Tom Cora, a cellist, composer and improviser who was a mainstay of the new-music scene in New York City, died on Thursday at a hospital in Draguignam, in the south of France, where he lived with his wife and son. He was 44.
The cause was melanoma, said his brother, Henry Corra.
Mr. Cora, whose original surname was Corra, grew up in Richmond and took up the cello while an undergraduate at the University of Virginia. He studied under the vibraphonist Karl Berger at Creative Music Studios in Woodstock, N.Y., when came to New York City in 1979. It was a ripe and chaotic moment for improvised music in Manhattan, well before the Knitting Factory provided a frequent venue for musicians like Mr. Cora, who were influenced by progressive rock, jazz and avant-garde composition and who were able to consolidate absurdist humor and structuralist thinking in the same composition.
Mr. Cora fell into a circle that included John Zorn, Eugene Chadbourne, Andrea Centazzo, Butch Morris and Fred Firth, and he became known for highly amplifying his cello and for playing sawed chords and percussive riffs on it as if it were an electric guitar. Best known as part of the long-running band Curlew, he also played with the groups Skeleton Crew and Third Person, and collaborated with the Dutch anarchist rock band The Ex.