Jazz/fusion discussion

In a recent email exchange between myself, Unclebeer, and Tubadiva, it was determined that we are all jazz fans, and unclebeer was kind enough to throw me a link to a thread appearing in the pit a few months back: http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?threadid=7756

which contained some great jazz discussion, with a particularly good summary of jazz history by Ukulele Ike. There was also a lot of negative discussion (“I hate jazz” type stuff, which is actually what began the thread, well it was in the pit) which I read and just cringed at, all the while cursing myself for not being there to give my POV.

So I figured I’d start a new discussion on it. Well, actually, not on the exact same topic. That thread was mostly about traditional jazz (pre 1960’s) and had almost nothing nice to say about fusion at all from either side.

I however, am a huge fan of fusion. So I’m curious to hear opinions of fusion, definitions of fusion, and comparisons with the more traditional styles of jazz.

But I’d also just like to make a point of the disbelief I felt reading about so much Miles Davis bashing. Comments anyone?

I like some fusion, as long as it’s mostly distortion and pretty edgy (bands like Sad Happy and Blue Dog) and not that contemporary Kenny G easy listening sounding stuff.

I like avant-garde jazz more than fusion, though.

I also love Miles Davis, even his kooky stuff. I figure if people don’t like him, it’s their loss.

OK, I will come right out and say it: I don’t have any idea what the hell is “fusion.” Anyone wanna explain for poor iddle me?

I’m a Pit virgin and plan to stay one, so, mindful of my vows of chastity, I did not click on your link, lest I be irrevocably soiled.

I don’t have the strength or spirit for in-depth jazz discussion today, or possibly ever (see the “Jeez! Is everybody here depressive?” thread), but thought I would at least check in to raise my hand as a fellow fusion fan. I began with Al DiMeola almost twenty years ago, and it’s still music I’m glad to have discovered.

Quickie answer: Fusion is jazz-rock. The combination of jazz improvisation with rock rhythms and electronics.

While Fusion had existed in the 1960s in England, in groups like Soft Machine and the Graham Bond Organisation, and in the U.S. with the Gary Burton Quartet and Jeremy Steig and the Satyrs, it was Miles Davis who made the breakthrough to greater popularity in 1970 with his album BITCHES BREW.

Fusion featured a a stronger emphasis on arrangement and composition as well as on collective improvisation over the solo.

Fusion. I hate that shit.

Sax, I don’t know Sad Happy and Blue Dog But I’d love to hear more about 'em. BTW I don’t think Kenny G is any more fusion or jazz than Billy Joel is rock. Kenny G is pop or easy listening or something like that. Just because he plays a sax doesn’t make him a jazz musician.
I like avante-garde jazz too, and I do believe there are people who refer to that as fusion.

Eve, OK what is fusion? Well, let me start off by saying that fusion is kind of an ugly word in music. When I’m talking to fellow fusion fans/friends (how’s that for a nice alliteration?), I use the word because we all know what we mean by the word, but outside of that it has so many different meanings to so many different people that it becomes problematic.
In my mind, fusion originally referred to a particular musical movement in the late 60’s early 70’s, but became much larger in scope, and it basically means: the combining of different styles (most notably jazz and rock).
In the late 60’s jazz musicians wanted to start appealling to a larger audience, and rock was the hotest thing going. Miles is often thought of as the primary innovator of this movement with Bitches Brew but he really is only one of many involved, and In a Silent Way came first which is very close stylistically to BB.
Others of the time period include Herbie Hancock’s Headhunter (or is it Headhunters?) which has a very strong funk sound (which was inspired by Sly and the family Stone), Chick Corea’s Return to Forever (my favorite) which incorporated these new synthesizers of the time, John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra - best described as a more technical Jimi Hendrix playing in very odd time signatures.

A major difference between fusion and jazz is the beat. In jazz, the music sort of swings to the 2 and 4. Fusion incorporates that driving rock energy with accents on the 1 and 3. Listen to the drums on Bitches Brew, sounds more like rock than jazz dontcha think?

Fusion, to me, has come to mean more than just a mixture of jazz with rock though. Jazz style improvisation remains an important component, but John Mclaughlin’s Shakti albums combined jazz with classical Indian music. Bela Fleck has combined jazz with bluegrass. And there are many others.

Just remember though, it’s all music, and despite all the genre labels, there really are only 2 kinds: good and bad.

Oh, pooh. I was hoping to beat Moe back in here so I could apologize for my last comment above, after he’d been so nice to me in the OP.

When people talk about “fusion jazz” they’re generally referring to the jazz-rock movement of the 1970s…the best permutations of which were the aformentioned Davis album plus IN A SILENT WAY, the records of the first Mahavishnu Orchestra, Chick Corea’s Return to Forever, and Weather Report.

I admit to owning Weather Report’s HEAVY WEATHER, albeit on vinyl. Zawinul’s “Birdland” is a mighty tasty tune. But for the most part I give that period of jazz a miss.

What bugs me about it is that, after ten lean years for jazz musicians, some of them felt they could get rich by adopting aspects of rock into their performance. Guys like Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, and Wayne Shorter are brilliant jazz musicians, and I’m sorry they spent so much time doing stuff that seemed to be more commercial to them.

Another point: During the peak of the swing movement, and even more so during the bebop movement, amazing, timeless recordings came out MONTHLY. They’re still being reissued today, over sixty years later. How much jazz-rock fusion has gone out of print? How much will stand the test of time?

But your last couple of points are good ones. The “fusion” of bluegrass with jazz and rock in the 1970s yielded “newgrass,” main proponents of which include Fleck, Sam Bush, Edgar Meyer, Mark O’Connor, etc…and I LOVE that stuff.

And, as you say, in the end it all comes down to what snaps your stix. (You loan me some of your Michael Brecker, and I’ll loan you some of my Jelly Roll Morton!)

Ahem. Allow me to change the above to “make a decent living”.

Q: How do you make a million dollars playing jazz?

A: First you start out with TWO million…

OK, well, now I’m interested. Especially if “fusion features a stronger emphasis on arrangement and composition.” The part I don’t like about a lot of (later) jazz is the “improvisation,” as I agree with Marlene Dietrich that improvisation is “amateur stuff.”

Anyone recommend a NY-area radion station I can sample some fusion on?


Well, fusion is probably not popular on the radio anywhere. Mostly when I’ve heard good fusion on the radio it was on a college station, but I’ll tell you my favorite music radio show is 11-12 pm every night on 93.9 WNYC “New Sounds” with John Schaeffer (sp?)

There you’ll hear everything, and I mean everything. I haven’t listened much in awhile but on any given night you might hear anything from electronic music to Klezmer to bluegrass to hip hop to classical etc etc. What you won’t hear is anything traditional, ordinary, poppy, or easily definable.
The premise is “new and interesting music” and much of what Mr. Schaeffer plays is fusions of very different styles of music, though much of what he plays includes a strong component of jazz. “Klezmer Madness” for example is a group I heard on there which is a fusion of jazz with Klezmer, very interesting stuff.

You probably wont, however, hear any 70’s fusion there though. I too have been looking for quite some time for a good fusion station and there really just aren’t any that I know of.

Pfah. YOU try composing interesting music on your horn or piano or rhythm instrument, on the spur of the moment, for minutes at a stretch, while not losing connection with your sidemen, in front of a nightclub fulla people who’re more interested in getting the bartender’s attention than in listening to you and the air’s all smoky and hard to breathe and you’re full of heroin, to boot.

If you want stuff that has a more “arranged” feel, try some of the West Coast jazz from the '50s. Almost any Gerry Mulligan group; Gerry was a brilliant arranger and a control freak (he sure could swing, though). Tadd Dameron and Gil Evans and Oliver Nelson also produced records of carefully orchestrated, magnificent jazz in the '50s and’60s: Fontainebleu, Out of the Cool, and Blues and the Abstract Truth are respective examples.

And be sure to stay away from Hard Bop…most of it is a thirty-second “head” arrangement at either end of a given recording, with eight to twenty minutes of completely improvised music in between.

"YOU try composing interesting music on your horn or piano or rhythm instrument, on the spur of the moment . . . "

–Why the hell SHOULD I? I certainly can’t make up a good beat, arrangement, tune or whatever off the top of my head—and neither can 99% of the people who try to.

Same reason I don’t like improv “comedy.” It takes time, hard work and trial-and-error to come up with good comedy or good music. Improvisation is just showing off, and usually ill-advised showing off, at that.

I’m sorry Eve but I have to STRONGLY disagree with you on your views of improvisation.

I don’t think it’s showing off at all, and if anything, composition is much more self indulgent and ego driven than improv.

Improv is an incredible skill and can produce an intense feeling if your catching on to what’s being said. Good improv musicians don’t just ramble, spitting out random notes. They create phrases and sentences, and most importantly, stories. But the language they use is so much more primitive and abstract than words that it can reach a much deeper part of you than words if you listen and hear.

People who know jazz can always tell a guy whose showing off from a guy whose being honest. You can’t fake good phrasing.

Anyway, I don’t want to preach jazz. Whatever artform gets you there.

Well, if you take that tack, it sorta kills discussion.

If you don’t like to hear musicians improvise, you should steer clear of jazz entirely…and blues, bluegrass, zydeco, rock, and 96% of non-Western musics.

I don’t like to watch the Olympics on teevee, so I don’t do it. Neither, however, do I accuse athletes of doing what they do to “show off.”

Whoops, sorry, Moe…the above was in response to Eve’s last post.

I figured

“If you don’t like to hear musicians improvise, you should steer clear of jazz entirely…and blues, bluegrass, zydeco, rock, and 96% of non-Western musics.”

I hate to question your knowledge of music, DEAR HEART, but there is a LOT of bluegrass, zydeco, and rock that doesn’t involve improv—or, to be more accurate, the final product is trial-and-error, with the “error” weeded out.

But from ow on I shall take your advice and “steer clear of jazz entirely.”

“Oh, clerk—please lead me to the Bach, Berlin and Porter section!”

Oh rats, lost another one.

Not if it’s played live, it’s not. Unless you’re talking about the sort of bands who replicate note-for-note in performance what they’ve released on studio records. And there’s a special place in Hell for THOSE guys.

BTW, Bach was at least as famous during his lifetime for his keyboard improvisations as for his compositions.

So phtbbbphhhhtttbbphhh.