A history of Jazz Music

by Piero Scaruffi
See also the The History of Rock Music and the The History of Pop Music
Back to the History of Jazz Music | Jazz musicians | Main jazz page
To purchase the book

TM, ®, Copyright © 2005 Piero Scaruffi. All rights reserved.
All photographs are property of the label/agency that provided them

(These are excerpts from my book "A History of Jazz Music")

Guitar heroes

By the mid 1970s, the fusion of jazz with rock had had the effect of greatly increasing the status of the guitar in jazz music. In fact, after decades of neglect, the guitar came to dominate jazz music in the last quarter of the century the way the saxophone had dominated until the 1960s.

After playing free jazz with Pharoah Sanders (1966-68) while he was playing funk-jazz with Herbie Mann (1969-72), guitarist Warren "Sonny" Sharrock recorded three albums with his wife Linda Sharrock's wordless vocals: Black Woman (may 1969), featuring trumpeter Teddy Daniel, pianist Dave Burrell, bassist Norris "Sirone" Jones and drummer Milford Graves, that displayed the influence of free jazz (Peanut, Portrait of Linda and the first version of his signature tune Blind Willy); Monkey-Pockie-Boo (june 1970), possibly his most personal album, crowned by the 17-minute stream of consciousness of 27th Day (mostly on slide whistle instead of guitar) and the nine-minute Monkey-Pockie-Boo; and Paradise (july 1975), introducing electronic keyboards in the sound of the couple and emphasizing Linda's Jeanne Lee-like vocal workouts (Miss Doris, Gary's Step), an avant-funk experiment that predated the new wave of rock music. The background of his guitar playing was fundamentally the blues, but at the same time he erupted a loud, aggressive, feedback-laden, quasi heavy-metal technique. Sharrock was trying to emulate both the visceral style of John Coltrane on the saxophone and the dissonant, decadent style of Jimi Hendrix.
For six years Sharrock did not make a single record. It was white bassist Bill Laswell, a protagonist of the new wave, who rediscovered him for Material's Memory Serves (1981). Dance with Me Montana (march 1982), not released until 1986, contained embryonic versions of his classics She's Only Fourteen, Dance With Me Montana and Dick Dogs.
Laswell also organized Last Exit, an avant-funk mixed-race quartet with Sharrock, German saxophonist Peter Brotzmann and drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson that played virulent jazz-rock, influenced by both the brutal edge of punk-rock and the cerebral stance of the new wave. Laswell was the brain, but Sharrock was the epitome: Last Exit played the kind of loud, savage jazz-rock and free jazz that Sharrock had pioneered. The catch, of course, was that Laswell had put together four mad improvisers, ranging from the cacophonic Brotzmann to the hysterical Sharrock to Laswell's dub bass. Last Exit (february 1986) was a set of totally improvised jams, with frantic peaks in Redlight and Crackin', but pale in comparison with the massive 18-minute Hard School on the live Koln (february 1986). The other Last Exit live recording, The Noise of Trouble (october 1986), was a humbler study in contrasts, despite Panzer Bebop.
Sharrock overdubbed himself for the solo Guitar (february 1986), achieving both his most challenging technique and emotional pathos in the four-movement suite Princess Sonata. He then partnered with rock bassist Melvin Gibbs and avantgarde drummer Pheeroan Aklaff for Seize the Rainbow (may 1987), that attempted a fusion of heavy metal and fusion jazz (a ten-minute version of Fourteen).
In the meantime, Last Exit's punk-jazz achieved a different kind of intensity on The Iron Path (1988), a set of ten short pieces, and the live Headfirst Into The Flames (1989).
Sharrock also played on two albums by Machine Gun, a free-form improvising group, Machine Gun (1988) and Open Fire (1989).
A quartet with two free-jazz veterans, Pharoah Sanders and Elvin Jones, on Ask the Ages (1991) restored Sharrock's status as a unique guitarist and composer (Promises Kept, Many Mansions) and pushed it to new insane heights, but he died in 1994. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

South Carolina-born electric guitarist James "Blood" Ulmer relocated to New York in 1971. After playing with Ornette Coleman (1972-74), he developed an aggressive, edgy, jangled, dissonant style at the instrument that transposed Coleman's "harmolodic" free jazz coupled with Jimi Hendrix's psychedelic funk-blues-rock fusion (and loud amplification).
Revealing (1977), in a quartet with tenor saxophonist George Adams, bassist Cecil McBee and drummer Doug Hammond, contained four lengthy jams (particularly Revealing and Overtime). Ulmer used the same kind of quartet, but with Ornette Coleman on alto saxophone and Jamaladeen Tacuma on bass, on the more famous but less adventurous Tales From Captain Black (december 1978), containing eight short pieces. The difference was not so much Coleman, but Tacuma, thanks to whom the sound became visceral and funky. Are You Glad To Be In America (january 1980), with the formidable rhythm section of drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson and bassist Amin Ali, was structured again as a series of (ten) demonstrations (notably Lay Out and Time Out) of Ulmer's potential, somewhere between the Pop Group and Bill Laswell's Material.
Ulmer returned to the extended free-jam format of Revealing with the Music Revelation Ensemble, a quartet with tenor saxophonist David Murray, bassist Amin Ali and drummer Ronald Shannon Jackson. No Wave (june 1980) contained four energetic pieces, particularly Time Table, Big Tree and Baby Talk.
But the albums under his own name valued instead structure and brevity. Increasing the ferocity of his attack via Free Lancing (1981), whose Timeless was almost punk-rock, Ulmer achieved the brutal peak of Black Rock (1982), debuting flutist Sam Sanders and coupling Ali's bass with drummer Grant Calvin Weston, a collection that ran the gamut from hardcore (Open House) to free-jazz (We Bop) and focused on the middleground, a radio-friendly fusion of hard-rock and funk music (Black Rock). The idea was ready for mass consumption, and Ulmer, accompanied only by violin and drums, and relying ever more on his vocals, found a huge audience with Odyssey (may 1983),
Ulmer teamed up with tenor saxophonist George Adams and created the quartet Phalanx. Their Got Something Good For You (september 1985) featured Ali and Weston, whereas Original (february 1987) and In Touch (february 1988) boasted bassist Norris "Sirone" Jones and drummer Rashied Ali.
America Do You Remember the Love? (september 1986) was a jazz-rock quartet session with guitarist Nicky Skopelitis, bassist Bill Laswell and Ronald Shannon Jackson, heavily influenced by Laswell's ambient/world philosophy.
Ulmer finally resurrected the Music Revelation Ensemble (with Jamaaladeen Tacuma replacing Ali) for Music Revelation Ensemble (february 1988), indulging in six free-form jams (notably Body Talk, Playtime, Nisa). The rhythm section changed (Amin Ali and drummer Cornell Rochester) for Elec Jazz (march 1990), that had the free-jazz workout Big Top (in two parts), Exit (also in two parts), the eight-minute ballad No More and the ten-minute Taps Dance. After Dark (october 1991) contained Maya, the 12-minute avant-ballad Never Mind, and After Dark, his first experiment with a string quartet. Basically, as Ulmer moved away from free jazz in his albums, he moved back into free jazz with the Ensemble.
Ulmer's most ambitious album, Harmolodic Guitar with Strings (july 1993) contained three multi-movement suites for guitar and string quartet (Arena, Page One, Black Sheep), each movement being very short.
With Murray replaced by guest saxophonists (Arthur Blythe on alto in Non-Believer, Hamiet Bluiett on baritone in The Dawn, or Sam Rivers on soprano in In Time, on tenor in Help and on flute in Mankind), the Music Revelation Ensemble rode the cacophonic maelstrom of In The Name Of (december 1993). The funkier Knights of Power (april 1995) was less terrifying, but still contained powerful pieces such as Convulsion (with Bluiett) and The Elephant (with Blythe). Cross Fire (december 1996), with bassist Calvin Jones replacing Ali, used Pharoah Sanders' tenor saxophone (notably in My Prayer) and John Zorn's alto saxophone. These Ensemble albums were also vehicles for Ulmer to showcase his supernatural technique at the guitar, freed from the song-oriented constraints of his solo albums. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

Oregon's guitarist Ralph Towner, who had been Oregon's main composer, was not much of a virtuoso, but had few rivals in crafting seductive atmospheres. Towner introduced the acoustic twelve-string guitar to jazz. Diary (april 1973), a milestone of introspective and meditational jazz, ran the gamut from Dark Spirit, a neoclassical sonata for guitar and piano (both played by Towner), to the jazzy saraband of Ogden Road. After the mediocre Matchbook (july 1974) with vibraphonist Gary Burton, Towner reach a zenith of magic and bliss on Solstice (december 1974), in a quartet with saxophonist Jan Garbarek, bassist Eberhard Weber and drummer Jon Christensen, weaving the oneiric filigrees of Drifting Petals, intoning the exuberant Oceanus and riding the sax-flute dances of Nimbus. After the evanescent Sargasso Sea (may 1976) with guitarist John Abercrombie, Towner refined his format on the second Solstice album, Sound And Shadows (february 1977), a set of five lengthy pieces, each one shimmering melancholy from the haunting Balance Beam to the feathery Arion to the quasi-psychedelic Songs of the Shadows and to Oregon's Distant Hills. Towner's compositional skills peaked with Batik (january 1978), in a trio with bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Jack DeJohnette, boasting the 16-minute jazz-rock juggernaut Batik, as well as the fragile Trellis and the lively Waterwheel. After another jazzy effort, Old Friends New Friends (july 1979), featuring trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, cellist David Darling, bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Michael DiPasqua, and containing the catchy Beneath An Evening Sky, Towner adopted a simpler language for Solo Concert (october 1979), spinning colloquial, folkish proto-ballads (Chelsea Courtyard) and wordless fairy tales (Spirit Lake). TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

Missouri-born white guitarist Pat Metheny debuted on Pastorius Metheny Ditmas Bley (1974) with Paul Bley and Jaco Pastorius, and played on Gary Burton's Dreams So Real (1975) and Passengers (1976), albums that popularized the twelve-string electric guitar.
His debut as a leader, Bright Size Life (december 1975), a trio session featuring Pastorius and drummer Bob Moses (also fresh from Burton's group), introduced more than just an electric instrument (two with Pastorius' bass) to jazz music: the key factor was the domestic and naturalistic mood of the Midwest's white farming culture that permeated every piece (especially Midwestern Nights Dream). The experimental (Sirabhorn) and melodic (Unity Village, an overdubbed duet between two electric guitars) were mere variations on the same theme. The album also relied on the spontaneous equilibrium between Metheny, who was shaping the sound of the electric guitar, and Pastorius, who was revolutionizing the electric bass.
Watercolors (february 1977) debuted a quartet with pianist Lyle Mays, bassist Eberhard Weber and drummer Danny Gottlieb. As the title implied, Metheny's compositions were shifting towards an impressionistic, chromatic aesthetic. The idyllic Watercolors, the turbulent Icefire, and the ten-minute odyssey Sea Song relied on elegant counterpoint, crystalline tones and youthful exuberance.
Adopting those elements as dogmas, the following year Metheny formed his fusion Group with Mays, Gottlieb and bassist Mark Egan. Mays was co-responsible for most of the material (notably the edgy ten-minute San Lorenzo, as well as a couple of eight-minute rhapsodies, Phase Dance and April Joy) and the overall atmosphere of Group (january 1978), a symbiosis that was to become the essence of the Group's music.
If, before Metheny, fusion jazz had to pretend to be "black" in order to qualify for a slot in jazz magazines and record stores, with Metheny any pretense was set aside. Metheny's jazz was as white as country or folk music. The closest relative to his guitar picking was Jerry Garcia of the Grateful Dead. That he did not acknowledge much of the history of jazz was also implied by the fact that his material was mostly self-penned and hardly referenced any of the masters. The jazz heritage was a mere technicality, just like the guitar was originally invented in Spain but that didn't imply that every guitar piece had to pay tribute to Spanish music.
His solo work paled in comparison: New Chautauqua (august 1978) contained pieces for overdubbed electric guitars (acoustic, six-string electric, twelve-string electric, electric bass and even fifteen-string harp guitar) that rarely achieved the same intensity and mostly indulged in a bucolic feeling (Daybreak).
The Group's American Garage (june 1979), instead, skyrocketed to the top of the charts, thanks to the catchy Heartland and streamlined arrangements, although the 13-minute Epic displayed the quartet's experimental side. The Group moved towards progressive-rock with the convoluted 21-minute suite As Falls Wichita So Falls Wichita on As Falls Wichita So Falls Wichita (september 1980), that debuted Brazilian percussionist Nana Vasconcelos.
Metheny showed his jazz credentials on the double-LP 80/81 (may 1980), a collaboration with tenor saxophonists Dewey Redman and Michael Brecker, bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Jack DeJohnette, highlighted by the folk-bop fusion of the 21-minute Two Folk Songs, the 14-minute Coleman-ian group improvisation of Open, the cerebral Pretty Scattered and the 13-minute ballad Everyday I Thank You. The "jazz" trilogy was completed by Rejoicing (november 1983), a trio session with Haden and Billy Higgins, more important for Metheny's The Calling (that popularized the guitar synthesizer) than for the Coleman covers, and Song X (december 1985), a collaboration with Ornette Coleman that was mostly Coleman's.
The Group, on the other hand, was progressively moving towards Brazilian pop-jazz muzak via Offramp (october 1981), with bassist Steve Rodby replacing Egan (Are You Going with Me, Au Lait), First Circle (february 1984), featuring Argentinian multi-instrumentalist Pedro Aznar and with drummer Paul Wertico replacing Gottlieb (End of the Game, The First Circle), Still Life (april 1987), featuring Brazilian percussionist Armando Marcal (Third Wind, Minuano), and Letter from Home (1989), with Every Summer Night.
Metheny's releases became more and more erratic and the Group wandered aimlessly through pop muzak, on We Live Here (1994), acoustic folk, on Quartet (may 1996), and world-music, on Imaginary Day (1997), which was the best recording of the decade.
An artistic rebirth of sorts took place in the new millennium. The Group's live double-CD Speaking of Now (2001) featured Mays, Rodby, Mexican drummer Antonio Sanchez, trumpeter Cuong Vu and Cameroonian bassist Richard Bona (Gathering Sky, Proof). Adding Swiss harmonica player Gregoire Maret to the line-up, the Group's 68-minute four-movement suite The Way Up (2004) was Metheny's and Mays' most ambitious and eclectic composition ever, running the gamut from minimalist repetition to romantic melody. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

Japanese guitarist Kazumi Watanabe, who had debuted with the four lengthy suites of Endless Way (july 1975), accompanied by saxophone (Hidefumi Toki), trombone, bass and drums, attained celebrity with the smooth fusion music of ensemble recordings such as Kylyn (may 1979) and Mobo I (september 1983), but his more original take on the genre was perhaps To Chi Ka (march 1980), featuring keyboardist Kenny Kirkland and vibraphonist Mike Manieri. Spice Of Life (november 1986) debuted a trio with rock drummer Bill Bruford and bassist Jeff Berlin. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

After playing on albums by Billy Cobham (1974-76) and Charles Mingus (1977), Ohio-born white guitarist John Scofield embarked on a solo career as a purveyors of funk-jazz fusion with East Meets West (august 1977), a trio session highlighted by the lengthy Public Domain and V., Live (november 1977), for a piano-based quartet that indulged in the 15-minute Gray and Visceral, Rough House (november 1978), with Rough House for another piano-based quartet, and Who's Who (1979), with How The West Was Won. While he was playing in Dave Liebman's group (1978-80), Scofield formed a trio with bassist Steve Swallow and drummer Adam Nussbaum that helped refine both his playing and his composing via Bar Talk (august 1980), with Fat Dancer, Shinola (december 1981), with Yawn, and the live Out Like a Light (december 1981), with the spectacular Holidays.
While he was playing with Miles Davis (1983-87), Scofield toyed with different formats: a quintet with altoist David Sanborn, trombonist Ray Anderson, synthesizer and drums for Electric Outlet (may 1984), containing his signature tune Pick Hits; a quartet with electronic keyboardist Don Grolnick, electric bassist Darryl Jones and drummer Omar Hakim for Still Warm (june 1985), containing the lyrical Still Warm and the quirky Techno and Rule Of Thumb; a quintet with keyboards, bass, drums and percussion for Blue Matter (september 1986), containing the funky Blue Matter and Time Marches On; the same quintet plus keyboardist George Duke for Loud Jazz (december 1987), that further reduced the length of the pieces (Dirty Rice, Spy Vs Spy); an organ-based quartet (Don Grolnick on organ) inspired by New Orleans' rhythm'n'blues for Flat Out (december 1988). Best was the piano-less quartet a` la Ornette Coleman with tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano, bassist Charlie Haden and drummer Jack DeJohnette that recorded Time on my Hands (november 1989), and inspired Scofield to compose Wabash III, Stranger To The Light and Farmacology. And Lovano stole the show on Meant To Be (december 1990), with a new rhythm section (bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Bill Stewart) and inventive solos in Big Fun and Go Blow. This was high-caliber funk-jazz, despite the fact that Scofield refrained from venturing into group improvisation or the kind of suites favored by progressive-rock.
If James "Blood" Ulmer came from the free-jazz tradition, Scofield stood solidly in the bebop tradition, but filtered through his roots in white rhythm'n'blues, his upbringing in fusion jazz and a pervasive rock influence on his guitar technique. At the same time, Scofield quickly matured as a composer in a Mingus-ian vein.
Thus Grace Under Pressure (december 1991), featuring fellow guitarist Bill Frisell, Haden and drummer Joey Baron, excelled at both straight-ahead jazz (Grace Under Pressure) and at jazz-rock on the brink of insanity (Scenes From a Marriage). Scofield was beginning to feel more comfortable with longer and more eccentric tracks also with the Lovano-led quartet on What We Do (may 1992), with Camp Out, Call 911 and Why Nogales.
Scofield moved towards an old-fashioned sound with the funk-soul-jazz fusion of Hand Jive (october 1993), featuring veteran soul-jazz saxophonist Eddie Harris as well as organist Larry Goldings (Do Like Eddie, Golden Gaze, Dark Blue), and Groove Elation (1995), on which Goldings became Scofield's alter-ego (Carlos). TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

Italian-American electric guitarist Al DiMeola, who made his name in Chick Corea's Return To Forever (1974-76) when he was still a teenager, was emblematic of the mix of technical mastery and relaxing material (but devoid of innovation or challenge) that came to be expected from fusion guitarists. His first album, Land of the Midnight Sun (july 1976), coined a delicate blend of baroque fusion-jazz and melodic progressive-rock in two nine-minute pieces, Land of the Midnight Sun and the three-movement suite Golden Dawn. DiMeola's style rapidly converged towards a stereotyped kind of Latin-tinged fusion via Elegant Gypsy (january 1977), that included an acoustic duet with fellow guitarist Paco de Lucia (Mediterranean Sundance), an electric-guitar tour de force (Race With Devil on Spanish Highway) and another nine-minute suite (Elegant Gypsy), Casino (september 1977), with another tour de force (the multi-tracked Fantasia Suite for Two Guitars), catchy numbers (Senor Mouse, Egyptian Danza) and the customary nine-minute suite, Casino, and the double-LP Splendido Hotel (1979), a sort of self-celebration in various configurations (Alien Chase On Arabian Desert, Dinner Music Of The Gods).
In the 1980s DiMeola reemerged as an acoustic Pat Metheny-inspired guitarist of sentimental moods at the intersection of new-age and world-music. The new classics were: the eleven-minute Cielo E Terra on Cielo E Terra (1985), Beijing Demons and Rhapsody of Fire on Tirami Su (april 1987), Morocco and Phantom on Kiss My Axe (may 1991), and, after declaring his love for Argentinian tango composer Astor Piazzolla on the all-acoustic World Sinfonia (october 1990), Grande Passion on Grande Passion (april 2000) and Zona Desperata on Flesh on Flesh (april 2002). TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

Minnesota's white guitarist Steve Tibbetts coined a dreamy, intimate version of jazz-rock, occasionally bordering on spiritual new-age music, on the solo Steve Tibbetts (1976), rich in studio effects, on Yr (1980) for overdubbed guitars, bass, exotic percussion and recording techniques (that become an instrument in themselves) and on Northern Song (october 1981), an evocation of supernatural landscapes by guitar and percussion, notably the lengthy Nine Doors. On the other hand, Safe Journey (november 1983), that returned to the guitar-bass-percussion configuration, and Exploded View (1986), that added wordless vocals to the exotic jazz-rock stew, bordered on psychedelic rock and heavy metal. The broad palette of Tibbetts' music was further expanded on Big Map Idea (1988) by Three Letters, a study in chamber world-music with ethnic samples, and on The Fall Of Us All (1994) , a visceral set of intrepid solos over complex polyrhythmic patterns with an ever stronger ethnic accent. The tone of Tibbetts' neurotic sacred music became more hypnotic on Cho (january 1996), a collaboration with Tibetan nun Choying Drolma, and A Man About A Horse (2002), that returned to his preferred configuration of guitar, bass, exotic percussion and field recordings. Tibbetts' career was one unlikely symbiosis between urban emotional imbalance and pastoral spiritual equilibrium. TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

White guitarist Steve Khan refined his smooth, tuneful and delicate fusion music over two albums, Tightrope (april 1977) and The Blue Man (february 1978), that featured trumpeter Randy Brecker, tenor saxophonist Michael Brecker, alto saxophonist David Sanborn, pianist Don Grolnick, bassist Bob James and drummer Steve Gadd. A looser, more improvised style emerged with Eyewitness (november 1981).

White guitarist Mike Stern, who had made his name with Billy Cobham (1979) and Miles Davis (1981), crafted a string of albums overflowing with energetic jazz-rock interplay and longer and longer solos: Neesh (september 1983), featuring alto saxophonist David Sanborn, Upside Downside (april 1986), Time In Place (december 1987), Jigsaw (february 1989), Odds or Evens (1991), Is What It Is (1994), Between The Lines (february 1996). He reached a zenith of virtuoso sophistication with Play (september 1999), after which he was able to harmoniously import pop melody, world music and wordless singing into Voices (september 2001). TM, ®, Copyright © 2006 Piero Scaruffi All rights reserved.

His wife, German guitarist Leni Stern, had a keen sense of how to arrange pieces straddling the border between pop, jazz and rock, demonstrated since Clairvoyant (december 1985).

Next chapter | Back to the Index

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