A history of Jazz Music

by Piero Scaruffi
See also the The History of Rock Music and the The History of Pop Music
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(These are excerpts from my book "A History of Jazz Music")

Fusion Jazz: the pioneers

TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

Miles Davis's quintet featuring drummer Tony Williams, bassist Ron Carter, pianist Herbie Hancock and tenor saxophonist Wayne Shorter had pioneered a sound that was just that: "sound". When Davis fused jazz with rock rhythm and soul melody (and even dissonance) on Bitches Brew (1969), Davis legitimized a new genre, "fusion jazz". All in all, this revolution paralleled the revolution that was finally picking up steam in free (or pseudo-free) jazz. The revolution had to do with rhythm. Since the earliest experiments with replacing the tuba with the double bass and with removing the piano from the rhythm section, the changes in the rhythm section had reverberated so wildly to create entire new genres. In the 1960s, basically, jazz musicians took two opposite views of where to go next: free musicians decided to turn the rhythm section into a decorative element (percussion is a coloring device, not a time-keeping device), which almost inevitably led to the demise of melody, whereas Miles Davis and the other jazz-rock pioneers decided to anchor bebop/cool jazz to the most solid of all rhythms, the loud and steady rhythm of rock music (nothing more than an evolution of rhythm'n'blues), a decision that almost inevitably led to the rise of melody.

Several rock groups (Soft Machine, Colosseum, Caravan, Nucleus, Chicago, and, above all, Frank Zappa) had the same idea at the same time, except that they turned it upside down: instead of focusing on sound, rockers focused on dynamics. Davis' fusion jazz was slick, smooth and elegant, while "progressive-rock" was typically convoluted and abrasive.

Once jazz music had been contaminated by rock music, it was merely natural that jazz musicians also adopted the instruments of rock music. This juncture marked the first major revolution in instrumentation since the early days of New Orleans jazz. In a few years jazz adopted the electric guitar, the bass guitar (replacing the double bass), the Hammond organ and all its successors (electric piano and electronic keyboards). Jazz-rock also adopted the rock way of using them. For example, the guitar and the keyboards as leading instruments, not part of the rhythm section. the rhythm section was pared down to bass and drums. organ,


Credit for "inventing" jazz-rock goes to Indiana-born white vibraphonist Gary Burton, originally an enfant prodige of country music in Nashville. After a stint in Stan Getz's quartet (1964-66), Burton began to experiment with rock rhythms on The Time Machine (april 1966), that featured bassist Steve Swallow, and attempted a fusion of jazz and country music on Tennessee Firebird (september 1966). The quartet with guitarist Larry Coryell, Swallow and drummer Roy Haynes, recorded the first jazz-rock album, Duster (april 1967), highlighted by mesmerizing Coryell playing, followed by Lofty Fake Anagram (august 1967). After performing Carla Bley's composition A Genuine Tong Funeral (november 1967), Burton came full circle by adding country music to the mix on Country Roads and Other Places (september 1968), recorded by a new quartet that simply replaced Coryell with guitarist Jerry Hahn, and on Throb (june 1969), added country violinist Richard Greene to that quartet. And then Burton embraced electronic keyboards for Good Vibes (september 1969), which was basically a rhythm'n'blues album. Pioneering a four-mallet technique, Burton owed little to the jazz pioneers of the instrument (Lionel Hampton, Red Norvo, Milt Jackson) and seemed unaware of the innovations introduced by the most influential vibraphonist of the era, Bobby Hutcherson.
Then Burton decisively joined the jazz-rock bandwagon. After Gary Burton & Keith Jarrett (july 1970), that had a quintet almost entirely devoted to Jarrett compositions, and Crystal Silence (november 1972), a collaboration with Corea that, again, mainly belonged to the pianist, Burton formed a New Quartet (march 1973) but continued to play other people's music with little or no personality. Burton inaugurated a quintet with guitarists Mick Goodrick and Pat Metheney, bassists Steve Swallow and drummer Bob Moses on Ring (july 1974), also featuring bassist and jazz-rock star Eberhard Weber, and Dreams So Real (december 1975), devoted to Carla Bley material (without Weber). Even better was Passengers (november 1976), with the same duo of bassists but only one guitarist (Metheny) and Dan Gottlieb on drums. Permutations of the quartet continued stoically. The problem with all of Burton's visionary experiments was that the material was of extremely poor quality (mostly covers). TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

Foremost among the propounders of fusion jazz were, instead, the Miles Davis alumni, starting with Tony Williams.


Boston-raised drummer Tony Williams moved to New York in 1962 (when he was barely 17) and was almost immediately hired by Miles Davis for Seven Steps to Heaven (1963). After playing on Eric Dolphy's Out to Lunch (1964), Williams became Davis' trusted drummer, popularizing a subtle convergence of traditional time-keeping and avantgarde free drumming that smoothly blended polyrhythms and variable time-signatures.
At the same time he recorded a milestone of drums-driven jazz music, Life Time (august 1964), that also revealed his skills as a composer. Memory, an eight-minute free-form jam with vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson and pianist Herbie Hancock, and especially the 19-minute two-part suite Two Pieces of One for a quartet with tenor saxophonist Sam Rivers and two bassists, displayed his skills at merging different moods and styles. The same territory at the border between Miles Davis' music and free jazz was explored on Spring (august 1965) by a supergroup with Herbie Hancock, saxophonists Wayne Shorter and Sam Rivers, and bassist Gary Peacock, via more convoluted compositions (Extras, Love Song, Tee). In the meantime his drumming style had evolved to incorporate a repertory of tricks that used every part of the instrument for the purpose of crafting the textural qualities of the piece (Davis' ideology, after all).
After he left Davis in 1969, Williams formed the jazz-rock group Lifetime, a trio with organist Larry Young and guitarist John McLaughlin. Their debut album, the double-LP Emergency (may 1969), pretty much defined the genre via Williams' Emergency, Beyond Games and Sangria for Three, and McLaughlin's Where and Spectrum, pieces that were both intense, colorful and romantic. The addition of rock bassist and vocalist Jack Bruce of Cream tilted the balance towards the pop-song format on Turn It Over (july 1970), de facto a recreation of Cream with Williams instead of Ginger Baker and McLaughlin instead of Eric Clapton. Williams regained control of the compositions on Ego (march 1971), a completely different album that showcased an intriguing fusion of psychedelic-rock and free-jazz elements (Lonesome Wells, again sung by Bruce, and The Urchins of Shermese). After McLaughlin's departure, and a lame The Old Bum's Rush (1972) that emphasized electronic keyboards and vocals, Williams reorganized Lifetime as a quartet with bass, guitar and keyboards. The highlight of Believe It (july 1975) and Million Dollar Legs (june 1976) was the incendiary guitar work of British rock guitarist Allan Holdsworth (basically a John Coltrane of the guitar). The former was an energetic instrumental album (particularly Fred, also known as Kinder), while the latter destroyed the magic with vocals and a much more relaxed mood. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.


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TM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi. All rights reserved.