Jazz-Rock Fusion or Fusion is a style of music that emerged at the end of the 1960s. It is different from earlier jazz in a number of ways:
  • Jazz is characterised rhythmically by it's "swing," while fusion tends to be based more on even eighth or sixteenth note rhythms.
  • Jazz uses primarily acoustic instruments, which may be amplified (e.g. piano, double bass, horns), while fusion uses primarily electric and electronic instruments more commonly used in rock music (e.g. electric guitar, bass guitar, electric piano, synthesizers).
  • Fusion also sounds different from earlier jazz because of the rapid advances made in recording technology during the 1960s and early 1970s.

    Many of the musicians listed below worked with Miles Davis, who is considered an important figure in jazz. He began his career playing be-bop in Charlie Parker’s band in the 1940s, helped to define the cool school, the return to the hot and modal jazz in the 1950s and then subsequently seeded jazz-rock fusion with the albums In A Silent Way (1969) and Bitches Brew (1970). On In A Silent Way the three keyboard players used electric pianos and the personnel went on to become leaders of important jazz-rock fusion bands in the 1970s as follows:

  • Herbie Hancock
    Electric Piano
    Josef Zawinul *
    Electric Piano
    Wayne Shorter *
    Tenor Saxophone
    Chick Corea *
    Electric Piano
    John McLaughlin *
    Dave Holland *
    Tony Williams
    Sextet Weather Report Return To Forever Mahavishnu Orchestra Gateway Lifetime
    Bennie Maupin *
    Eddie Henderson
    Julian Preister
    Buster Williams
    Billy Hart
    Benny Maupin
    Paul Jackson
    Harvey Mason
    Bill Summers
    Mike Clark

    Miroslav Vitous, Alphonse Mouzon,
    Airto Moreira, Barbara Button, Don Alias, Dom Um Romao, Eric Gravatt, Ralph Towner, Herschell Dwellingham, Andrew White III, Ishmail Wilburn, Alphonso Johnson, Alyrio Lima, Leon "Ndugu" Chancler, Chester Thompson, Jaco Pastorius, Alex Acuna, Narada Michael Walden, Manolo Badrena, Peter Erskine, Omar Hakim and others

    Joe Farrell
    Stanley Clarke
    Airto Moreira
    Flora Purim
    Lenny White *
    Bill Connors
    Al Di Meola

    Jerry Goodman
    Jan Hammer
    Rick Laird
    Billy Cobham
    Jean Luc Ponty
    Gail Moran
    Ralphe Armstrong
    Narada Michael Walden

    John Abercrombie
    Jack De Johnette *

    John McLaughlin
    Larry Young *
    Jack Bruce
    Ted Dunbar
    Ron Carter
    Juini Booth
    Allan Holdsworth

    * These musicians also appeared on Bitches Brew.
    Developments in Context: The 1960s
    The 1960s were a decade of change. In jazz Ornette Coleman's album Free Jazz: A Collective Improvisation (1960) introduced the term free jazz. John Coltrane, who had previously worked with Miles Davis on Kind Of Blue, expanded the harmonic vocabulary of jazz with the "Coltrane changes" on Giant Steps (1960), and employed a saxophone technique that became known as sheets of sound. In the early 1960s American jazz musicians like Stan Getz began embracing Brazillian samba music being created by Antonio Carlos Jobim and others, and in 1964 The Girl from Ipanema featuring Astrud Gilberto became a worldwide bossa nova (new beat) hit.

    What became known as the counter culture began to emerge in the mid 1960s as many musicians "turned on" by taking psychedelic drugs like LSD and began looking for new ways to express themselves. Bob Dylan, The Beach Boys’ Brian Wilson, the Byrds and others changed the face of pop music with their free-thinking and exotic approaches to lyrics and sound and Young America rebelled against the authorities who were supporting the Vietnam war, strengthening an underground movement which effectively used music to spread its philosophies around the globe.

    Meanwhile, over in Britain many of the bands who were part of the 1960’s British beat boom rapidly became part of the new direction ushered in by psychedelia. Released in 1966, the Beatles album Revolver was a clear indication of what was to come and was the first sign that the Beatles had it in them to become more than a straight pop band - the era of true invention both sonic and musical had indeed arrived. Other British acts to ride the first wave of psychedelia included the Who, the Kinks, the Move, the Small Faces and Pink Floyd (pioneers of the psychedelic light show).

    During the 1960s there was a rapid development and expansion of multi track tape recording with the introduction of four, eight, sixteen and a little later 24 track tape recorders, which were to become industry standard by the mid 1970s. The availability of more tracks meant that each instrument could have its own track or tracks, that a musician could overdub additional parts once the basic tracking was done, and that more complex music could be created in the recording studio.

    Fusion sounds different to earlier jazz because it emerged at a time when the musicians were able to exploit these developments in recording technology as well as employ recording techniques more usually associated with rock music. So while the possibility of overdubbing a solo may be at odds with the traditional jazz ethos which sees group dynamics and interplay as important when improvising a solo in real time, there is no reason why an overdubbed solo couldn't be equally compelling as any other kind of improvisation when played by a skilled jazz musician.

    While some of the important rock musicians from the 1960s onwards were equally skilled, a lot of the rock music of the 1960s was based on more straight forward music (blues, rhythm and blues or rock and roll), when compared to some of the developments in jazz in the same period (i.e. free jazz, the music of John Coltrane). Nevertheless, the same advances in recording technology described above were increasingly exploited in rock and popular music, leading to the emergence of progressive rock in the late 1960s, which is a genre more commonly associated with British bands like King Crimson, Emerson, Lake and Palmer (ELP), Yes and Genesis.

    Chicago and Blood Sweat and Tears were both formed in 1967 and both made jazz influenced rock or jazz-rock from that time.

    Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter and Tony Williams were all members of Miles Davis's classic 1960s quintet, along with bassist Ron Carter. Chick Corea and Dave Holland came in in place of Herbie Hancock and Ron Carter during the recording of Filles de Kilimanjaro (1968), the album immediately before In a Silent Way.

    The ECM (Edition of Contemporary Music) record label was founded in Munich, Germany in 1969 by Manfred Eicher, who has also produced most of the label's considerable output over the last 50 years. Artists recording on the label include European musicians like Eberhard Weber, Jan Garbarek and Terje Rypdal, American musicians such as Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, Jack de Johnette and Pat Metheny, as well as combinations of musicians from different countries. Much of the label's output could be described as contemporary jazz or art music with a classical or European flavour, although many, including artists on the label, may not like these descriptions. It is known that musicians like Pat Metheny do not like the term fusion.

    Developments in Context: The 1970s
    Herbie Hancock's Sextet, consisting of three horns and a rhythm section, was also known as the Mwandishi band, as members of the band adopted African names: Mwandishi (Herbie Hancock), Mchezji (Buster Williams), Jabali (Billy Hart), Mganga (Eddie Henderson), Mwile (Bennie Maupin) and Pepo Mtoto (Julian Priester). Augmented by other musicians and incorporating acoustic, electric and electronic sounds, the band made three albums, Mwandishi (1971), Crossings (1972) and Sextant (1973). Other members of this band made their own albums around this time with many of the same musicians, most notably Realization and Inside Out  by trumpeter Eddie Henderson (1973), reedman Bennie Maupin's The Jewel In The Lotus (1974)  and Julian Priester's Love Love (1974). Herbie's new band consisting of Paul Jackson (bass), Harvey Mason (drums) and Bill Summers (percussion) which made Headhunters (1973), was more unashamedly funky. Harvey Mason was replaced by Mike Clark on Thrust (1974).

    Formed in 1971 by Joe Zawinul, Wayne Shorter and Czech bassist Miroslav Vitous, Weather Report began as a more experimental jazz group but later became more commercially orientated. The lineup of the band changed from album to album, with only founders Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter remaining constant. On Bitches Brew  and on many of the subsequent Weather Report cuts Wayne Shorter played soprano saxophone.

    Chick Corea recorded Return to Forever  with Joe Farrell (flutes, soprano saxophone), Flora Purim (vocal, percussion), Stanley Clarke (bass) and Airto Moreira (drums, percussion) for the ECM label in 1972 and subsequently adopted Return to Forever as the name of his band. With the departure of Airto, Flora and Joe Farrell after Light As A Feather (1973) the band became more electric and rock orientated with the arrival of their replacements, drummer Lenny White and guitarist Bill Connors on Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy (1973), with only Stanley Clarke remaining from the original lineup. Bill Connors was subsequently replaced by Al Di Meola on Where Have I Known You Before (1974), No Mystery (1975) and Romantic Warrior (1976).

    There were two main incarnations of John McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra. The first, formed in 1971, included Jerry Goodman (violin), Jan Hammer (keyboards), Rick Laird (bass) and Billy Cobham (drums). The second incarnation consisted of Jean Luc Ponty (violin), Gail Moran (keyboards), Ralphe Armstrong (bass) and Narada Michael Walden (drums). John McLaughlin reformed the band in 1984.

    During the early 1970s Santana evolved from a latin flavoured rock band into a formidable fusion outfit with bass player Doug Rauch and keyboard player Tom Coster joining the band for Caravanserai (1972) and second keyboard player Richard Kermode added on Welcome (1973). Carlos Santana joined forces with Mahavishnu John McLaughlin for Love Devotion Surrender (1973) and the new Santana band (as it became known) also recorded the triple vinyl live album Lotus (1974) in Japan.

    Steely Dan also made jazz influenced rock from 1972 onwards and as their career progressed, they increasingly recorded using top session musicians, many of whom were jazz musicians.

    Another influential musician identified with the fusion movement is guitarist Larry Coryell. English outfits Nucleus, Soft Machine and Brand X are also worthy of mention, as are English guitarists Jeff Beck and Allan Holdsworth.

    Musicians already listed under the bands above who have also made albums as leaders and/or under their own names include Miroslav Vitous, Airto Moreira, Ralph Towner, Alphonso Johnson, Jaco Pastorius, Narada Michael Walden, Peter Erskine, Joe Farrell, Stanley Clarke, Flora Purim, Lenny White, Bill Connors, Al Di Meola, Jan Hammer, Billy Cobham, Jean Luc Ponty, John Abercrombie, Jack De Johnette, Dave Holland, Larry Young, Jack Bruce and Ron Carter.

    Subsequent Developments
    With the rise of Disco music in the mid 1970s club owners went from hiring groups to just playing records, hindering some artists who had achieved a degree of commercial success in the early 1970s. With the arrival of punk rock around the same time both fusion and progressive rock were to become loathed and reviled. Skilled musicianship, complexity and any pomposity were eschewed in favour of raw energy and attitude - in fact it didn't matter that many punk musicians could hardly even play their instruments when they started out. The initial energy and enthusiasm which fueled the post-punk new wave was to bland out into "business as usual" as the '80's progressed and fusion would be replaced a more innocuous form of "jazz" that became known as smooth jazz.

    Distinguishing Genres
    The distinctions between progressive rock, jazz influenced rock, jazz-funk, jazz-rock, fusion, jazz-rock fusion and contemporary jazz are not always clear or obvious - after all these are only labels used to describe this music. Many of the musicians associated with progressive rock are or were British whereas the groups and most of the musicians associated with fusion are or were American, with some notable exceptions (e. g. John McLaughlin, Dave Holland and Jack Bruce are English, Airto Moreira and Flora Purim are Brazilian, Jean-Luc Ponty is French). Progressive rock is generally more song orientated than fusion, which more likely to be instumental music. Having said that, some progressive rock does have lengthy instrumental sections and some progressive rock uses elements of jazz (e.g. improvisation). Conversely jazz musicians who have embraced the power and immediacy of rock have been able to reach a wider audience with their music. Whatever the case, the cross fertilisation of music genres has continued unabated since the heyday of this music and this continues even to this day in music that might now be called acid jazz or trip hop.


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