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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TM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi. All rights reserved.
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(These are excerpts from my book "A History of Jazz Music")

Fusion stylists

Fusion jazz changed the instrumental focus of the music. Just like rock music was centered on the guitar and the keyboards, and used the horns only as decoration, fusion jazz downplayed the traditional solo instruments of jazz music (trumpet, saxophone) and emphasized "unusual" instruments such as the guitar and the violin. Thus a side effect of fusion jazz was to raise a generation of virtuosi on instruments that previously had been largely neglected by jazz musicians.

At the same time, another side effect was to greatly expand the geography of jazz music. Many of the protagonists of fusion jazz came from the Midwest, an area that traditional had few jazz musicians (and, for that matter, few black people at all) and from Europe.

French violinist Jean-Luc Ponty was the musician who took the violin into the electric/electronic age and made it a pivotal force of the jazz-rock movement. Originally employed in a symphony orchestra, Ponty debuted at the age of 22 with Jazz Long Playing (july 1964). His first important composition was Suite For Claudia on Sunday Walk (june 1967) for a quartet with pianist Wolfgang Dauner, bassist Niels Pedersen and drummer Daniel Humair. Ponty had already developed a style at the instrument that basically imitated the phrasing of the bebop soloist and occasionally flirted with free jazz.
He more than flirted with jazz-rock when, relocated to Los Angeles, he started working with rock composer Frank Zappa (1968). Ponty joined forces with pianist George Duke to form the ensemble of Electric Connection (march 1969), that contained his Hypomode Del Sol, and the ensemble of King Kong (october 1969), that performed music by Zappa (notably Music for Electric Violin and Low Budget Orchestra, a masterpiece of jazz, rock and classical fusion).
Ponty's main compositions of the time reflected the Zappa influence: Contact on Experience (september 1969) for a quartet with Duke on piano, the 20-minute three-movement suite Flipping and the 15-minute Open Strings on the sublime Open Strings (december 1971) for a quintet with keyboardist Joachim Kuhn and Belgian guitarist Philip Catherine, Astrorama on Astrorama (august 1970), Concerto for Jazz Violin and Orchestra on With Kurt Edelhagen & His Orchestra (july 1969), and especially the five-movement Sonata Erotica (june 1972), recorded live with Ponty on acoustic violin and echo box, Joachim Kuhn on electric piano, Nana Vasconcelos on percussion, plus a bassist and a drummer, basically a reworking of the concerto for jazz violin and orchestra.
After playing with John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra, a more electronic and energetic sound surfaced on Upon the Wings of Music (january 1975), with en electronic keyboardist and with Ponty playing electronically-modified violins (the overdubbed solo violin workout Echoes Of The Future). It also displayed the first symptoms of Ponty's African passion (percussionist Ndugu Leon Chancellor). That album's energetic and futuristic fusion set the pace for the subsequent albums, that mostly replicated the line-up of the Mahavishnu Orchestra (electric violin, guitar, keyboards, bass, drums): Aurora (december 1975), Imaginary Voyage (august 1976), highlighted by the 20-minute four-movement suite Imaginary Voyage, Enigmatic Ocean (july 1977), with Allan Holdsworth added a second guitar and two multi-part suites, Enigmatic Ocean (twelve minutes) and The Struggle Of The Turtle (13 minutes), Cosmic Messenger (april 1978), with Ponty doubling on synthesizer and with Peter Maunu and Joaquin Lievano splitting guitar chores (Egocentric Molecules). The 24-minute five-movement suite Mystical Adventures on Mystical Adventures (september 1981) de facto closed an era. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

Detroit's classically-trained cellist and bassist Ron Carter, who relocated to New York in 1959 and played with Eric Dolphy (1960), Randy Weston (1960), Jaki Byard (1961) and especially Miles Davis (1963-68), becoming one of the most prolific musicians ever, dedicated his recordings as a leader to demonstrating the virtues of the double bass. For that purpose he used and reused a few original compositions. Uptown Conversation (october 1969), that contains Little Waltz, toyed with various instrumental configurations including several extended bass solos to show how the bass can lead and inspire. On the other hand, albums such as Blues Farm (january 1973), that contained his Blues Farm and Hymn for Him, and All Blues (october 1973), with a nine-minute All Blues and a seven-minute 117 Special, focused on the ability of the instrument to contract and dilate time within a regular combo. The double-LP Piccolo (march 1977), with the 18-minute Saguaro, featured a quartet with pianist Kenny Barron and Carter on the piccolo bass, a new instrument pitched between the bass and cello range. Other noteworthy showcases were: ten-minute Arkansas on Spanish Blue (november 1974), Blues for D.P. on A Song For You (june 1978), Parade on Parade (march 1979), Alternate Route on New York Stick (december 1979), Nearly on the Brazilian Patrao (may 1980). His last major recording was Etudes (september 1982) in a quartet with trumpeter Art Farmer, saxophonist Bill Evans and drummer Tony Williams. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

Czech bassist Miroslav Vitous, a child prodigy who moved to the USA in 1966 and immediately generated a sensation, being adopted by the likes of Chick Corea and Jack DeJohnette, debuted as a leader at 22 with Infinite Search (october 1969), that featured guitarist John McLaughlin, keyboardist Herbie Hancock, tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson and drummer Jack DeJohnette, almost an offshoot of the sessions for Wayne Shorter's Super Nova (august 1969). It was a pioneering work of jazz-rock jamming and also a showcase for the leader's multifaceted technique that granted a melodic and textural role to the bass (the eleven-minute I Will Tell Him On You). Purple (august 1970), featuring McLaughlin, keyboardist Joe Zawinul and drummer Billy Cobham, contained even more elegant compositions, such as Purple and Water Lilie. The following year he joined Weather Report. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

Stanley Clarke was one of the bassists who created a language for the electric bass in the context of fusion music. Starting out with Pharoah Sanders (1971) and especially Chick Corea (1972), Clarke turned the electric bass into a force of nature, both in terms of percussive power and in terms of chromatic spectrum. His compositions were ambitious the 16-minute Sea Journey on Children of Forever (december 1972), that still featured Chick Corea on keyboards; the 14-minute Life Suite on the heavily arranged Stanley Clarke (1974); the 14-minute Concerto for Jazz-rock Orchestra on Journey to Love (1975). School Days (june 1976) was a hit, thanks to the nine-minute Life Is Just A Game and the catchy School Days. The double-LP I Wanna Play For You (september 1979) marked the transition from the old progressive fusion (still represented by the nine-minute Quiet Afternoon) to the electronic pop-soul-funk music concocted by keyboardist George Duke. The latter became his main preoccupation during the 1980s, notably in the funk group The Clarke/Duke Project (1981). TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

Florida-raised flamboyant white electric bassist Jaco Pastorius, who had debuted on Pastorius Metheny Ditmas Bley (june 1974) with Paul Bley and Pat Metheny, became a sensation with Jaco Pastorius (october 1975), one of the most innovative albums ever led by a bass player, also featuring keyboardist Herbie Hancock, saxophonists David Sanborn, Wayne Shorter and Michael Brecker, flutist Hubert Laws, Peter Gordon on French horn, drummer Lenny White, percussionist Don Alias. Pieces such as Opus Pocus and Cha Cha matched bold arrangements and an eclectic array of musical styles (from soul to neoclassical) with an insanely obsessive instrumental technique. His solos in the higher registers and the fat, colored tones that frequently turned into his distinctive "growl", the dense, eerie chords and harmonics, wed rhythmic and textural playing in one instrument. The album not only popularized the fretless electric bass, but turned the bass into one of the most expressive instruments of the fusion era.
Pastorius became a star during his tenure with Weather Report (1976-81). During that time, Pastorius also played for Joni Mitchell (1976-80).
After Weather Report split in 1981, Pastorius formed his big band, Word of Mouth, featuring dozens of musicians (including Hancock, Shorter, Laws, Shorter, Brecker, Alias, reed player Tom Scott, harmonica player Toots Thielemans trumpeter Chuck Findley, tuba player Howard Johnson, drummers Jack DeJohnette and Peter Erskine). Word of Mouth (august 1980) focused more on his skills as a composer than on his virtuoso playing, particularly in the lengthy Liberty City and John and Mary. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

White contrabassist David Friesen cycled from the mostly solo-contrabass experiments of Color Pool (october 1975) to the mellow ethnic-tinged chamber jazz-rock of Star Dance (november 1976), in a quartet with horn and oboe player Paul McCandless, guitarist John Stowell and percussionist Steve Gadd, and of Waterfall Rainbow (august 1977), featuring McCandless, Stowell, guitarist Ralph Towner, flutist Nick Brignola and two percussionists, back to the solo album Paths Beyond Tracing (february 1980), but in a spiritual new-age vein. Longer compositions and a more intimate mood characterized Storyteller (april 1981), in a quartet with McCandless and Stowell, and especially Amber Skies (january 1983), with tenor saxophonist Joe Henderson, flutist Paul Horn, pianist Chick Corea, drummer Paul Motian and percussionist Airto Moreira. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

The members of Oregon were all brilliant solo artists. Oregon's percussionist Collin Walcott was in fact one of the most innovative percussionists of the era, exploring his personal brand of Indian jazz-rock on Cloud Dance (march 1975), featuring guitarist John Abercrombie, bassist Dave Holland and drummer Jack DeJohnette, and on Grazing Dreams (february 1977), featuring Don Cherry and Abercrombie besides bass and percussion. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

White pianist Art Lande, who moved to San Francisco in 1969, specialized in calm, bucolic atmospheres both in the duets with saxophonist Jan Garbarek of Red Lanta (november 1973) and on his solo piano album The Eccentricities Of Earl Dant (february 1977). He also formed a quartet with Mark Isham on trumpet that recorded Rubisa Patrol (may 1976), with Corinthian Melodies, and Desert Marauders (june 1977), with the 16-minute Desert Marauders, both dominated by languid tones. Quasi-classical ambitions surfaced in the 23-minute solo-piano sonata The Story Of Ned Tra-La (august 1977), off The Story Of Ba-Ku and the 19-minute The Story Of Ba-Ku (august 1978) for piano, three reed players, bass and drums off The Story Of Ba-Ku. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

White saxophonist John Klemmer, based in Los Angeles since 1968, electrified the saxophone in order to obtain the evocative sound more appropriate for his smooth fusion-tinged excursions. He had one of the big hits of that season, Touch (august 1975).

White pianist Steve Kuhn established his fusion style that flirted with free jazz and classical music (and therefore exhibited a lot more dynamics and instability than the average smooth fusion-jazz of the era) with the brilliant solo Ecstasy (november 1974) and Trance (november 1974), accompanied by bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Jack DeJohnette. Playground (july 1979) inaugurated Kuhn's collaboration with avantgarde vocalist Sheila Jordan. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

White bassist Steve Swallow's credentials were already colossal thanks to high-caliber tenures with Paul Bley (1960-65), Jimmy Giuffre (1960-62), George Russell (1961-62), Art Farmer (1962-65), Stan Getz (1965-67), Gary Burton (1967-70), before he switched to the electric bass, playing it like a high-toned guitar, almost a contradiction in terms. His best work was probably done with Carla Bley, starting in 1978. Swallow (november 1991), with Soca Symphony, was perhaps his best display of technique, but his solo work was mostly hampered by inferior material.

Later in the decade, Prime Time's bassist Jamaaladeen Tacuma crafted two of the most virulent albums of funk-jazz, Show Stopper (1983) and Renaissance Man (1984), both translating Ornette Coleman's invention into a diverse range of scenarios.

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