Jon Lord made emotional music that connected with our feelings. His music has a mood for every one of ours – whether it is his blistering work on the Hammond organ during Deep Purple‘s most explosive moments, or the introvert and heartbreaking beauty of his solo pieces.
His stunning stage performances would make me smile till my cheeks hurt. His inimitable presence would transfix, and make time and place disappear. Sometimes, after a particularly moving performance, I’d have to shake my head to realize where I was, as if coming out of a dream.
We’re left with a legacy of stunning music and memories. The world has lost a compelling musician, a visionary artist and a charmingly lovable gentleman.
Jon’s music always evokes images in the minds of its listener. One For The Meadow is a gorgeous example. Even without Sam Brown’s wonderful lyrics, it sets me on a walk in green hills on a pleasant summer afternoon.
Indeed, Jon was a man who used to notice such things. On my first visit to Jon’s house, he drove me through such hills near his Henley home. At a country lane pub we had a tasty lunch of Bubble and Squeak, my first taste of this solid English dish, while we talked about his music, his life work and his plans for the future.
Jon was always excellent company. He combined his deep fountain of knowledge, sharp wit, and never less than exemplary conduct to make everyone around him feel at ease. Never far from the next smile or that infectious chuckle, his outlook was positive and lived up to the proverb of ‘if you can’t say something nice, don’t say nothing at all.’ And he was always full of ideas and projects.
When BBC 4 featured him on Last Word after his death, Ritchie Blackmore and Rick Wakeman made admiring comments about their old friend and fellow musician – and then, surprise, Jon came on air to explain that he’d like to be remembered 50/50 as Deep Purple’s keyboard player and as a composer who has a small but interesting body of work to his name. The interview was recorded just a week before is death, and while he did sound frail, Jon’s words still carried across his indestructible determination; with the grace of God he intended to continue to build on his body of work.
Reader comment on JonLord.org 16 July 2012:
You’ll now meet J.S. Bach – you’ll know him, everyone does. The thing is Jon; he’ll know you too…
Over the past 30 years, Jon grew from being my teenage idol to become someone who would call me his friend. I was too honoured.
Like so many others, I was first caught out by the exciting sounds of his Hammond. My childhood neighbour’s old copy of Deep Purple’s Made In Europe roped me in. My pre-teen imagination was captivated from Coverdale‘s cool announcement of ‘Rock’n’Roll!’. This was real music. Jon’s Hava Nagila intro to You Fool No One on side 2 was so full of musical excellence – and only the first of a lifetime of highlights.
Many years later, I was intrigued to spot this album on the shelf of recently played CDs in Jon’s own kitchen.
Jon’s work with Deep Purple secured him a position at rock’s highest level of creative and commercial achievements. Uncaging The Beast was one of Jon’s visionary inventions – plugging the Hammond organ into a Marshall amplifier to create a sound that could match Ritchie Blackmore’ distorted electric guitar. With this came the ability to tame and control that ferocious creature; at his expert touch it would snarl or purr, then howl and scream.
My favourite moment shall always be that show in New Haven, CT in 1985. I’ve never before or since seen a Hammond organ let drop forward to crash into the stage floor like that.
(Gary Smith, JonLord.org July 17 2012)
Onstage Jon was always exciting, not in the least with Deep Purple. I watched in awe as he and Blackmore would expand the boundaries of hard rock. Ritchie acknowledged that Jon’s solos would always get the biggest cheer from his astounded audiences.
At the pair’s final concert together in Helsinki 1993, I saw Ritchie make several delightful attempts at catching Jon out during their chase in Speed King. This went on far longer than usual until the guitarist suddenly gave up; putting his hands on his hips in a mock ‘who do you think you are?’ attitude he glared at Jon – then cracked a big smile and reached out to shake Jon’s hand. The mutual respect between the two remained unscathed by the crisis in the band, and to his death, Jon continued to praise Ritchie’s technique on the acoustic guitar, and remark how he’d love to record and play with him again.
Child In Time was Jon’s signature tune in Deep Purple, and he took pride in never playing it the same way twice. During his last years with Purple, the song seemed to have been pensioned off for good, but much later, he rearranged it for orchestra, and I saw it grow to even greater majestic heights, as he lead his band and symphony orchestras to its climactic, breathtaking ending.
Jon was a dignified performer, every night earning everybody’s respect and attention. Standing tall behind the Hammond organ, his eyes hidden behind sunglasses and his grey hair tied back in a ponytail, he would hand signal his fellow musicians from one section of a song into the next; his left hand raised into the air counting down to the end of his solos.
As he played, his shoulder would bob up and down, raised almost to his ear during intense moments. He would lean over on one leg, operating the volume pedal with the other and then throw his head back at the dramatic climax of the solo.
His percussive organ style would see his hands dance arbitrarily across the keys as if playing bongos. And then switch to his other trademark, the blistering solos where his right hand would lead, with the left adding supportive touches or working the Leslie control.
In earlier years, his Hammond would be stacked with other keyboards and effect boxes. Putting his knee on the keys of the Hammond, he would fiddle with the effects to elicit dramatic screams, howls and winding noises that threatened the threshold of our hearing. Then he’d tilt the Hammond up at an angle and let it crash into the stage floor for that explosion-like sound from the built-in reverb. Magic, excitement.
Jon’s musical career stood on two legs. Alongside a life of hard rock, his heart never stopped beating for the lure of a broader musical canvas. His work with orchestras from 1969 right up to the end started as painstakingly hard creative work at home in his music room – surrounded by his books and his music collection (and with a sunglassed bust of Beethoven overseeing proceedings!) – and concluded in pleasurable gratification, as he would lift his thumb in approval of yet another successful orchestral concert performance.
My first experience of Jon’s ‘other side’ was a rare 1990s solo show at a lakeside festival in Thun, Switzerland. With a band that included Pete York and Miller Anderson and a small string ensemble, Jon performed mainly pieces from his Before I Forget album. Bach Onto This was the concert’s tour-de-force highlight – which put him out of breath for a few minutes – but also the title track and excerpts from Gemini Suite, where the strings came to the fore, showed his incredible range.
In latter years, Jon’s distinguished appearance felt even more at home in front of a symphony orchestra. As the host, he would speak with English wit about his music and the inspiration behind it before sitting down at the piano and – with a watchful eye to the conductor – dive into music of breathtaking beauty and drama.
For 20 years, the wonderfully catchy Sarabande album was Jon’s most endearing solo work. A couple of tracks were played at most of his solo shows in the 2000s, and the entire suite was finally revived at a delightful premiere performance with full orchestra in Budapest in 2010. Hearing Sarabande from start to finish had been my dream for years, and the new and fully orchestrated version provided joy, exaltation and even disbelief at what Jon made the musicians deliver. He moved between piano and Hammond, and the thundering climax sent shivers running hot and cold down my spine.
But Sarabande was eclipsed by Pictured Within. The immensely beautiful and introspective celebration of the lives of Jon’s then recently deceased parents set against the picturesque backdrop of Swiss Alp retreat Zermatt. An astonishing masterpiece. Its title track – all about coming to terms with the loss of loved ones – always touches me. In every performance I’ve seen, regardless of its instrumentation – big orchestra, small string ensemble or just Jon and his piano – its melody and words choke me up.
Here be friends…
Here be heroes…
Here be sunshine…
Here be grey…
Here be life…
Here love lies bleeding…
(Pictured Within lyrics)
As Jon’s solo activity increased in the mid 2000s, I suggested he get an officially sanctioned and professionally run website to help him spread his news and connect with fans. He had been a keen purveyor of the truth online, diving into discussions when Deep Purple fans would lose themselves in hearsay or speculation. In his immaculate writing style, he would set them straight with a carefully measured set of words.
Jon liked how JonLord.org sounded like .organ, and we launched the website to coincide with the premiere performance of his Durham Concerto in October 2007. Jon was immersed in several concert projects and album recordings, and the website was off to a busy start.
Happy times ensued as I travelled to his concerts all over Europe. From Darkness To Light was immensely moving at Trondheim’s Nidaros Cathedral, as were the double attraction of both To Notice Such Things and Concerto for Group and Orchestra performed by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonics in their hometown.
I knew Jon wasn’t spending a lot of time online, but I soon learned that he did read all that was published here. If something weren’t up to par, he would immediately email me with polite but firm corrections.
Jon’s two final concert performances across a weekend in July 2011 illustrate his vast musical skills and diversity. On the Friday, the annual Sunflower Jam at the Royal Albert Hall became something of an unofficial crowning glory for Jon. Glorious performances with Joe Bonamassa and a world premiere with fellow keyboard virtuoso Rick Wakeman – along with some of his own solo pieces – sent the crowd to their feet.
Two nights later, on the Sunday at a small parish church in Nuthurst in rural Sussex, he played piano for a moving performance of To Notice Such Things with string ensemble and flute. The difference in style and setting was palpable, but both performances captivated his audience. In painful hindsight these two concerts allowed Jon to go out in a manner that was representative of and true to his astounding career of musical explorations and adventures.
Afterwards, back at his countryside hotel with Paul Mann and a friend of mine, we shared a glass of red to cap off the Sussex evening. It was still early and the summer atmosphere was soothing and relaxed. Suddenly the fire alarm went off and the waiter asked us to leave the premises. Everybody casually strolled outside. As I reached the front door, I looked outside and I saw an image that will stay in my mind forever.
Jon had already made it outside, and in the park that sloped upwards away from the hotel; he stood on a small hill all by himself with his hands in his jacket pockets. Quietly observing the emptying hotel, he was strength personified, self-confident and content with life.
Exactly one month later, Jon’s manager called to arrange the announcement of his illness. The unbelievable shock was only surpassed – as the news broke – by the virtual ocean of love that flowed onto this website. A reaffirmation of Jon’s incredible standing amongst friends, fans and colleagues alike.
A totara has fallen in the forest of Tane.
(The totara is a huge native tree from New Zealand that grows for hundreds of years. For one of them to fall is a great tragedy. This Maori proverb is said when someone of importance passes away.)
(Michael Ross, JonLord.org July 17 2012)
Jon’s passing attracted more than half a million visitors to this website in just two days. From all over the world. This isn’t just a mind numbing number. It represents the immense love and respect everybody has for Jon and his music. Thousands and thousands of friends, fans and admirers have sent their love and affection in his direction. And more than commenting on the hard rock hits, people also reflect on how Jon’s music has helped them through difficult times and markedly changed their outlook on life.
Jon was a uniquely gifted man. He put music to our emotions. Long may it continue to resonate. Thank you, Jon, for everything.
My condolences to Vicky, Sara and Amy.
– Rasmus Heide, July 2012
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If you wish to donate in Jon’s memory, Vicky, Sara and Amy would prefer that a charitable donation, in Jon’s name, is made to ‘The Sunflower Jam‘. Registered charity number: 1138401.
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