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Steely Dan keyboardist Jim Beard dead at 63

Jim Beard pictured in 2013 (Jim Beard)
Jim Beard pictured in 2013 (Jim Beard)

Jim Beard, a musician and solo artist who had been the touring keyboardist for Steely Dan since 2008, has died. He was 63.

According to reports in Billboard, the pianist, composer and producer died on Saturday 2 March due to complications from a sudden illness.

A simple statement on the Steely Dan website reads: “It is with great sadness that we announce the loss of our friend and colleague JIM BEARD 1960 - 2024.”

Beard was born in Ridley Park, Pennsylvania on 26 August 1960. As a teenager, he studied clarinet, saxophone and sting bass and went on to study jazz at Indiana University. There, he played in a bar band alongside session drummer Kenny Aronoff (John Mellencamp, John Fogerty) and trumpet player Chris Botti.

In 1985, Beard moved to New York and began a career as a sought-after session and touring musician. He toured with Pat Metheny, John McLaughlin and Wayne Shorter and recorded with artists including Dizzy Gillespie. Dianne Reeves and Steve Vai.

Between tours, Beard recorded six solo albums and taught at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, the Mason Gross School of Arts at Rutgers University, the Aaron Copland School of Music in New York and the Sibelius Academy in Finland.

Donald Fagen and Walter Becker of Steely Dan pictured in 1993 (AP)
Donald Fagen and Walter Becker of Steely Dan pictured in 1993 (AP)

His production work and compositions were nominated for a total of seven Grammy awards, with one win in 2007 for his playing on “Some Skunk Funk” by Randy and Michael Brecker.

Beard joined the Steely Dan live band in 2008 for the Think Fast Tour. His final show with the band was in January in Phoenix, Arizona.

Earlier this year, Steely Dan was among the bands inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame.

The Songwriters Hall of Fame was established in 1969 to honor those creating popular music. A songwriter with a notable catalog of songs qualifies for induction 20 years after the first commercial release of a song.

R.E.M., Timbaland, Hillary Lindsey and Dean Pitchford were also inducted at the same time.

Steely Dan, co-founded by Donald Fagan and the late Walter Becker in 1971, are a staple of classic rock with songs like “Reelin’ in the Years,” “Do It Again” and “Hey Nineteen.”

They were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2001.

The Independent’s Robert Webb took a deep dive into the story behind Steely Dan’s “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number”, a 1974 hit that had otherworldly inspiration.