Attila Cornelius Zoller (born June 13, 1927 in Visegrád, Hungary; died January 25, 1998 in Townshend, Vermont) was the first guitarist to discover free jazz and is considered as one of the innovators of modern jazz guitar.
As a child, Zoller was taught classical violin by his father, a professional violinist. In his teens, he switched to flugelhorn, then jazz bass, and finally guitar. Zoller quit school during the Russian occupation of Hungary following World War II and began playing professionally in Budapest jazz clubs. He escaped Hungary in 1948 just before the permanent Soviet blockade of the country and began his serious music career after he moved to Vienna in 1948, He formed a jazz group with the accordionist and vibraphonist Vera Auer. Zoller moved to Germany in 1954, where he played with pianist Jutta Hipp, saxophonist Hans Koller and trombonist Albert Mangelsdorff. Visiting American musicians (notably Oscar Pettiford and Lee Konitz) admired Zoller's work and urged him to move to the U.S., which he did in 1959 after winning a scholarship to the Lenox School of Jazz. There he studied with Jim Hall and roomed with Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry, whose influence sparked Zoller's interest in free jazz.
Zoller played in drummer Chico Hamilton's group in 1960, with Benny Goodman and with flutist Herbie Mann from 1962-1965. In 1965, Zoller began leading a free jazz-influenced group with the pianist Don Friedman, and in 1968 co-led a group with Konitz and Mangelsdorff.
Zoller played and recorded with among others with Tony Scott, Stan Getz, Red Norvo, Jimmy Raney, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, Shirley Scott, Cal Tjader and many more. In addition to his activities on stage which take him regularly to the European festival circuit, to Japan and to the various US jazzclubs,
Zoller was a renowned teacher and founding president of the Vermont Jazz Center (since 1985). In 1995 Zoller received the New England Foundation for the Arts Achievement Award for his lifelong musical contribution to jazz. He was also a designer of musical instruments; he patented a bi-directional pickup for guitars in 1971 and helped design his own signature line of guitars with different companies.
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