Jazz is all about improvisation… innovation… and pushing boundaries. The versatility of jazz truly knows no bounds, and jazz fusion is a great example of that. Simply put, jazz fusion is all about combining jazz with other musical genres. So without further ado, here are five things you probably didn’t know about jazz fusion.
1. Miles Davis is credited with founding fusion.
As one of the top names in jazz and one of its chief innovators, Miles Davis can be found at the forefront of many jazz styles. In addition to that, he is credited with actually founding jazz fusion. It started with his album In a Silent Way, which was released in 1969. Not only did he spearhead jazz fusion, but Miles Davis’ early jazz fusion albums helped launch the jazz fusion careers of several other musicians like Herbie Hancock and John McLaughlin.
2. The genre tends to lean heavily on electronic instruments found in progressive rock bands.
With the rise of rock and roll in the 60s and 70s, electronic instruments were popularized. Jazz artists saw this and took a detour from the acoustic instruments traditionally used in jazz such as saxophones, trumpets, pianos, etc. These still have a place in jazz fusion, but with the addition (or sometimes substitution) of electronic guitar, electronic keyboard, and synthesizer. Other instruments could be electrified, so to speak. Miles Davis played a plugged-in trumpet, for example!
3. Frank Zappa, Soft Machine, and Carlos Santana also dipped their toes in jazz fusion.
Frank Zappa is considered one of the most eclectic musicians of his time, and he had a period of jazz too. To hear some of Frank Zappa’s jazz fusion music, just check out his solo LPs Waka/Jawaka and The Grand Wazoo.
Soft Machine, with hits like One Over The Eight and Slightly All The Time, is a British rock band. They played in several styles of rock, including progressive, proto-prog, experimental, and jazz rock.
Although he’s more well known for his Latin-influenced music than for his jazz, Carlos Santana put out some jazz fusion music as well. In fact, he recorded with many jazz greats like Tony Williams and Ron Carter. Carlos Santana’s 1972 album Caravanserai incorporated elements of jazz fusion.
4. Most bands do not have lead vocalists.
Most jazz fusion bands do not have a lead vocalist. A lead vocalist provides the prominent voice in a band regardless of whether or not there are other vocalists. When there is a lead singer, that person tends to be the face of the band. Interestingly enough, jazz fusion bands often do without a lead vocalist. So in jazz fusion, the emphasis is on all the members of the band. This jives well with the spirit of jazz, where each instrument (along with vocals) is and deserves to be a star in and of its own right.
5. Jazz meets funk in jazz-funk!
Jazz-funk is an offshoot of jazz fusion. While the term “jazz fusion” is often used to reference what is also called jazz rock due to the heavy influence of rock, jazz-funk is a form of jazz fusion that leans toward funk music. It takes the simplicity and feel of funk and adds a bit of the more complicated chord progression of jazz. I’ll leave you with a few jazz-funk songs to check out: Cosmic Funk by Lonnie Liston Smith & The Cosmic Echoes, Expansions by Lonnie Liston Smith, and On the Corner by Miles Davis.