cancer. A renowned pianist, composer, and educator, Larry is revered for his performance and improvisation in jazz, 20th- and 21st-century Western classical music, African-based percussion, and the music of North India. He began taking classical piano lessons at six. In his teens, he was introduced to the art of improvisation by his teacher Sam Saxe. “He was the first person to show me there was an equivalence between Mozart and Art Tatum,” he said in an interview. During his junior year at Reed, Larry heard saxophonist Charles Lloyd and his quartet in performance. “The band was so free and together at the same time.” The concert happened in the right time and place to introduce Larry to all of the possibilities of improvised music and to motivate him to perform it, he said. Larry graduated from Reed with a degree in psychology and later earned an MA from New York University. In 1968–73, he was in Berkeley, avoiding political entanglements in favor of doing music. “I had a nice little shack in the Berkeley flatland, and I just holed up and did my practicing.” For 14 years, he lived in New York. The experience provided him the best education “in all senses of the word,” he said. Larry and Michelle Berne, a graduate of the University of California, Berkeley, and a dancer and choreographer, were married with a son; they returned to California in 1989. Larry did seven recordings and appeared in festivals in Canada, Europe, and South Africa. He was the recipient of grants and commissions from the New York Foundation for the Arts, the NEA/Arts International, Meet the Composer, the California Arts Council, and the city of Los Angeles. In addition, he received a Guggenheim Fellowship in music composition, and was nominated for the 2008 Herb Alpert Foundation Prize in Music. He performed solo jazz and also worked with musicians John Abercrombie, Jane Ira Bloom, Jay Clayton, Bennie Wallace, and Oregon. He performed world music with Kanai Dutta, Francisco Aguabella, and Glen Velez, and contemporary classical music with Steve Reich and Terry Riley. In the ’90s, he joined Glen Moore and Glen Velez to create the improvisational trio Mokave. He also toured with his own band, the Larry Karush Ensemble. Larry taught music for more than 30 years in New York City and Los Angeles. He lectured and gave demonstrations at colleges and universities, including the University of California, Tufts, Brandeis, New York University, Reed, Berklee College, and the California Institute for the Arts. As an artist in residence and lecturer at the University of California (1991–94), he offered courses in jazz, improvisation, and world music. Most recently, he was on the faculty of Occidental College in Los Angeles. A memorial concert for Larry, organized by Prof. David Schiff [music 1980–] was performed at Reed in February. Survivors include his son, Clayton.

Appeared in Reed magazine: June 2014

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