Rick Laird, jazz bass legend and founding member of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, dies at 80

The acclaimed bassist, who also performed with the likes of Wes Montgomery and Sonny Rollins, was also an accomplished jazz photographer.

Rick Laird, the bassist and founding member of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, has died at the age of 80.

News of his death was made known through several social media tributes by his bandmates. No cause of death has been announced, but a Reddit post, purportedly written by Laird’s daughter, alleged that he had been in hospice care since January 2021.

Mahavishnu Orchestra bandleader John McLaughlin wrote on Twitter yesterday (5 July): “RIP brother Rick Laird. What great memories we have. Miss you!!!”

Laird’s Mahavishnu Orchestra bandmate Bill Cobham also shared a heartfelt tribute on Facebook yesterday: “He played what was necessary to keep the rest of us from going off our musical rails.”

“He was my rock and allowed me to play and explore musical regions that I would not have been able to navigate without him having my back! Rick Laird bid this world goodbye at sun-up this morning. Already I miss his likeness and voice that was featured in the powerful quietness and authority he projected on and off stage. The body is going but the persona will remain as an influence on whatever I play for the rest of my days. I miss him already.”

To all who were close to the M.O. you knew that the most dependable person in that band was the bass player. He played…

Posted by Bill Cobham on Sunday, July 4, 2021

Laird was an original member of the pioneering fusion group, Mahavishnu Orchestra, alongside McLaughlin, Cobham, keyboardist Jan Hammer and violinist Jerry Goodman.

He played on the band’s first three studio albums, The Inner Mounting Flame, Birds Of Fire and Between Nothingness & Eternity. Laird’s work with the group can also be heard on B-side collections such as The Lost Trident Sessions and Unreleased Tracks from Between Nothingness & Eternity.

Born Richard Quentin Laird in Dublin, Ireland, the bassist began his career after his family relocated to Auckland, New Zealand. At the age of 18, Laird performed upright bass with a local group and started touring the country.

At 21, he enrolled in London’s Guildhall School Of Music And Drama, simultaneously performing in The Brian Auger Trinity before leaving the group due to his refusal to switch to electric bass.

Laird then took up the mantle as house bassist of Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club, where he performed alongside giants the likes of Wes Montgomery, Sonny Rollins and Sonny Stitt.

After earning a scholarship to study at Berklee College Of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, Laird finally studied electric bass guitar, inspired after hearing the Tony Williams Lifetime – which featured McLaughlin on guitar – in concert.

McLaughlin would then ask Laird to join the first incarnation of the Mahavishnu Orchestra in 1971.

Outside of his musical work, Laird was also celebrated as a music photographer; he has snapped images of Miles Davis, Chick Corea, Wayne Shorter, Elvin Jones, Keith Jarrett and many others.

Read other tributes to Laird below:

I was proud to have my picture taken with this kind, sincere and warm gentleman back in 2013 in New York. It was here…

Posted by Gary Husband on Sunday, July 4, 2021

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