From The Sound of Music by Stephen Gislason
"I love that word ‘jazz,’ man. Jazz is a beautiful word. I connect jazz not
with what’s happening today in America so much as when I was young and listened
to Ellington, Miles Davis, Bird, Dizzy Gillespie: how beautiful music was then
and how exciting music was then. That’s what I connect myself with.”
I have eclectic musical interests, but the rhythms, ideas and complexity of
jazz dominates my music. Some will say that jazz is performance music, that
demands novel improvisations from skilled performers. Others will emphasis jazz
traditions and perform standards that recall the history of jazz. Since I am
studio musician, I enjoy the privilege of private improvisations, thoughtful
reflection on the structure and meaning of jazz forms and ample opportunity to
score, edit and refine jazz performances before they become a public spectacle.
The passionate energy of some jazz pieces has been, for me, healing music
supplying energy that pushed and pulled me through hard times.
Jazz became intellectual music but originated as dance music played by black
musicians in New Orleans. Jass referred to sex and the rhythmic dances in the
black community were sensual and erotic. Original jazz was band music for
dancing, street parades and funerals. Jazz bands featured brass instruments,
drums, and woodwinds. The favored brass were coronets and trombones. Pianos,
guitars and banjos added ethnic flavors to the Creole bands who played rhythmic,
complex arrangements with brief improvisatory breaks.
The evolution of jazz is fascinating and complex. The coronet was replaced by
by the trumpet, saxophones became more important than clarinets, bass fiddles
became a standard instrument, and electric guitars eventually replaced acoustic.
The drum kit with kick drum, snare, tom, toms and cymbals also became a standard
feature of jazz ensembles. In the 30's big bands dominated dance halls and
celebrated band leaders and soloists such as Duke Ellington and Louis Armstrong
became celebrities. Big bands eventfully shrunk to small bands. Soloists with
virtuoso skills became the heroes of jazz. Band musicians would meet in after
hours clubs to jam.
Interesting rhythms and improvisation were two essential elements of jazz.
Innovations appeared quickly and were often resisted by more traditional
musicians and audiences. Charlie Parker and Dizzie Gillespie invented modern
jazz, beginning in the 1940's. Their "bebop" rhythms, sophisticated arrangements
and "wild" improvisations inspired the best of the new jazz players. Traditional
jazz players scorned the innovators.
Jazz fusion describes the merging of progressive jazz formats with a wide
variety other musical styles including funk, rock, R&B, electronic, Latin and
world music. Miles Davis moved his jazz expressions through cool jazz, bop, and
modal jazz. The 1968 album “Miles in the Sky” introduced Herbie Hancock playing
electric piano and Carter playing an electric bass guitar. In 1969, electronic
instruments dominated the next album “In a Silent Way”, an innovative fusion
The musicians who played with Miles often continued to develop fusions
styles. 1970’s fusion bands originated with Miles Davis alumni: Tony Williams
Lifetime, Weather Report, McLaughlin's Mahavishnu Orchestra, Corea's Return to
Forever, and Herbie Hancock's Headhunters band. Herbie Hancock was one of the
first jazz keyboardists to use synthesizers. Funk jazz emerged in his albums,
Head Hunters 1973 and Thrust in 1974.
Weather Report, featuring Joe Zawinul and Wayne Shorter developed "world
music fusion jazz." Jaco Pastorius, the electric bass player, went on to great
fame and a tragic death in 1987. In 2006, Pastorius was voted "The Greatest Bass
Player Who Has Ever Lived" by reader submissions in Bass Guitar Magazine.
Zawinul, a jazz keyboardist and composer used synthesizers and retired to his
studio to record complete compositions on his own was widely admired. He won the
"Best Keyboardist" award 30 times from American jazz magazine.
Chick Corea, another of the great keyboardists, founded the band Return to
Forever in 1972 with latin-influenced music. The band soon evolved into a
jazz-rock band. John McLaughlin was influenced by his guru, Sri Chinmoy and
created the Mahavishnu Orchestra that merged psychedelic rock with Indian music.
Carlos Santana’s band blended Latin salsa, rock, blues, and jazz. Pat Metheny
started a fusion band in 1977 that produced popular recordings that made both
jazz and pop charts. Cool jazz groups such as Dave Sanborn's bands and the
Rippingtons became popular with more melodic pieces that appealed to listeners