Rick Laird, Bassist for Mahavishnu Orchestra, Dead at 80
Rick Laird, best known as the bass player for the original Mahavishnu Orchestra, died Sunday, July 4. The Irishman was born February 5, 1941, and moved to New Zealand at age 16, where he switched his musical focus from guitar and piano to upright bass. He was a prominent player in New Zealand and in Australia.
Laird moved to London in 1962 and became the house bass player at the internationally known Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, backing a veritable who’s who of the jazz hierarchy. He also played with Brian Auger (1963-64) before moving to the states to attend Berklee College of Music.
His first recordings were with Roland Kirk (1964), Prince Lasha (1965), Stan Tracey (1966), Yusef Lateef (1966), Sonny Rollins from the soundtrack to Alfie (1966), and the Buddy Rich Big Band (1970).
Then John McLaughlin, fresh from his tenure with Miles Davis and having added Mahavishnu to his name, tapped Laird to play electric bass in a new group he was forming called The Mahavishnu Orchestra with Billy Cobham, drums; Jerry Goodman, violin; and Jan Hammer, keyboards. That band blazed a new trail in the emerging jazz fusion genre with astonishing virtuoso performances.
Laird was a member from 1971 to 1973 and can be heard on the band’s two studio albums, a live LP, a lost sessions album, and more music released from that live show:
1971 The Inner Mounting Flame
1972 Birds of Fire
1973 Between Nothingness & Eternity
1999 The Lost Trident Sessions
2011 Unreleased Tracks from Between Nothingness & Eternity
Following his time with McLaughlin, Laird issued one album as a leader, Soft Focus (1979). He also played with jazz royalty including Richie Cole, Stan Getz, Horacee Arnold, Benny Golson, Eddie Jefferson, Anita O’Day, Sonny Rollins, and Annie Ross.
Laird was also a highly respected photographer, with a book of his outstanding photographs of jazz giants such as Miles Davis, Chick Corea, Elvin Jones, and Keith Jarrett.