Jazz Fusion

As with many jazz genres, jazz fusion labours under a number of labels, and has spawned a few sub-genres of its own: these include ’fusion’, 'progressive jazz', 'jazz rock' and 'jazz funk'. Its genesis lies in the perennial willingness of jazz musicians to explore other genres, forms and styles. With the advent of pop music in the 60’s, and in particular the use of amplified electronic instruments — electric guitars, electric basses and keyboards such as the Fender Rhodes piano — a whole new sound works was available to jazz musicians.

Not only that, but the radical change in rhythmic emphasis, from swing — with its emphasis on beats 2 and 4 — to the more 'four-square' rhythms of rock and funk, where beats shared more equal emphasis, opened up a world of possibilities.

When Miles Davis morphed yet again from one style to another in the form of the 1969 album 'Bitches Brew' he had a line-up that included electric instruments — guitar, bass, keyboards — and a team of sidemen who were going to make their own waves. Wayne Shorter (soprano sax), Joe Zawinul (electric piano),  Chick Corea (electric piano), Harvey Brooks (electric bass) and John McLaughlin (electric guitar). Miles put a microphone on his trumpet and played through electronic effects and pedals, rather like an electric guitar.

These sidemen branched out to form their own important groups: McLaughlin formed the 'Mahavishnu Orchestra' with Billy Cobham and Jan Hammer; Chick Corea formed 'Return to Forever' with guitarist Al DiMeola and bassist Stanley Clarke; Joe Zawinul was a founder member of 'Weather Report', along with bass virtuoso Miroslav Vitouš, later to be replaced by the even more prodigiously talented Jaco Pastorius. Meanwhile pianist Herbie Hancock was cooking up his own jazz fusion with iconic albums like 'Headhunters (1973) and 'Feets, Don’t Fail Me Now'. 

In the 70s bands like the Crusaders and Spyrogyra — with their commercial mix of jazz and pop styles, carried the torch for fusion jazz. Later still came the Brecker Brothers and Pat Metheny and Lyle Mays.

Another offshoot of fusion appeared in the form of Jazz Rock, with bands like Colosseum, Blood, Sweat & Tears, Nucleus, Brand X and Frank Zappa’s 'Mothers of Invention' and, more recently, Snarky Puppy.

Key Artists

Miles Davis

Chick Corea

Herbie Hancock

John McLaughlin

Wayne Shorter

Joe Zawinul

Stanley Clarke

Billy Cobham

Joe Sample

Wilton Felder

Randy Brecker

Michael Brecker

Pat Metheny

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