Friday, June 6, 2008

Jazz Fusion Guitar Heroes

Jazz Fusion Guitar - Freedom of Expression by Logan Young

Jazz fusion guitar music involves the blending of jazz music along with other musical styles like rock, rhythm and blues, soul, world music, etc. These various forms of music and the different techniques are mixed with those of jazz to produce jazz fusion music. This style gained the maximum popularity during the 1970s with several albums being released featuring jazz fusion guitar music by various artists. As time went by, many jazz musicians were acknowledged for their virtuosity and they were highly skilled at composing and improvising even with very difficult meters. Examples are Dave Brubeck and Don Ellis. You won’t usually find vocals in jazz fusion guitar music.

The Beginnings Of Jazz Fusion Guitar Music

Roughly around the end of the 1960’s Miles Davis along with Tony Williams initiated the concept of fusion using the electric jazz fusion guitar and bass guitar combined with the electric piano. Later on, musicians like Chick Corea, Jan Hammer, etc. included synthesizers.

During this time, several rock artists began to lean towards jazz fusion guitar music. An early example is “The Byrds”, whose style was influenced by Coltrane. Close on their heels came Paul Butterfield and Mike Bloomfield with their lengthy improvisations. This was followed by the heavy inclusion of jazz fusion guitar music by artists such as Jimi Hendrix, The Allman Brothers Band, Chicago, Chase, Yes, Soft Machine and several others. They all had rock music songs with jazz style instrumental improvisations. Then came Frank Zappa with his jazz rock album Hot Rats which set the tone for many more. He was an icon for the jazz fusion genre.

Herbie Hancock has the credit for popularizing jazz funk in the 1970’s, and also for being the first to use synthesizers, but eventually he mostly made pop music. In the UK, Soft Machine pioneered jazz fusion guitar music. During this period, Chick Corea’s band that began with latin-style music switched to jazz rock around 1973. There was plenty of jazz fusion guitar music with bassist Stanley Clarke, Pastorius and Di Meola, who are said to be among the most influential at this time. Di Meola went in to record his solos with his jazz fusion guitar playing.

In 1971, John McLaughlin’s jazz rock band, the Mahavishnu Orchestra had an elite set of members – Billy Cobham at the drums and Jan Hammer, the master of keyboard. In fact, McLaughlin played his jazz fusion guitar music on a double-necked guitar, experimenting and recording some beautiful solos.

The Current Trend

The trend continues today with a number of rock groups being influenced by jazz and including jazz fusion guitar solos in their music. Among the best known that were extremely successful are Jeff Beck, Coryell and Pat Metheny with some great jazz fusion in recent times.

The great thing about jazz fusion is that it creates a feeling of oneness by blending different musical styles. Today, there is a lot of commercialization with jazz mixed rock and pop, mostly in the soft rock genre of music. We have Lee Ritenour, Kenny G, Al Jarreau, all with huge fan followings.

Scott Henderson is a jazz fusion guitarist who was with Chick Corea and Zawinul. His band, Tribal Tech has recorded several jazz fusion pieces.

Another very notable jazz fusion guitarist is Allan Holdsworth who has consistently performed for over two decades. The list goes on with greats such as John Scofield, Kazumi Watanabe of Japan, Christian McBride (bass), Shawn Lane and many others.

Finally, jazz fusion guitar music has resulted in a feeling of freedom with the blending of various styles of music leading to a better understanding and appreciation of jazz for its expressiveness.

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