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Paul Horn made recordings in several sacred settings including the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Temple of Heaven in Beijing and the Taj Mahal.
Paul Horn made recordings in several sacred settings including the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Temple of Heaven in Beijing and the Taj Mahal.

obituary

Spiritual quest led Paul Horn to his serene sound Add to ...

A jazz musician’s search for spiritual enlightenment led him to an ashram in India, where he befriended the Beatles. When a plan to film the band fell through, Paul Horn travelled to Agra, where he played his flute within the echoing majesty of the Taj Mahal.

The resulting recording was intended originally for friends. Instead, his label released it as a long-playing record. Inside has sold one million copies, boosting a new genre of music and gaining for Mr. Horn a reputation as a founding father of New Age music.

Mr. Horn, who died on June 29 after a brief illness, moved to British Columbia in 1970, by which time the acclaimed jazz musician had begun melding his experience with Transcendental Meditation into his performances. He spoke often of the benefits of meditation, performing at countless benefit concerts for non-profit groups.

He toured both China and the Soviet Union at a time when the leaderships of both countries were suspicious of jazz as a subversive force. He followed the Taj Mahal recording with similar performances at other sacred sites.

Mr. Horn’s years on Canada’s West Coast are best captured by an image from the early 1970s, as he sits cross-legged on a rug, playing flute for a captive male orca named Haida.

An interest in the spiritual led Mr. Horn to explore a serene, mellow and meditative sound. Even a jazz purist could become immersed in the warm, contemplative groove conjured by his superior musicianship.

Music writers liked to quiz him about an earlier dissolute jazz life in New York and Los Angeles, where he recorded with the likes of Duke Ellington, Stan Getz, Nat King Cole, Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, a longtime friend.

Paul Joseph Horn was born in New York on March 17, 1930, to Frances (née Sper) and Jack Horn, a wholesale liquor salesman. Before her marriage, Ms. Sper had been a Jazz Age singer and an in-house pianist for Irving Berlin.

Paul played piano at age four, clarinet at 10, saxophone at 12, and the flute at 19. His parents encouraged their only child’s musical obsession. “People don’t expect it from a jazz musician,” he once told a filmmaker, “but I had a good home life.” After moving from his childhood home in Mount Vernon, N.Y., to Washington, young Mr. Horn attended local jazz clubs as an underaged performer. He earned a bachelor’s degree in music, majoring in clarinet, at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music in Ohio, where his daily regimen included five to eight hours of practice. He followed with a master’s degree from the Manhattan School of Music.

After three years of military service, during which he was armed with a flute in the U.S. Army Field Band, the composers Eddie Sauter and Bill Finegan invited the young player into their Sauter-Finegan Orchestra, an innovative ensemble incorporating such unusual instruments as the kazoo. Within a year, Mr. Horn left to join the Los Angeles-based Chico Hamilton Quintet. One of his first gigs with the group was opening for Billie Holiday at New York’s Carnegie Hall in November, 1956.

The Hamilton group featured in the 1957 Hollywood movie Sweet Smell of Success, starring Tony Curtis, and Mr. Horn revived his friendship with the actor later during the filming of the similarly jazz-themed movies The Rat Race (1960) and Wild and Wonderful (1964).

He signed with Dot Records in 1957, the year the label released his debut album, House of Horn, on which he played flute, alto flute, alto sax, clarinet and piccolo.

A valued studio session man, Mr. Horn also formed the Paul Horn Group, which was followed by the Paul Horn Quintet. Deeply influenced by his friend Miles Davis, Mr. Horn adopted a more melodic modal jazz style. “Miles knows how to wait,” Mr. Horn once said. “He doesn’t make notes unless he has something to say. Then he speaks true, and he sings out.” Mr. Davis recommended Mr. Horn to Columbia Records and the resulting LP, The Sound of Paul Horn (1961), earned a four-star review from Billboard magazine.

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