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Ch. 13: Fusion – The Jazz-Rock-Funk Experience


Once all musical rules were broken, there was only one direction that jazz could go: back towards a more structured environment. Although the direction was singularly away from what some viewed as musical anarchy, the paths were several. By combining jazz with rock ‘n roll, classical, or world music, musicians in the ’60s and ’70s formed new hybrids of the jazz language.

At the same time that Ornette Coleman was pulling away from the traditional confines of accepted jazz and pop sounds, a new youth oriented stream of jazz creativity was emerging like a phoenix from the ashes of bop and cool. And unlike free jazz, it was finding acceptance from the masses.

Miles Davis, pioneer of fusion jazz

Its leader was not a twenty year old newcomer from the streets of New York. He was almost forty and had been a veteran of numerous bands incorporating every style from swing to free jazz. His name was Miles Davis.

Davis noticed that the majority of the youth culture of America in the late ’60s was more interested in Hendrix and Sly Stone than in Ornette Coleman and Dizzy Gillespie. In an effort to find a jazz form that was close enough to contemporary music to be accessible to the Beatles/Stones generation, Davis and a few others began to shape an amalgam of sorts that included the funk of James Brown, the R & B of Ray Charles, and the solo elements of Charlie Parker and Hendrix into an instrumental package which resembled a fusion of the jump bands of the late ’40’s and the electronically enhanced sounds of ’60s rock.

At the same time, rock musicians of the late ’60s were expanding their own sonic palate to embrace instruments beyond the guitars and drums. Groups like Chicago and Blood, Sweat and Tears used horn sections with the guitars and drums. Rock was courting jazz at the same time that jazz was courting rock. It was inevitable that the union would take place.

If the marriage of rock and jazz would be signified by one date and event, it would probably be the appearance of Miles Davis’s 1969 album, Bitches Brew. The album is considered by many as the first effort in the new jazz-rock style; combining the drive of rock ‘n roll with the solos and harmonies of jazz played by instruments fully representing both parties.

Many were reluctant to call it jazz, particularly some record producers who were afraid that it might be placed in the same record bin as Coltrane and Coleman. The term “fusion”, which avoided the word jazz at the same time as giving definition to the sound, was the solution.

Herbie Hancock

Within a year, several of Davis’s former players formed their own fusion ensembles: saxophonist Wayne Shorter helped form Weather Report, keyboardists Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock each left Davis to start their own version of the fusion sound. Davis himself continued to expand the fusion palette when he electrified his trumpet, sending it through fuzz tone and distortion pedals in the same way that Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin had been doing with his guitar. The result hinted at an additional later movement called “acid jazz.”

One of the important instrumental developments of the fusion era was the experimentation that took place with electronic keyboards. At first, the electronic piano such as the famous Fender Rhodes, was the only option. But as Robert Moog began to create experimental electronic keyboards small enough to be portable and inexpensive enough to be marketable to fusion keyboardists, a new electronic sound was born: the synthesizer.

At first the synthesizer was only capable of creating wild distortions of the tonal envelope of sound. But with technological advancements like the computer microchip, synthesizers and their cousins, samplers, opened whole new worlds of possibilities to musicians in every field.

Jaco Pastorius, bass player for Weather Report

Another interesting development of the fusion era took place when the jazz stand-up bass player shifted to a bass guitar. This brought about a change in the way the bass guitar was being used in the ensemble.  No longer was it an instrument primarily used to create additional vertical emphasis to the beat of the drums, but through the genius of players like Weather Report’s Jaco Pastorius, the bass took on a horizontal, quasi-melodic nature. At times it sounded like Bird coming through the bass.

For the first time since big band, a type of jazz was gaining a measure of public acceptance. Fusion was that combination of rock energy, dance-able beat, identifiable melody, and solo improvisation that reminded one of both Charlie Parker and James Brown with a little of the Rolling Stones thrown in as well. It was accepted by both critics and public, with several of the albums going gold.

The fusion/funk/rock mix of the ’70s brought recognition to several bands: Earth, Wind and Fire, Tower of Power, and others; they enjoyed public acceptance presenting a form of jazz with a hard-edged beat.

The visionary jazz trumpeter Miles Davis was at the edge of most of the jazz developments from the 1950s until his death in 1991. He had employed almost every one of the young jazz players of the ’50s and ’60s including pianists Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, and Joe Zawinul; saxophonists John Coltrane, Gerry Mulligan, Cannonball Adderly, and Wayne Shorter; guitarist John McLaughlin; and drummers Kenny Clarke and Art Blakey. Davis was present for the invention of bop in the 1940s, was instrumental in the development of cool in the ’50s, and fusion jazz in the ’60s and ’70s. At the time of his death he was working on a collaborative album with Prince.

As with every style in music, evolution was necessary to maintain relevance with the immediate. Eventually, the fusion machine would need to evolve into other forms, but the interest in jazz created by fusion helped spark renewed activity in jazz in high school and college music programs. From the classroom came a new group of virtuosi, interested in their roots as jazz musicians, eager to discover and perform classic charts from big band to cool.

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Study Units

An Overview

Ch. 1: Understanding Pitch

Ch. 2: Understanding Musical Pulse

Ch. 3: Understanding Volume

Ch. 4: Understanding Tone

Ch. 5: Understanding Melody

Ch. 6: Understanding Harmony

Ch. 7: Understanding Rhythm

Ch. 8: Understanding Bass

Ch. 9: Understanding Countermelody

Ch. 10: Understanding Structure

Ch. 11: Understanding Instrumentation

Ch. 12: Understanding Tempo

An Overview

Ch. 1: 19th Century: Pre-Foster

Ch. 2: Folk Music by the People

Ch. 3: Popular Music in its Infancy

Ch. 4: Stephen Foster – “Father of American Popular Music”

Ch. 5: The Importance of Stephen Foster

Ch. 6: Scott Joplin – “King of Ragtime”

Ch. 7: The Player Piano – Automated Music

Ch. 8: John Philip Sousa – “The March King”

Ch. 9: John Philip Sousa – Recording Artist and Activist

An Overview

Ch. 1: John Lomax – Recording American Roots Music

Ch. 2: Woody Guthrie – “Father of Modern American Folk Music”

Ch. 3: Leadbelly & Pete Seeger: End of the First Wave

Ch. 4: The Kingston Trio – Beginning of the Second Wave

Ch. 5: Joan Baez – “First Lady of Folk Music”

Ch. 6: Peter, Paul & Mary – Balancing the Message

Ch. 7: Robert Zimmerman – The Beginning of an American Icon

Ch. 8: Dylan in New York City

Ch. 9: Dylan after Newport

Ch. 10: The Importance of Dylan

Ch. 11: Folk Music in the 21st Century

An Overview

Ch. 1: The Roots of Country

Ch. 2: Bristol Beginnings

Ch. 3: The Grand Ole Opry

Ch. 4: Cowboys and the Movies

Ch. 5: Western Swing

Ch. 6: Bluegrass: Hillbilly on Caffeine

Ch. 7: Honky-tonk: Merging Two into One

Ch. 8: The Nashville Sound: Country-Pop

Ch. 9: Rockabilly – Country meets R&B

Ch. 10: Country Feminists Find Their Voice

Ch. 11: The Bakersfield Sound

Ch. 12: Austin “Outlaw” Country

Ch. 13: Neo-Traditionalists at the end of the 20th Century

Ch. 14: Mainstreaming Country in the ‘90s

Ch. 15: Redesigning Country in the 21st Century

An Overview

Ch. 1: What is Jazz?

Ch. 2: Before It Was Jazz

Ch. 3: Jazz is Born!

Ch. 4: Early Jazz Musicians

Ch. 5: Louis Armstrong

Ch. 6: Chicago and Harlem – Hub of 1920s Jazz

Ch. 7: Big Band – Jazz Swing!

Ch. 8: Big Band Musicians and Singers

Ch. 9: Jump Blues and Bop

Ch. 10: Cool Jazz

Ch. 11: Hard Bop

Ch. 12: Free Jazz – Breaking the Rules

Ch. 13: Fusion – The Jazz-Rock-Funk Experience

Ch. 14: Third Stream and World Jazz

Ch. 15: New Age & Smooth Jazz

Ch. 16: Summary – Jazz Lives!

An Overview

Ch. 1: Blues – The Granddaddy of American Popular Music

Ch. 2: Where Did the Blues Come From?

Ch. 3: What Are the Blues?

Ch. 4: How to Build the Blues

Ch. 5: Classic Blues – The Early Years

Ch. 6: Delta Blues – Authentic Beginnings

Ch. 7: Blues in the City – Migration and Power

Ch. 8: Blues in Britain – Redefining the Masters

Ch. 9: Contemporary Blues – Maturity and Respect

Ch. 10: The Relevancy of the Blues Today

Ch. 1: Timelines, Cultures & Technology

Ch. 2: Pre-Rock Influences

Ch. 3: Rock is Born!

Ch. 4: Rock is Named

Ch. 5: Doo-Wop

Ch. 6: Independent Record Labels

Ch. 7: Technology Shapes Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 8: The Plan to Mainstream Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 9: Payola – Rock ‘n’ Roll’s First Scandal

Ch. 1: Crafting Sound in the Studio/Producers and Hit Songs

Ch. 2: West Coast Sound: Beach, Surf, and Teens

Ch. 3: The British Invasion: Two Prongs – Pop & Blues

Ch. 4: Motown and the Development of a Black Pop-Rock Sound

Ch. 5: Soul Music: Gospel and R&B in the Deep South

Ch. 6: The Sounds of Bubble Gum Pop-Rock

Ch. 7: The Arrival of Folk-Rock

Ch. 8: Psychedelic Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 9: Early Guitar Gods of Rock

Ch. 10: Rock Festivals: The Rise and Fall of Music, Peace, and Love

Ch. 11: Anti-Woodstock and Shock Rock Movements

Ch. 1: Technological Breakthroughs

Ch. 2: Electronic Dance Music

Ch. 3: Hip-Hop & Rap – An Introduction

Ch. 4: The Beginnings of Rap

Ch. 5: Old School Rap – Up From the Streets

Ch. 6: Rap’s Golden Age

Ch. 7: East Coast – Political Rap

Ch. 8: West Coast – Gangsta Rap

Ch. 9: The Fragmentation of Rap – Pop, Party & More

Ch. 10: Further Fragmentation – Different Directions

Ch. 11: The Importance of Rap

Ch. 1: Musical Stage Productions in America before the 1800s

Ch. 2: Minstrel Shows and Melodramas

Ch. 3: Stage Presentations in the Late 19th Century

Ch. 4: Early 20th Century: Revues and Operettas

Ch. 5: The Arrival of the Modern American Musical

Ch. 6: Great Partnerships in Book-Musicals

Ch. 7: Musical Theatre Composers in the mid-Century

Ch. 8: Fresh Voices on the Stage in the 1960s

Ch. 9: Two Dominant Forces at the End of the Century

Ch. 10: New Voices at the End of the Century

Ch. 11: New Voices, New Sounds in the New Century

Ch. 12: Musical Theatre Glossary

Ch. 13: Is it “Theatre” or “Theater”?

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