The Fusion of Jazz and Rock
Not all musicians in the 1960s were driven to the frightening boundaries of self-destruction so common in psychedelic and rock. And not all gifted musicians dropped out of college to protest against the establishment. There were many fine young musicians who found a way to balance their musical desires and goals with the realities of society and the market place.
What happened was a little surprising. A small number of jazz hopefuls who knew they would starve in the world of jazz turned to rock to make a living. And a small crowd of rock musicians who hungered for greater improvisatory freedom turned to jazz as a musical compromise.
The result was a new style that sounded sometimes like rock and sometimes like jazz. It was, in fact, a synthesis of each. Industry executives and journalists spoke openly about "jazz-rock" and everyone seemed comfortable. For discussion purposes, two terms can be used: (1) "rock-oriented fusion" which, for all the jazz elements, still has the even eighth-note feeling of rock, and (2) "jazz-oriented fusion" which, for all its rock elements, often has the uneven eighth-note feeling of jazz.
Blood, Sweat & Tears
As a band called Blues Project was dissolving in the late 1960s, two of its members, Al Kooper and Steve Katz, recruited drummer Bobby Colomby and bassist Jim Fielder, and formed a new band. They added four horn players and called their new band Blood, Sweat & Tears – a term taken from a famous speech by Winston Churchill during World War II.
Al Kooper explained the name to rock scholar Adam Dolgins for his book called Rock Names.
I was playing in an all-night jam session, and I had cut my finger but didn't know it. When they turned the lights on at the end of the evening, the organ keyboard was covered with blood. So I called everybody over, and I said, "Wouldn't this make a great album cover for a band called Blood, Sweat & Tears? And so we called it that, except we didn't use that picture because no one had a camera (page 28).
The horn players were Fred Lipsius on alto saxophone and clarinet (also keyboards and arranger); Dick Halligan on trombone (also flute, keyboards, and arranger); and Randy Brecker and Jerry Weiss on trumpets, who rounded out the original eight-man line up (Stuessy 1990, 260). Shortly after their first album, The Child Is Father to the Man (1968), Kooper, Brecker, and Weiss left, being replaced by Lew Soloff, Chuck Winfield, and David Clayton-Thomas. More personnel changes came in the 1970s.
Some of their best tracks includes "Spinning Wheel", "You've Made Me So Very Happy", "When I Die", "Hi-De-Ho", "Lucretia MacEvil", and their masterpiece "Symphony for the Devil/Sympathy for the Devil", a stunning rearrangement of the Rolling Stones' work (Stuessy 1990, 263).
With several bachelors and masters of music degrees among the members, Blood, Sweat & Tears served up exciting music that, for all its intellectual input and jazz-tinged sounds, still felt like it belonged in the broad tradition of mainstream rock.
In the late 1980s, David Clayton-Thomas re-formed Blood, Sweat & Tears with many new faces. Although Clayton-Thomas retired in 2004, Blood, Sweat & Tears still tours globally.
Another horn-dominated rock-oriented fusion band started out as the Missing Links, then changed to The Big Thing, but then was renamed the Chicago Transit Authority by James William Guercio when he took over the band's management in 1967. Guercio had worked for Blood, Sweat & Tears, and he seems to have put the same kind of band together when he got control of Chicago Transit Authority.
Guercio recalls, "I came up with the name because I grew up on the northwest side of Chicago and I had a hell of a time getting to school. I used to have to take the bus. It was called the Chicago Transit Authority" (Dolgins 1993, 41-42). Guercio shortened the name of the band to avoid an expensive battle with Chicago mayor Richard Daley, who had filed a lawsuit.
From 1972 to 1975 the band had five consecutive number one albums, starting with Chicago V and going through Chicago IX, a greatest hits album. Their success and staying power is undoubtedly related to the continuity of personnel. By rock standards, they are most unusual, indeed – Robert Lamm (b. 1944) on keyboards, Peter Cetera (b. 1944) on bass, Terry Kath (1946-1978) on guitar, Danny Seraphine (b. 1948) on drums, Lee Loughnane (b. 1946) on trumpet, James Pankow (b. 1947) on trombone, and Walter Parazaider (b. 1945) on flute and saxophones. Cetera, Kath, and Lamm alternated as lead singers until Kath's death in 1978 and Cetera's departure for a solo career in 1986 (Stuessy 1994, 264-265). These days, lead vocal duties are shared among almost all of the current nine band members.
Some of their early hits, "Make Me Smile", "25 or 6 to 4", "Colour My World", "Saturday in the Park", and "Does Anybody Really Know What Time it Is?" have become rock classics. The band also had at least one Top 40 hit every year in the 1970s, and a total of ten gold albums and five platinum albums (Stuessy 1994, 264).
They change musical scenery every now and then (tours with the Beach Boys, an album with guest artist Maynard Ferguson), and they mix up their musical product with different styles. They are especially good with mixed meters: 2/4-time, 6/8-time, 3/4-time and so on, one after another. And they do it with assuredness.
By all standards, Chicago is one of the premier rock-oriented fusion bands in history of rock. Most successful fusion groups on the rock side followed Chicago's model with an even eighth-note rhythmic behavior, non-jazz voicing of the horns, and a fondness for stretching the pop traditions in form, texture, meter, phrase lengths, and such.
Approaching the concept of fusion from the other side were a number of jazz-rooted musicians, a surprising number of whom had worked with, or were strongly influenced by, the veteran jazz giant Miles Davis.
Far and away the most popular and influential was Weather Report, formed by pianist Joe Zawinul (1932-2007) and saxophonist Wayne Shorter (b. 1933) in 1971. Using standard jazz instruments, but in most unusual ways, Weather Report captured the fancy of jazz and rock fans alike. When Jaco Pastorius (1951-1987) replaced Miroslav Vitouš (b. 1947) on bass, another dimension was felt – stunning virtuosity of bass lines, moods, and tone colors.
Zawinul was the musical mind most dominant in the group, and he composed many of the hits ("Mercy, Mercy, Mercy" and "Birdland", for example). Zawinul was a walking laboratory of new devices – ring modulators, exotic percussion instruments, ocarinas, thumb pianos, Fender Rhodes electric pianos, ARP and Oberheim Polyphonic synthesizers , Echoplex tape delay effects, and every other conceivable device to create a new and interesting sound.
The Mahavishnu Orchestra
John McLaughlin (b. 1942) organized the band in 1971, recruiting pianist Jan Hammer (b. 1948), drummer Billy Cobham (b. 1944), bassist Rick Laird (b. 1941), and violinist Jerry Goodman (b. 1943). McLaughlin, guitarist supreme, came out of British rock traditions, and came to America in the late 1960s where he began to work with Tony Williams' group, Lifetime. McLaughlin also recorded often with Miles Davis.
Birds of Fire (1972) is the Mahavishnu Orchestra's best work, and it shows off McLaughlin's high-intensity rapid-fire playing to great advantage. And he is just as competent on hollow-body standard guitars as he is on his custom-made double-neck, eighteen-string invention.
Other Jazz-Oriented Fusion Personalities
Chick Corea's band called Return to Forever produced the popular hit "Spain" from the Light As a Feather album. With bassist Stanley Clarke, guitarist Al Dimeola, and drummer Lenny White, pianist Corea delivered a high level of jazz-rock offerings.
Herbie Hancock's album Head Hunters came out in 1973 and sold well, eventually going to No. 13 on the album charts. He followed with Thrust in 1974, and then the soundtrack album for the movie Death Wish, which starred Charles Bronson, in October 1974. All three albums were in the jazz-tinged fusion style, and Hancock revealed a keen understanding of the new thing called fusion.
Chuck Mangione, Jeff Beck, Steely Dan (pianist Donald Fagen and bassist Walter Becker), Carlos Santana, and several others fused jazz and rock into artistic statements on many albums through the 1970s.
THE FATHER OF FUSION
Jazz and rock historians invent a "father" for nearly everything. It's a bit contrived, of course, but it does serve to draw attention to the early giants who changed the history of the art form under discussion.
Miles Davis (1926-1991) is everyone's candidate for the Father of Fusion. A lot of things had already been done, but when Miles came out with Bitches Brew in 1969, the whole pop music world suddenly took notice. Here was a jazz giant, already a legend, steeped in acoustic be-bop sounds, and he had surrounded himself with electronic everything. The jazz world was stunned, and many jazz purists were greatly distressed by the thought that Davis had stepped off in the direction of rock.
What he did confused many scholars and critics, too, but it was a natural result of his burning curiosity about music and his relentless search for inventive and expressive ways to say what was on his mind.
Absorbing techniques from all around him like a giant sponge, Davis put it all together in his own intuitive manner – funky ostinato to patterns, mixed meters and odd meters, expanded percussion sounds and an enlarged percussion role in the overall musical fabric, electronic phase shifters and other sound distortion devices, Fender bass rather than acoustic bass, the works.
Fusion it was. Jazz and rock came together in subtle mixtures that produced a new age in each field. There was another new age developing, strangely enough, that sounds and feels considerably different from Weather Report or Blood, Sweat & Tears. That musical style, coincidentally, is commonly called New Age.
In reaction against the decibel levels of acid rock and hard rock, in reaction against the staggering rhythmic complexities of two drummers and three guitars in the same fusion band, and in reaction against the philosophy such powerhouse musical experiences seem to symbolize, a whole new crowd of musicians gradually appeared on the American pop music scene.
They all seemed to have a common approach to music, best summed up, perhaps, by the phrase, "More is not necessarily better." It was almost as if they had said to themselves, "Enough is enough."
Back in 1964, Verve Records released Music for Zen Meditation with a Japanese koto, a shakuhachi flute, and a jazz clarinetist, Tony Scott (1921-2007). In 1967, Scott came out with another odd combination of instruments on Music for Yoga Meditation. Tony Scott was among the first to experiment with completely new sounds, but it took a while before the movement would attract a market.
Certain general characteristics of New Age appear over and over again in the various styles of the field. A lot of it is instrumental. It tries to evoke an image. It seems to be especially focused, almost a dialogue between the music and the listener. It has a meditative and reflective attitude, being for the heart and mind, not for the glands. It avoids negative feelings, and album notes use words like peaceful, gentle, special, lyric, tranquil, sensuous, lush. It often comes in compositions twenty minutes long, or more.
Critics called it Muzak for the Yuppies. Religious critics feared it was music for the cult crowd. Serious classical, rock, and jazz fans just yawned. Several schools of New Age are found.
Guitarist William Ackerman (b. 1949) dropped out of college to become a carpenter. With natural business instincts, he soon formed a construction company called Windham Hill Builders. In his spare time, he composed guitar music for Stanford University theater productions. His friends encouraged him to record an album of his own tunes.
Again his business instincts took over, and he formed Windham Hill Records in 1978, producing for George Winston, Alex de Grassi, Liz Story, and others. Ackerman was a most unusual businessman. He really listened to his composer-performers, and tried to capture their intent and content with the most sophisticated technology. He paid careful attention to the physical aspects of the record itself – with loving care given to an artistic cover, the highest quality paper used throughout, and intelligent liner notes. The total package was a work of art. It was refreshing.
The folk-traditional-acoustic school of New Age will occasionally have modest jazz nuances, but it is more likely to sound a bit like gentle mood music with a semi-classical folk feeling to the whole experience.
Sometimes called "space music", this school of New Age sounds like a film score in the making. Steve Roach, Michael Stearns, and others work in this area of "mood creating" music. Vangelis Parathanassiou popularized the style in 1982 with his background film score for Chariots of Fire.
Brian Eno (b. 1948) is the undisputed master of this kind of music, and his albums (over fifty at last count) have influenced the entire field of modern music, especially his 1979 masterpiece Ambient 1: Music for Airports which is now considered a sort of minimalist classic.
Jazz-Based New Age
Trained as a classical flutist, Paul Horn (1930-2014) had a strong jazz and studio recording career in progress when he began to yearn for more than financial security. He left Los Angeles, went to India, and studied Transcendental Meditation with Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at the same time as the Beatles. Horn's Inside the Taj Mahal (1991), made with just a solo flute inside the famous edifice, took full advantage of the 28-second reverberation factor to create a haunting, jazz-tinged blanket of free improvisation.
Alex DeGrassi's (b. 1952) nine albums have subtle jazz colors, too. A self-taught guitarist, DeGrassi had all the right genes and connections for success. His grandfather played violin in the San Francisco Symphony, his father was a classical pianist, and his cousin, William Ackerman, owned Windham Hill Records.
Environmental New Age
Paul Winter (b. 1939) has been concerned about the environment since his college days at Northwestern University in the 1960s. His jazz sextet won the Notre Dame Intercollegiate Jazz Festival in 1961, and went on a Latin American tour shortly thereafter for the U.S. State Department. Winter drifted away from pure jazz and left the group. The band regrouped and called themselves Oregon.
One of his most famous recordings is 1977's Common Ground which incorporates the sounds of birds, wolves, and humpback whales into the musical fabric. The retrospective Wolf Eyes (1988) features cuts from previous albums - with the sounds of birds, forest animals, and as many as fifteen different varieties of sea mammals. Winter often donates all his royalties to the World Wildlife Fund.
Most of the New Age musicians are sensitive to environmental causes, and many frequently put animal sounds into the sonic mix of their free-form poetic mood music.
Back in the day, New Age recordings were often found in health food stores, and several New Age magazines had music columnists who reviewed the current recordings in the field. As an industry, New Age music grew slowly right along with the various branches of alternative medicine – herbs, vitamins, macrobiotics, massage homeopathy, chiropractic manipulation, and other approaches to good health aimed at those Americans who are suspicious of the global drug corporations' chemical solutions to all of life's aches and pains. Nowadays, New Age has become a little more mainstream, with tracks played on jukebox-type machines in stores such as Target and Hallmark, encouraging passers-by to purchase a CD of instrumental "background music".