“Jazz bringing this high level of performance

“Jazz is not a style or a rhythm; it’s a self-expression of creativity
in relation to the time we live in”

Although it is unclear who actually said these exact
words first, I do know that some variation of this quote has been passed
through time from the earlier days of jazz to now. To me it says that the
practise of thinking about jazz as only one “traditional” way of doing things
is the opposite of what jazz really is. It says that the mission of jazz as a
genre is to reach points that haven’t been reached before, and to always strive
for progression. The two people I have heard attributed to this quote exemplify
this. Miles Davis and Jojo Mayer, two of the most forward thinking musicians
for their time period. Miles Davis, a man who has pushed the boundaries of
music further than most ever will and Jojo Mayer, a man continuing Miles’
legacy of forward thinking through music.

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          The main
topic I want to focus on with this essay is a genre that has progressed music
as a whole in a very big way, jazz fusion. Generally thought of as “jazz-rock”,
it’s often dismissed by traditionalists as something lesser than “the real
stuff”, but to me fusion is much more than that. From its beginnings in the
early 20th century jazz musicians were always highly trained and skilled
musicians, thanks in no small part due to many early musicians being trained
for military marching bands. This tradition of top quality musicians continued on
through the timeline of jazz, resulting in some of the most complex and well
performed music of all time. At some point in this musical timeline these
musicians began to think of the possibilities of bringing this high level of
performance to other genres, and with that fusion was born.

          It was the
1960s, and outside of jazz, music was progressing in many different ways, you
had folk beginning to lead a political revolution, soul was crawling up the
charts and rock music was reaching new and different heights, but not without
the notice of a few curious jazz musicians. One of these musicians was
vibraphone player Gary Burton. Burton, fresh from playing in Saxophonist Stan
Getz’s band, felt a need to rejuvenate jazz music for his own sake, to retain a
like minded, similarly aged audience. What better way to do this then to fuse
with what’s pushing boundaries at that time?

“So I asked myself … What do I find interesting or exciting? And right
at that time I had become a big Beatles fan. They were really new and

From this initial concept Burton went on to form a
quartet featuring Steve Swallow on bass, Roy Haynes on drums and Larry Coryell
on guitar. Together they recorded the album “Duster”, which is widely
considered the first real jazz fusion record, opening the door for endless possibilities
in this new and exciting style.

          From here
the style kept evolving, keeping up to date with what was making waves at that
time, the next obvious example being the psychedelic fusion records made by
Miles Davis, such as “In a Silent Way” and “Bitches Brew”. Released during the
climactic period of the hippie movement these albums were big successes in commercially,
spiking people’s interests in the possibilities of taking jazz sensibilities
and ideas and fusing them with rock inspired aesthetics. The music in the
albums weren’t the only thing that progressed these ideas though; the albums
also brought attention to a host of musicians who had their own ideas of how
this music could sound and gave them a platform to work off of. For example you
had Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter who would go onto form monster fusion band “Weather
Report”, John McLaughlin would put together “The Mahavishnu Orchestra” and
Chick Corea who among success as a soloist formed “Return to Forever”. These
three bands among others formed the most noted style of fusion, one that took
from progressive and psychedelic rock genres to give a very demanding,
technical sound. While this is what fusion is generally remembered for, the
extent of the genre stretches much further than this. Fusion was and still is
an outlet for jazz musicians to influence other style and broaden the scope of
jazz in the process.

from this we move onto another style of fusion that had been brewing along with
rock for a while, funk.  Funk was a
derivative of earlier soul music with a heavy emphasis on groove. It was music
that made people dance, similar to an earlier incarnation of jazz, swing. It
was music that connected with a young black audience like jazz once did, and
this was a large motivation behind one of the genres influential albums “On the
Corner” by Miles Davis. Although not the first of its kind, it definitely set
people thinking about using the palette of colours created by funk in a
different way. Just as with his rock fusion efforts Miles Davis influenced the
funk side of the genre with more than just his music. Herbie Hancock, one of
Miles’ keyboard players, is regarded as one of the most influential jazz funk
artists of his era. His band The Headhunters recorded many massive jazz-funk
songs, most notably “Chameleon”.

          A much
unexpected fusion that happened was that of jazz and folk music. Though not as
prominent as many fusion styles, it still had an impact on both genres. The
most notable example of this is probably With Joni Mitchell and her band, Although
it wasn’t always consistent, it generally consisted of Jaco Pastorius on bass, Michael
Brecker on saxophone, Pat Metheny on Guitar and Don Alias on drums. Together
they made landmark Jazz Folk albums such as “Hejira” and “Mingus”, the latter
being a collaborative effort between Mitchell and famed jazz composer Charles
Mingus. Pentangle were another group pushing folk outside of its usual
boundaries with jazz influences, notably their album “Basket of Light”.

fusion is a genre generally associated with the 60s and 70s, brand new and
innovative fusions of genres continued far beyond then and are still continuing
today. In the late 80s and early 90s hip hop started to become more prominent
in popular culture, and being a genre that originated in young black
communities in America, a jazz influence and fusion was inevitable. From its
inception hip hop was generally based around a drum loop and a sampled chord progression
or the like on top, and near the end of the 80s sampled sections form jazz
tunes started popping up on hip hop recordings. It wouldn’t be until a
collective known as “Native Tongues” featuring hugely influential groups A
Tribe called Quest, De La Soul and the Jungle Brothers came along that a fully
fledged fusion of the genres would happen.

          At this
point hip hop was evolving into a serious forward thinking music, using new
techniques to produce sounds and constantly evolving. Members from the
collective had been releasing jazz influenced tracks for a while but the most
influential record released was A Tribe Called Quest’s “The Low End Theory”.
This album really took the sound and vibe created by jazz and fused it with the
forward momentum of hip hop to give great results. Former Miles Davis bassist
Ron Carter features on the album. After this albums release the fusion of jazz
and hip hop became much more widespread, and is on the rise in recent times
with modern rappers. Most notably Kendrick Lamar is spearheading this fusion,
with his 2015 release “To Pimp A Butterfly”. This album features some of the
most talented modern jazz musicians such as Stephen “Thundercat” Bruner on
bass, Terrace Martin on alto saxophone, Kamasi Washington on tenor saxophone,
Robert Glasper on keys and a host of other talents.

          On the
other side of the coin, like in the past jazz musicians noticed that hip hop
was a fresh new genre and they wanted some. As you can probably guess from the past,
Miles Davis was one of the first to dive into this experiment with his album “Doo
Bop”, and not long followed by his former band mate Herbie Hancock “Dis Is Da
Drum”. Neither album was a massive success nor was any musical revolution was
started due to either, but I feel that what they were trying to start is coming
to fruition now.

          Going back
to a name I mentioned in the beginning of this essay I want to introduce my
last and, in my opinion, most exciting fusion genre. The name is Jojo Mayer, a
jazz drummer who is leading a revolution of live electronic music intertwined with
jazz improvisation. Jojo was influenced by the Jungle and Drum & Bass that
came out of the UK in the early 90s and began trying to “reverse engineer” the
drum sounds he heard, learning to play them on an acoustic kit. From these
experimentations arose his famed “Prohibited Beatz” parties that featured live
electronic music performances featuring Jojo on drums, and from these parties
grew his band “Nerve”, consisting of John Davis on bass, Jacob Bergson on keys
and Aaron Nevezie who is in control of sound and real-time audio deconstruction.
This music is to me the most forward thinking music out there at the minute,
and it came to be because of jazz fusion. If not history now it will be

          Many of these attempts at creating
any sort of fusion genre outside of jazz were ridiculed by more traditional
thinkers, but without them I believe jazz music would have stagnated and the
entire musical spectrum would be lagging behind where it is today. Be thankful
for jazz fusion as it has had massive implications for the direction of all
progressive music, and it will for a long time.