Skip to main content

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

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.

The flautist was the subject of a 26-minute, black-and-white television documentary, The Story of a Jazz Musician, produced by David Wolper, which aired on CBS in 1962. By this time, he had separated from his wife, Yvonne (née Jordan), sharing with her the raising of their sons, Marlen and Robin. His quintet is shown playing a Horn composition, Count Your Change, at Shelly's Manne-Hole club in Los Angeles.

Mr. Horn gained mainstream attention with his performance on the record Jazz Suite on the Mass Texts, which earned Argentine composer Lalo Schifrin a Grammy. (The album earned another Grammy for best cover photography.) A review in Life magazine hailed the flautist as the star of the recording. "His varied pipes flood out a torrent of late-progressive arabesques in a kind of confession-without-words," the critic Carter Harman wrote in 1965.

After being asked to join a recording session by the sitar player Ravi Shankar, Mr. Horn decided to travel to India to study its music. Besides, he had tired of a "plastic lifestyle" in Los Angeles, including "smoky nightclubs, late-night hours, marijuana and a heart-breaking affair with a beautiful actress."

Leaving in December, 1966, he spent several months as a devotee of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, eventually becoming a Transcendental Meditation instructor. Mr. Horn also recorded two albums with Mr. Shankar's students, In India and Paul Horn in Kashmir. (These would later be reissued in a collection titled, Cosmic Consciousness, one of the Maharishi's catchphrases.)

The musician returned to America a different man, eschewing drugs in favour of meditation.

Mr. Horn returned to India in 1968 intending to film a documentary on the Maharishi. He was at the ashram on an escarpment above the Ganges across the river from Rishikesh during the famous visit by the Beatles, who were joined by the Scottish singer Donovan, Mike Love of the Beach Boys, the actress Mia Farrow and her sister, Prudence, among others. The planned film was never completed, but Mr. Horn did have a state-of-the-art tape recorder on hand when he visited the Taj Mahal with sound engineer John Archer.

"I never heard anything so beautiful," he wrote of standing beneath the white marble dome that surmounts the tomb. "Each tone hung suspended in space for 28 seconds and the acoustics are so perfect you couldn't tell when his voice stopped and the echo took over."

The long span between blowing a note and its decay demanded the flautist provide space for the echo, otherwise, he once explained, "the music would just have become a mess, a confusion of notes and sounds reverberating."

Mr. Horn was teaching meditation in L.A. when Epic Records asked if he had any new material. He forwarded the Taj Mahal tape, which Epic released in 1969, his 14th album, with the promotional line: "Paul Horn's jazz fame is already great. But this makes it truly monumental."

The haunting, atmospheric instrumental, running less than a half hour, found an audience where one had not previously been known to exist. Though Inside did not get radio air play, it did receive some critical praise. "A cathedral-like depth and echo haunts his flute and the voice chants of a local caller," Billboard noted in a 1969 review. "Horn spies mythical entities, moods, and musical meditations, using the Taj Mahal to add to the eerie beauty. A sleeper to watch."

It was while touring with Donovan that Mr. Horn first visited Vancouver Island. In 1970, he loaded a van with his two sons and, joined by girlfriend Tryntje Bom, a Dutch-born fashion designer known in L.A. as Miss Bom Bom, headed north to Canada, where they settled in Victoria's leafy Gordon Head neighbourhood on an acre overlooking the sea.

He maintained a steady, album-per-year output. Mr. Horn played regularly in Vancouver clubs such as Gassy Jack's and Oil Can Harry's.

He often was an instructor at the Victoria Conservatory of Music, working with teenagers in summer jazz workshops. In 1973, he hosted 13 episodes of an eponymous variety program on CTV.

Meanwhile, he lent his name and musical talents to several causes, including the environmental group Greenpeace and its campaign to save whales. He was called in by Sealand of the Pacific, an aquarium in Victoria that has since closed, to play for Haida, a captive male said to be bereft after the death of his mate, Chimo. Mr. Horn performed Bach, an Irish jig, and his own contemplative music. The musician and the lovelorn cetacean also appeared in We Call Them Killers, a 1972 National Film Board documentary.

The success of Inside (later retitled Inside the Taj Mahal) led Mr. Horn to record in other sacred locales, including the Great Pyramid of Giza, the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, and the Kazamieras Cathedral in Vilnius, Lithuania. He returned to record again at the Taj Mahal in 1989. Mr. Horn made two tours of China and three to the Soviet Union, accompanied on the latter by his son, Robin, who served as drummer.

In 1974, the independent, Vancouver-based Mushroom label released a double album of material, including a 24-page booklet on his career. The package quickly sold an unprecedented 10,000 copies, proof of a growing market for New Age material. He later founded his own Golden Flute label.

The Grammy Awards added a New Age category in 1986. Mr. Horn received nominations in 1987 for Traveler and in 1999 for Inside Monument Valley with R. Carlos Nakai.

Late in life, Mr. Horn married the South African-born singer and composer Ann Mortifee, whom he had first met during a taping of his television show. The couple collaborated on In Love with the Mystery, a 2010 project that combined inspirational writings and accompanying music.

They divided their time between his home in Tucson, Ariz., and hers on Cortes Island, B.C. They also owned a condominium in Vancouver, where Mr. Horn died. The family has declined to disclose the cause of his death. He was 84. He leaves Ms. Mortifee, his two sons, a stepson and four grandchildren.

In 2009, Mr. Horn took part in a benefit concert for the David Lynch Foundation for Consciousness-Based Education and World Peace, which promotes the Transcendental Meditation program. The show at Radio City Music Hall in New York included such musicians as Moby, Sheryl Crow, Eddie Vedder and Bettye LaVette. It also reunited Mr. Horn with Donovan, as well as the two surviving Beatles, Ringo Starr and Paul McCartney, the four reprising the dreamy season they enjoyed together 41 years earlier in India.

To submit an I Remember:

Send us a memory of someone we have recently profiled on the Obituaries page. Please include I Remember in the subject field.

Interact with The Globe