Gil Mellé, legendary jazz innovator and composer of more than 125 film scores, died Thursday at the age of 72. The cause of death is apparent heart failure.
Mellé, a Malibu resident since 1974, enjoyed a vigorous and varied life, and he was painting and working on a new jazz project developed with Blue Note Records until his last hours. Mellé was not ill and friends say he remained youthful to the end.
Perhaps best known for his composition for the science fiction thriller “Andromeda Strain,” the first all-synthesized film core, Mellé worked with major filmmakers, including Steven Spielberg (“The Psychiatrist” and “Savage”), Larry Cohen (“Bone”) and Sidney Poitier (“The Organization”). His television credits include the ABC motion picture “The Six Million Dollar Man” and themes for NBC’s “Night Gallery” and “Kolchak: The Night Stalker.” Mellé’s work has been recorded by the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, the Los Angeles Symphony and the National Philharmonic Orchestra of London.
An early pioneer of live electronic jazz, Mellé invented and built all the instruments he needed for his performances, including drum machines and electronic saxophones. Mellé and his group “Gil Mellé’s Electronauts” performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival and throughout the country in the late 1960s. Prior to his work in electronica, Mellé had established a successful career in acoustic jazz, recording more than a dozen albums for Prestige and Blue Note Records as a composer, saxophonist and band leader. Blue Note founder Alfred Lions personally signed Mellé when he was just 18 years old. Lions encouraged Mellé to explore his musical and artistic gifts, commissioning him to create dozens of album covers for label mates, including Miles Davis, Sonny Rollins and Thelonious Monk.
While an emerging musician in the Greenwich Village jazz scene of the 1950s, Mellé exhibited modern paintings that are still prized by collectors worldwide. Over the last 10 years, Mellé devoted his talents to the creation of electronic paintings, a style he termed “Cybercloissonism.” His work was often presented at large-format transparencies mounted in light boxes. These digital paintings created on custom-built computers were exhibited in Beverly Hills, New York City and London, and are part of significant collections worldwide. Mellé produced a commissioned DVD combining his digital art and digital music, and was working on similar projects when he died.
A true Renaissance man, Mellé also amassed an important collection of antique microscopes and was a past president of the L.A. Microscopical Society. His scientific papers form the basis for much scholarship in the filed.
Mellé is survived by his wife of 40 years, Denise Mellé.
A memorial garden is being created for Mellé in Malibu. In lieu of flowers, donate a plant to the garden by calling Cosentino’s Nursery at 456.6026.