Saturday, February 11, 2012

Jazz Influenced Rock Music Of the Late 1960's and 1970's

When I took up guitar as a high school kid in 1968, rock music had entered it's golden age. Certainly the influence of Chicago-style blues was huge, and had been for several years [particularly in Great Britain], but rock musicians were searching for ideas and inspiration from other genres as well, including classical [The Moody Blues, Procol Harum] country/western [The Byrds], Afro/Cuban [Santana] and Indian [experiments by The Beatles and others]. But, the blues notwithstanding, it was the influence of jazz that made the biggest impression on the music and musicians of the late '60's and early '70's.
Instrumental performance became a focus of interest for many during this period. The virtuosity of players such as Eric Clapton, Mitch Mitchell, Jimi Hendrix, and Jack Casady was being recognized and applauded by audiences, and rock musicians began finding and listening to new heroes among jazz's elite players. Long, improvised instrumental jams became the norm during live rock shows. Jazz tunes were being covered by rock bands [Tito Puente's Oye Como Va by Santana, Roland Kirk's Serenade to a Cuckoo by Jethro Tull]. The IIm7-V7 chord progression, the backbone of jazz harmony, began appearing in pop tunes. Brass rock bands Chicago Transit Authority [soon to be Chicago] and Blood, Sweat and Tears were writing jazz-rock songs, i.e. rock tunes but arranging them in a jazz fashion, replete with bop solos, odd time signatures, sophisticated chord changes and swing grooves.
Jazz players had been recording on rock and pop sessions for years as anonymous session players, not for their jazz sensibilities but for their reading skills. But in the late '60's and 70's jazz musicians began appearing on rock records as featured players. Van Morrison's critically acclaimed Astral Weeks album featured bassist Richard Davis and drummer Connie Kay [of Modern Jazz Quartet fame], John Payne on reeds and Walter Smith, Jr. on vibes. Phil Woods soloed on Steely Dan's Dr. Wu and Billy Joel's Just the Way You Are. Yusef Lateef played on Leon Redbone's Double Time, and Charles Lloyd on The Doors Verdillac. And Joni Mitchell used personnel from Weather Report on 2 albums in the late '70's, including her collaboration with Charles Mingus in '79.
Mitchell was just one of several rock artists whose music reflected the influence of jazz. Carlos Santana recorded Caravanserai in 1972, a fusion of jazz, salsa and rock. He had recently become enamored with the music of John Coltrane and Miles Davis, and his new music expressed this interest. He collaborated on projects with John McLaughlin and Alice Coltrane [which included Jack DeJohnette and Dave Holland]. The release in 1975 of Blow By Blow signaled Jeff Beck's transformation from rock guitar icon to jazz fusion innovator. And, of course, there was Walter Becker and Donald Fagan of Steely Dan, who acknowledged jazz influences from the beginning of their recording careers. And with each successive album, the Steely Dan roster included an increasing number of heavy jazz players, contributing not only in section work but arrangements and solos as well.

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In my next article I'll further examine the influence of jazz on rock songs and songwriters of the late 1960's and 1970's.
If you like jazz-influenced rock music, you're sure to enjoy the song Love/Hate Thing by Peter and the Wolves. Reminiscent of Steely Dan's Home At Last, it features a trombone solo by Mark Ferguson, one of Canada's finest jazz musicians. Peter and the Wolves are offering a free download of this track, just click on this link:
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