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Jazz fusion

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Jazz fusion

Trumpeter Miles Davis in 1989: One of the first innovators of jazz fusion

Jazz fusion, fusion, or jazz-rock is a musical fusion genre that developed from mixing funk and rhythm and blues rhythms and the amplification and electronic effects of rock music, complex time signatures derived from non-Western music and extended, typically instrumental compositions with a jazz approach to lengthy group improvisations, often using wind and brass and displaying a high level of instrumental technique. It was created around the late 1960s. The term "jazz-rock" is often used as a synonym for "jazz fusion" as well as for music performed by late 1960s and 1970s-era rock bands that added jazz elements to their music. It is distinct and different from Canterbury Scene progressive rock and other forms of prog jazz fusion, in which extended prog instrumentals use improvisation and take on a jazz influenced feel. After a decade of popularity during the 1970s, fusion expanded its improvisatory and experimental approaches through the 1980s and 1990s. Fusion albums, even those that are made by the same group or artist, may include a variety of styles. Rather than being a codified musical style, fusion can be viewed as a musical tradition or approach.


  • History 1
    • 1960s 1.1
      • Jazz-rock 1.1.1
    • 1970s 1.2
    • 1980s 1.3
      • Smooth jazz 1.3.1
      • Other styles 1.3.2
    • 1990s–2000s 1.4
  • Influence on rock music 2
  • Influential recordings 3
  • See also 4
  • References 5
  • Further reading 6
  • External links 7



Allmusic Guide states that "until around 1967, the worlds of jazz and rock were nearly completely separate".[1] While in the United States modern jazz and electric Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker) whose style Allmusic calls "rhythm & blues with a strong jazzy flavor".[3] Bond himself had begun playing straight jazz with Don Rendell, while Manfred Mann, who recorded a Cannonball Adderley tune on their first album, when joined by Bruce turned out the 1966 EP record Instrumental Asylum, which undoubtedly fused jazz and rock.[4] One of the earliest releases from Pink Floyd, London '66–'67, is considered an early example of the jazz fusion genre, incorporating jazz-influenced improvisation to their psychedelic compositions.

Nevertheless, these developments made little impact in the United States. Jazz vibraphonist Gary Burton was an "innovator" in the '60s. In 1967, Burton worked with guitarist Larry Coryell and recorded Duster, which is considered as one of the first fusion records.[5] Texas-born guitarist Coryell was also a pioneer of electric jazz in the same era.[6] Trumpeter and composer Miles Davis had a major influence on the development of jazz fusion with his 1968 album entitled Miles in the Sky. It is the first of Davis' albums to incorporate electric instruments, with Herbie Hancock and Ron Carter playing electric piano and bass guitar, respectively. Davis furthered his explorations into the use of electric instruments on another 1968 album, Filles de Kilimanjaro, with pianist Chick Corea and bassist Dave Holland.

Davis introduced the electric instrument approach to jazz with 1969's Larry Young. Their debut record Emergency! of that year is also cited as one of the early acclaimed fusion albums.


The term "jazz-rock" (or "jazz/rock") is often used as a synonym for the term "jazz fusion". However, some make a distinction between the two terms. The Free Spirits have sometimes been cited as the earliest jazz-rock band.[7] During the late 1960s, at the same time that jazz musicians were experimenting with rock rhythms and electric instruments, rock groups such as Cream and the Grateful Dead were "beginning to incorporate elements of jazz into their music" by "experimenting with extended free-form improvisation". Other "groups such as Blood, Sweat & Tears directly borrowed harmonic, melodic, rhythmic and instrumentational elements from the jazz tradition".[8]

The Grateful Dead in 1970. Their music grew out of a bluegrass jug band and the psychedelic rock scene of the Bay Area but grew to incorporate jazzy improvisations and grooves in the 1970s, influencing further generations of jam bands.

The rock groups that drew on jazz ideas (like Aynsley Dunbar played on these LPs.

AllMusic states that the term jazz-rock "may refer to the loudest, wildest, most electrified fusion bands from the jazz camp, but most often it describes performers coming from the rock side of the equation." The guide states that "jazz-rock first emerged during the late '60s as an attempt to fuse the visceral power of rock with the musical complexity and improvisational fireworks of jazz. Since rock often emphasized directness and simplicity over virtuosity, jazz-rock generally grew out of the most artistically ambitious rock subgenres of the late '60s and early '70s: psychedelia, progressive rock, and the singer/songwriter movement."[14]

Allmusic lists the following jazz-rock categories:[14]


Trumpeter Miles Davis performing in Rio de Janeiro in 1984

Davis' Bitches Brew sessions, recorded in August 1969 and released the following year, mostly abandoned jazz's usual swing beat in favor of a rock-style backbeat anchored by electric bass grooves. The recording "...mixed free jazz blowing by a large ensemble with electronic keyboards and guitar, plus a dense mix of percussion."[15] Davis also drew on the rock influence by playing his trumpet through electronic effects and pedals. While the album gave Davis a gold record, the use of electric instruments and rock beats created a great deal of consternation amongst some more conservative jazz critics.

Davis also proved to be an able talent-spotter; much of 1970s fusion was performed by bands started by alumni from Davis' ensembles, including The Tony Williams Lifetime, Weather Report, The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever, and Herbie Hancock's funk-infused Headhunters band. In addition to Davis and the musicians who worked with him, additional important figures in early fusion were Larry Coryell and Billy Cobham, with his album Spectrum. Herbie Hancock first continued the path of Miles Davis with his experimental fusion albums, such as Crossings in 1972, but soon after that he became an important developer of "jazz-funk" with his seminal albums Head Hunters in 1973 and Thrust in 1974. Later in the 1970s and early 1980s Hancock took a more commercial approach. Hancock was one of the first jazz musicians to use synthesizers.

Weather Report began as an experimental group, but eventually garnered a huge following.

At its inception, Weather Report was an avant-garde experimental jazz group, following in the steps of In a Silent Way. The band received considerable attention for its early albums and live performances, which featured pieces that might last up to 30 minutes. The band later introduced a more commercial sound, which can be heard in Joe Zawinul's hit song "Birdland" (1977). Weather Report's albums were also influenced by different styles of Latin, African, and European music, offering an early world music fusion variation. Jaco Pastorius, an innovative fretless electric bass player, joined the group in 1976 on the album Black Market, was co-producer (with Zawinul) on 1977's Heavy Weather, and is prominently featured on the 1979 live recording 8:30. Heavy Weather is the top-selling album of the genre.

In England, the jazz fusion movement was headed by Nucleus, led by Ian Carr, and whose key players Karl Jenkins and John Marshall both later joined the seminal jazz rock band Soft Machine, leaders of what became known as the Canterbury scene. Their best-selling recording, Third (1970), was a double album featuring one track per side in the style of the aforementioned recordings of Miles Davis. A prominent English band in the jazz-rock style of Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago was If, who released a total of seven records in the 1970s.

Fusion band Return to Forever in 1976

Chick Corea formed his band Return to Forever in 1972. The band started with Latin-influenced music (including Brazilians Flora Purim as vocalist and Airto Moreira on percussion), but was transformed in 1973 to become a jazz-rock group that took influences from both psychedelic and progressive rock. The new drummer was Lenny White, who had also played with Miles Davis. Return to Forever's songs were distinctively melodic due to the Corea's composing style and the bass playing style of Stanley Clarke, who is often regarded with Pastorius as the most influential electric bassists of the 1970s. Guitarist Bill Connors joined Corea's band in 1973 but soon left for his acoustic solo project. He was replaced by guitarist Al Di Meola, who became an important fusion guitarist as well.

French jazz violinist Jean-Luc Ponty performed on acoustic violin and on amplified, electronic effect-modified electric violins.

John McLaughlin formed a fusion band, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, with drummer Billy Cobham, violinist Jerry Goodman, bassist Rick Laird and keyboardist Jan Hammer. The band released their first album, The Inner Mounting Flame, in 1971. Hammer pioneered the use of the Minimoog synthesizer with distortion effects and, with his mastery of the pitch bend wheel, made it sound very much like an electric guitar. The sound of the Mahavishnu Orchestra was influenced by both psychedelic rock and classical Indian sounds.

The band's first lineup split after two studio and one live albums, but McLaughlin formed another group under the same name which included Jean-Luc Ponty, a jazz violinist who also made a number of important fusion recordings under his own name as well as with Frank Zappa, drummer Narada Michael Walden, keyboardist Gayle Moran, and bassist Ralph Armstrong. McLaughlin also worked with Latin-rock guitarist Carlos Santana in the early 1970s.

Initially Santana's San Francisco-based band blended Latin salsa, rock, blues, and jazz, featuring Santana's clean guitar lines set against Latin instrumentation such as timbales and congas. But in their second incarnation, heavy fusion influences had become central to the 1972–1976 Santana band. These can be clearly heard in Santana's use of extended improvised solos and in the harmonic voicings of Tom Coster's keyboard playing on some of the groups' mid-1970s recordings. In 1973 Santana recorded a nearly two-hour live album of mostly instrumental, jazz-fusion music, Lotus, which was only released in Europe and Japan for more than twenty years.

Other influential musicians that emerged from the fusion movement during the 1970s include fusion guitarist Larry Coryell with his band The Eleventh House, and electric guitarist Pat Metheny. The Pat Metheny Group, which was founded in 1977, made both the jazz and pop charts with their second album, American Garage (1980). Although jazz performers criticized the fusion movement's use of rock styles and electric and electronic instruments, even seasoned jazz veterans like Buddy Rich, Maynard Ferguson and Dexter Gordon eventually modified their music to include fusion elements. The late '70s saw the emergence of the Steve Morse-led fusion band, the Dixie Dregs. This band was notable for being the first band to equally fuse the sounds of rock, jazz, country, funk, classical, bluegrass and Celtic into a type of unified whole, distinguishing them from all other fusion acts of the 1970s.

The influence of jazz fusion did not only affect the US and Europe. The genre was very influential in Japan in the late 1970s, eventually leading to the formation of Casiopea and T-Square. T-Square's song "Truth" would later become the theme for Japan's Formula One racing events.


Smooth jazz

By the early 1980s, much of the original fusion genre was subsumed into other branches of jazz and rock, especially Stanley Turrentine. The records recorded under Taylor's guidance were typically aimed as much at pop audiences as at jazz fans.

In the mid- to late-1970s, smooth jazz became established as a commercially viable genre. It was pioneered by such artists as Chuck Mangione, Sérgio Mendes, David Sanborn, Tom Scott, Dave and Don Grusin, Bob James and Joe Sample.

David Sanborn had a string of crossover hits in the 1980s.

The merging of jazz and pop/rock music took a more commercial direction in the late 1970s and early 1980s, in the form of compositions with a softer sound palette that could fit comfortably in a soft rock radio playlist. The AllMusic guide's article on Fusion states that "unfortunately, as it became a money-maker and as rock declined artistically from the mid-'70s on, much of what was labeled fusion was actually a combination of jazz with easy-listening pop music and lightweight R&B."[17]

Artists such as Al Jarreau, Kenny G, Ritenour, James and Sanborn among others were leading purveyors of this pop-oriented mixture (also known as "west coast" or "AOR fusion"). This genre is most frequently called "smooth jazz" and is not considered "True Fusion" among the listeners of both mainstream jazz and jazz fusion, who find it to rarely contain the improvisational qualities that originally surfaced in jazz decades earlier, deferring to a more commercially viable sound more widely enabled for commercial radio airplay in the United States.


Other styles

Although the meaning of "fusion" became confused with the advent of "smooth jazz", a number of groups helped to revive the jazz fusion genre beginning in the mid-to-late 1980s. In the 1980s, a critic argued that "... the promise of fusion went unfulfilled to an extent, although it continued to exist in groups such as Tribal Tech and Chick Corea's Elektric Band".[17] Many of the most well-known fusion artists were members of earlier jazz fusion groups, and some of the fusion "giants" of the 1970s kept working in the genre.

Miles Davis continued his career after having a lengthy break in the late 1970s. He recorded and performed fusion throughout the 1980s with new young musicians and continued to ignore criticism from fans of his older mainstream jazz. While Davis' works of the 1980s remain controversial, his recordings from that period have the respect of many fusion and other listeners. In 1985 Chick Corea formed a new fusion band called the Chick Corea Elektric Band, featuring young musicians such as drummer Dave Weckl and bassist John Patitucci, as well as guitarist Frank Gambale and saxophonist Eric Marienthal.


Joe Zawinul's fusion band, The Zawinul Syndicate, began adding more elements of world music during the 1990s. One of the notable bands that became prominent in the early 1990s is Tribal Tech, led by guitarist Scott Henderson and bassist Gary Willis. Henderson was a member of both Corea's and Zawinul's ensembles in the late 1980s while putting together his own group. Tribal Tech's most common lineup also includes keyboardist Scott Kinsey and drummer Kirk Covington; Willis and Kinsey have both recorded solo fusion projects. Henderson has also been featured on fusion projects by drummer Steve Smith of Vital Information which also include bassist Victor Wooten of the eclectic Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, recording under the banner Vital Tech Tones.

Allan Holdsworth is a guitarist who performs in jazz, fusion, and rock styles. Other guitarists such as Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai and Yngwie Malmsteen have praised his fusion playing. He often used a SynthAxe guitar synthesizer in his recordings of the late 1980s, which he credits for expanding his composing and playing options. Holdsworth has continued to release fusion recordings and tour worldwide. Another former Soft Machine guitarist, Andy Summers of The Police, released several fusion albums in the early 1990s.

Guitarists John Scofield and Bill Frisell have both made fusion recordings over the past two decades while also exploring other musical styles. Scofield's Pick Hits Live and Still Warm are fusion examples, while Frisell has maintained a unique approach in drawing heavy influences from traditional music of the United States. Japanese fusion guitarist Kazumi Watanabe released numerous fusion albums throughout the 1980s and 1990s, highlighted by his works such as Mobo Splash and Spice of Life.

Brett Garsed and T. J. Helmerich are also watched as prominent fusion guitar players, having released several albums together since the beginning of the 1990s (Quid Pro Quo (1992), Exempt (1994), Under the Lash of Gravity (1999), Uncle Moe's Space Ranch (2001), Moe's Town (2007)) and collaborating in many other projects or releasing solo albums (Brett Garsed – Big Sky) all them falling in the genre.

The saxophonist Bob Berg, who originally came to prominence as a member of Miles Davis's bands, recorded a number of fusion albums with fellow Miles band member and guitarist Mike Stern. Stern continues to play fusion regularly in New York City and worldwide. They often teamed with the world-renowned drummer Dennis Chambers, who has also recorded his own fusion albums. Chambers is also a member of CAB, led by bassist Bunny Brunel and featuring the guitar and keyboard of Tony MacAlpine. CAB 2 garnered a Grammy nomination in 2002. MacAlpine has also served as guitarist of the metal fusion group Planet X, featuring keyboardist Derek Sherinian and drummer Virgil Donati. Another former member of Miles Davis's bands of the 1980s that has released a number of fusion recordings is saxophonist Bill Evans, highlighted by 1992's Petite Blonde.

Fusion shred guitar player and session musician Greg Howe has released solo albums such as Introspection (1993), Uncertain Terms (1994), Parallax (1995), Five (1996), Ascend (1999), Hyperacuity (2000), Extraction (2003) with electric bassist Victor Wooten and drummer Dennis Chambers, and Sound Proof (2008). Howe combines elements of rock, blues and Latin music with jazz influences using a technical, yet melodic guitar style. Ex-Dream Theater drummer Mike Portnoy formed the band Liquid Tension Experiment with guitarist John Petrucci, keyboardist Jordan Rudess and bass guitarist Tony Levin. Their style blended the complex rhythms of jazz fusion and progressive rock along with the heavy sound of progressive metal.

Drummer Shawn Lane, keyboardist Tom Coster, and Marbin with their unique blend of jazz, rock, blues, gospel, and Israeli folk music.

Influence on rock music

According to bassist/singer Randy Jackson, jazz fusion is an exceedingly difficult genre to play; "I [...] picked jazz fusion because I was trying to become the ultimate technical musician-able to play anything. Jazz fusion to me is the hardest music to play. You have to be so proficient on your instrument. Playing five tempos at the same time, for instance. I wanted to try the toughest music because I knew if I could do that, I could do anything."[20]

Jazz-rock fusion's technically challenging guitar solos, bass solos and odd metered, syncopated drumming started to be incorporated in the technically focused progressive metal genre in the early 1990s. Progressive rock, with its affinity for long solos, diverse influences, non-standard time signatures, complex music and changing line-ups had very similar musical values as jazz fusion. Some prominent examples of progressive rock mixed with elements of fusion is the music of Gong, Ozric Tentacles and Emerson, Lake & Palmer.

The death metal band Atheist produced albums Unquestionable Presence in 1991 and Elements in 1993 containing heavily syncopated drumming, changing time signatures, instrumental parts, acoustic interludes, and Latin rhythms. Meshuggah first attracted international attention with the 1995 release Destroy Erase Improve for its fusion of fast-tempo death metal, thrash metal and progressive metal with jazz fusion elements. Cynic recorded a complex, unorthodox form of jazz-fusion-influenced experimental death metal with their 1993 album Focus. In 1997, G.I.T. guitarist Jennifer Batten under the name of Jennifer Batten's Tribal Rage: Momentum released Momentum – an instrumental hybrid of rock, fusion and exotic sounds.

Another, more cerebral, all-instrumental progressive jazz fusion-metal band Planet X released Universe in 2000 with Tony MacAlpine, Derek Sherinian (ex-Dream Theater) and Virgil Donati (who has played with Scott Henderson from Tribal Tech). The band blends fusion-style guitar solos and syncopated odd-metered drumming with the heaviness of metal. Tech-prog-fusion metal band Aghora formed in 1995 and released their first album, self-titled Aghora, recorded in 1999 with Sean Malone and Sean Reinert, both former members of Cynic. Gordian Knot, another Cynic-linked experimental progressive metal band, released its debut album in 1999 which explored a range of styles from jazz-fusion to metal. The Mars Volta is extremely influenced by jazz fusion, using progressive, unexpected turns in the drum patterns and instrumental lines. The style of Uzbek prog band Fromuz is described as "prog fusion". In lengthy instrumental jams, the band transitions from fusion of rock and ambient world music to jazz and progressive hard rock tones.[21]

Influential recordings

This section lists a few of the jazz fusion artists and albums that are considered to be influential by prominent jazz fusion critics, reviewers, journalists, or music historians.

Albums from the late 1960s and early 1970s include Miles Davis' ambient-sounding In a Silent Way (1969) and his rock-infused Bitches Brew (1970). Davis' A Tribute to Jack Johnson (1971) has been cited as "the purest electric jazz record ever made" and "one of the most remarkable jazz-rock discs of the era".[22][23] His controversial album On the Corner (1972) has been viewed as a strong forerunner of the musical techniques of post-punk, hip hop, drum and bass, and electronic music.[24] Throughout the 1970s, Weather Report released albums ranging from its 1971 self-titled disc Weather Report (1971) (which continued the style of Miles Davis album Bitches Brew) to 1979's 8:30. Chick Corea's Latin-oriented fusion band Return to Forever released influential albums such as 1973's Light as a Feather. In that same year, Herbie Hancock's Head Hunters infused jazz-rock fusion with a heavy dose of Sly and the Family Stone-style funk. Virtuoso performer-composers played an important role in the 1970s. In 1976, fretless bassist Jaco Pastorius released Jaco Pastorius; electric and double bass player Stanley Clarke released School Days; and keyboardist Chick Corea released his Latin-infused My Spanish Heart, which received a five-star review from Down Beat magazine.

In the 1980s, Chick Corea produced well-regarded albums, including The Chick Corea Elektric Band (1986), Light Years (1987), and Eye of the Beholder (1988). In the early 1990s, Tribal Tech produced two albums, Tribal Tech (1991) and Reality Check (1995). Canadian bassist-composer Alain Caron released his album Rhythm 'n Jazz in 1995. Mike Stern released Give and Take in 1997.

See also


  1. ^
  2. ^ Georgie Fame | AllMusic
  3. ^ Graham Bond | AllMusic
  4. ^ Manfred Mann | AllMusic
  5. ^ S.E. Erlewine, All Music Guide to Jazz (Backbeat Books, 2002). ISBN 087930717X. Pages 180-181
  6. ^ D. Dicaire, Jazz Musicians, 1945 to the Present (McFarland, 2006), ISBN 0786420979, p. 213
  7. ^ Unterberger 1998, pg. 329
  8. ^ The Jazz/Rock Fusion Page: A site dedicated to jazz fusion and related genres with a special emphasis on jazz/rock fusion
  9. ^ a b N. Tesser, The Playboy Guide to Jazz (Plume, 1998), ISBN 0452276489, p. 178
  10. ^ S.E. Erlewine, All Music Guide to Jazz (Backbeat Books, 2002). ISBN 087930717X. p.178
  11. ^ . Retrieved on January 2, 2008.
  12. ^ a b Miles, 2004, Frank Zappa, p. 194.
  13. ^ Lowe, 2006, The Words and Music of Frank Zappa, p. 74.
  14. ^ a b
  15. ^ Jazzitude | History of Jazz Part 8: Fusion
  16. ^
  17. ^ a b Available online at:
  18. ^ a b R. Lawn, Experiencing Jazz (McGraw-Hill, 2006), ISBN 0072451793, p. 341
  19. ^ George Graham review
  20. ^ "[1]". Retrieved 24 December 2010.
  21. ^ Music review of Overlook CD by Fromuz (2008) [RockReviews]
  22. ^ Jurek, Thom. A Tribute to Jack JohnsonReview: . AllMusic. Retrieved on 2010-01-13.
  23. ^ Fordham, John. A Tribute to Jack JohnsonReview: . The Guardian. Retrieved on 2010-01-13.
  24. ^ Archived October 11, 2007 at the Wayback Machine

Further reading

  • Jazz Rock Fusion "The People, The Music", Julie Coryell & Laura Friedman, ed. Hal Leonard. ISBN 0-440-54409-2 pbk.
  • Jazz Rock: A History, Stuart Nicholson, Éd. Canongate
  • Power, Passion and Beauty – The Story of the Legendary Mahavishnu Orchestra, Walter Kolosky, ed. Abstract Logix Books
  • Jazz Hot Encyclopédie "Fusion", Guy Reynard, ed. de L'instant
  • Weather Report - Une Histoire du Jazz Electrique, Christophe Delbrouck, ed. Le Mot et le Reste, ISBN 978-2-915378-49-8
  • The Extraordinary and Tragic Life of Jaco Pastorius (10th Anniversary Edition) backbeatbooks. by Bill Milkowski
  • Jeff's book : A chronology of Jeff Beck's career 1965–1980: From the Yardbirds to Jazz-Rock. Rock 'n' Roll Research Press, (2000). ISBN 978-0-9641005-3-4
  • Birds of Fire: Jazz, Rock, Funk, and the Creation of Fusion (Refiguring American Music). Fellezs, Kevin; Ronald Radano, Josh Kun, (2011). Duke University Press Books. ISBN 978-0-8223-5047-7

External links

  •, the Web's largest open access source for non-commercially released classic jazz fusion audio recordings, circa 1970s–1980s, curated by Rich Rivkin, featuring works by most of the artists referenced in the above article
  • A History of Jazz-Rock Fusion by Al Garcia, a writer for Guitar Player Magazine's "Spotlight" column who also performs in the group Continuum
  • BendingCorners, a monthly non-profit podcast site of jazz and jazz-inspired grooves including fusion, nu-jazz, and other subgenres
  • Miles Beyond, website dedicated to the jazz-rock of Miles Davis
  • Call It AnythingMiles Davis at the Isle of Wight, 1970, excerpt from
  • Jazz Concert, electric-jazz concert venues all over the world
  • Indian LadyDon Ellis, Tanglewood, MA, playing an electric trumpet, excerpt from
  • ProGGnosis: Progressive Rock & Fusion, database with artist, record title and individual band member search capabilities. Contains reviews and discographies, album covers and links. On-line since Feb 2000.
  •, artist promotional radio show streaming jazz fusion, jazz rock from the '70s to new releases from all over the globe
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