azz fusion is a musical fusion genre that developed in the late 1960s from a mixture of elements of jazz such as its focus on improvisation with the rhythms and grooves of funk and R&B and the beats and heavily amplified electric instruments and electronic effects of rock. While the term “jazz rock” is often used as a synonym for “jazz fusion”, it also refers to the music performed by late 1960s and 1970s-era rock bands when they added jazz elements to their music such as free-form improvisation.
After a decade of development during the 1970s, fusion expanded the improvisatory and experimental approaches through the 1980s and 1990s.
Fusion albums, even those that are made by the same group or artist, may include a variety of styles. Rather than being a codified musical style, fusion can be viewed as a musical tradition or approach. Some progressive rock music is also labelled as fusion. Fusion music is typically instrumental, often with complex time signatures, metres, rhythmic patterns, and extended track lengths, featuring lengthy improvisations. Many prominent fusion musicians are recognized as having a high level of virtuosity, combined with complex compositions and musical improvisation in complex or mixed metres. According to bassist/singer Randy Jackson, jazz fusion is an exceedingly difficult genre to play. According to Jackson, ” I […] picked jazz fusion because I was trying to become the ultimate technical musician-able to play anything. Jazz fusion to me is the hardest music to play. You have to be so proficient on your instrument. Playing five tempos at the same time, for instance. I wanted to try the toughest music because I knew if I could do that, I could do anything.”
All Music Guide states that “until around 1967, the worlds of jazz and rock were nearly completely separate.” However, “…as rock became more creative and its musicianship improved, and as some in the jazz world became bored with hard bop and did not want to play strictly avant-garde music, the two different idioms began to trade ideas and occasionally combine forces.”  Music critic Piero Scaruffi argues that “credit for “inventing” jazz-rock goes to Indiana-born jazz vibraphonist Gary Burton, who “began to experiment with rock rhythms on The Time Machine (1966)”. Burton recorded what Scaruffi calls “the first jazz-rock album, Duster” in 1967, with guitarist Larry Coryell. Scaruffi argues that Coryell is “another candidate to inventor of jazz-rock”, in that the Texas-born guitarist released the jazz-rock recording Out of Sight And Sound in 1966.
Trumpeter and composer Miles Davis had a major influence on the development of jazz fusion with his 1968 album entitled Miles in the Sky. It is the first of Davis’ albums to incorporate electric instruments, withHerbie Hancock and Ron Carter playing electric piano and bass guitar, respectively. Davis furthered his explorations into the use of electric instruments on another 1968 album, Filles de Kilimanjaro, with pianistChick Corea and bassist Dave Holland.
In 1969, Davis introduced the electric instrument approach to jazz with In a Silent Way, which can be considered Davis’s first fusion album. Composed of two side-long suites edited heavily by producer Teo Macero, this quiet, static album would be equally influential upon the development of ambient music. It featured contributions from musicians who would all go on to spread the fusion evangel with their own groups in the 1970s: Shorter, Hancock, Corea, pianist Josef Zawinul, guitarist John McLaughlin, Holland, and Williams. Williams quit Davis to form his own group, The Tony Williams Lifetime. Their debut record of that year Emergency! is also cited as one of the early acclaimed fusion albums.
Many fusion pioneers credit guitarist Jimi Hendrix as a primary influence in the emerging genre. Tracks from the “Are You Experienced?” and “Electric Ladyland” LPs, “Third Stone From The Sun” and “1983 A Merman I Should Turn To Be”, respectively, were some of the earliest popular fusion tracks, before the term fusion was an official genre. The Jimi Hendrix Experience live performances featured extended free improvisational jamming with Mitch Mitchell, who was a British jazz drummer prior to joining Hendrix.
The term “jazz rock” is often used as a synonym for the term “jazz fusion”. However, some make a distinction between the two terms. The Free Spirits have sometimes been cited as the earliest jazz-rock band.During the late 1960s, at the same time that jazz musicians were experimenting with rock rhythms and electric instruments, rock groups such as Cream and the Grateful Dead were “beginning to incorporate elements of jazz into their music” by “experimenting with extended free-form improvisation”. Other “groups such as Blood, Sweat and Tears directly borrowed harmonic, melodic, rhythmic and instrumentational elements from the jazz tradition”. Scaruffi notes that the rock groups that drew on jazz ideas (he lists Soft Machine, Colosseum, Caravan, Nucleus, Chicago, and Frank Zappa) turned the blend of the two styles “upside down: instead of focusing on sound, rockers focused on dynamics” that could be obtained with amplified electric instruments. Scaruffi contrasts “Davis’ fusion jazz [which] was slick, smooth and elegant, while “progressive-rock” was typically convoluted and abrasive.” Frank Zappa released two LPs in 1972 which were very jazz-oriented called “The Grand Wazoo” and “Waka/Jawaka“. Prolific jazz artists such asGeorge Duke and Aynsley Dunbar played on these LPs.
Allmusic states that the term “Jazz-rock may refer to the loudest, wildest, most electrified fusion bands from the jazz [fusion] camp, but most often it describes performers coming from the rock side of the equation.” The Guide states that “Jazz-rock first emerged during the late ’60s as an attempt to fuse the visceral power of rock with the musical complexity and improvisational fireworks of jazz. Since rock often emphasized directness and simplicity over virtuosity, jazz-rock generally grew out of the most artistically ambitious rock subgenres of the late ’60s and early ’70s: psychedelia, progressive rock, and the singer/songwriter movement.” 
Allmusic lists the following jazz-rock categories:
- Singer-songwriter jazz-rock (Joni Mitchell, Van Morrison, and Tim Buckley)
- jam- and improvisation-oriented rock groups (Traffic, Santana)
- jazz-flavored R&B or pop songs with less improvisation or instrumental virtuosity (Blood, Sweat & Tears, Chicago, Steely Dan)
- Groups with “quirky, challenging, unpredictable compositions” (Frank Zappa, the Soft Machine)
Davis’ 1970 recording Bitches Brew abandoned traditional jazz and instead was based on a rock-style backbeat anchored by electric bass grooves. The recording “…mixed free jazz blowing by a large ensemble with electronic keyboards and guitar, plus a dense mix of percussion.”  Davis also drew on the rock influence by playing his trumpet through electronic effects and pedals. While the album gave Davis a gold record, the use of electric instruments and rock beats created a great deal of consternation amongst some traditionalist jazz critics.
Davis also proved to be an able talent-spotter; much of 1970s fusion was performed by bands started by alumni from Davis’ ensembles, including The Tony Williams Lifetime,Weather Report, The Mahavishnu Orchestra, Return to Forever, and Herbie Hancock’s funk-infused Headhunters band. In addition to Davis and the musicians who worked with him, additional important figures in early fusion were Larry Coryell and Billy Cobham with his album Spectrum. Herbie Hancock first continued the path of Miles Davis with his experimental fusion albums, such as Crossings in 1972, but soon after that he became an important developer of “jazz-funk” with his seminal albums Head Hunters 1973 and Thrust in 1974. Later in the 1970s and early 1980s Hancock took a more commercial approach. Hancock was one of the first jazz musicians to use synthesizers.
At its inception, Weather Report was an avant-garde experimental jazz group, following in the steps of In A Silent Way. The band received considerable attention for its early albums and live performances, which featured pieces that might last up to 30 minutes. The band later introduced a more commercial sound, which can be heard in Joe Zawinul‘s hit song “Birdland“. Weather Report’s albums were also influenced by different styles of Latin, African, and European music, offering an early world music fusion variation. Jaco Pastorius, an innovative fretless electric bass player, joined the group in 1976 on the album Black Market, was co-producer (with Zawinul) on 1977’s Heavy Weather, and is prominently featured on the 1979 live recording 8:30. Heavy Weather is the top-selling album of the genre.
In England, the jazz fusion movement was headed by Nucleus, led by Ian Carr, and whose key players Karl Jenkins and John Marshall both later joined the seminal jazz rock band Soft Machine, leaders of what became known as the Canterbury scene. Their best-selling recording, Third(1970), was a double album featuring one track per side in the style of the aforementioned recordings of Miles Davis. A prominent English band in the jazz-rock style of Blood, Sweat & Tears and Chicago was If, who released a total of seven records in the 1970s.
Chick Corea formed his band Return to Forever in 1972. The band started with Latin-influenced music (including Brazilians Flora Purim as vocalist and Airto Moreiraon percussion), but was transformed in 1973 to become a jazz-rock group that took influences from both psychedelic and progressive rock. The new drummer wasLenny White, who had also played with Miles Davis. Return to Forever’s songs were distinctively melodic due to the Corea’s composing style and the bass playing style of Stanley Clarke, who is often regarded with Pastorius as the most influential electric bassists of the 1970s. Guitarist Bill Connors joined Corea’s band in 1973, recording Hymn of the Seventh Galaxy. Connors describes his sound as a mix of Clapton and Coltrane.
Guitarist Al Di Meola, who started his career with Return to Forever in 1974, soon became an important fusion guitarist.
John McLaughlin formed a fusion band, the Mahavishnu Orchestra with drummer Billy Cobham, violinist Jerry Goodman, bassist Rick Laird and keyboardist Jan Hammer. The band released their first album, The Inner Mounting Flame in 1971. Hammer pioneered the Minimoog synthesizer with distortion effects making it sound more like an electric guitar. The sound of Mahavishnu Orchestra was influenced by both psychedelic rock and classical Indian sounds
The band’s first lineup split after two studio and one live albums, but McLaughlin formed another group under same name which included Jean-Luc Ponty, a jazz violinist, who also made a number of important fusion recordings under his own name as well as with Frank Zappa, drummer Narada Michael Walden, keyboardist Gayle Moran, and bassist Ralph Armstrong. McLaughlin also worked with Latin-rock guitaristCarlos Santana in the early 1970s.
Composed in 1971, a fusion of latin and modern jazz – 2.96 MB
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Initially Santana’s San Francisco-based band blended Latin salsa, rock, blues, and jazz, featuring Santana’s cleanguitar lines set against Latin instrumentation such as timbales and congas. But in their second incarnation, heavy fusion influences had become central to the 1973-1976 santana band. These can be clearly heard in Santana’s use of extended improvised solos and in the harmonic voicings of Tom Coster‘s keyboard playing on some of the groups’ mid 1970s recordings. In 1973 Santana recorded a nearly two-hour live album of mostly instrumental, jazz-fusion music,Lotus, which was only released in Europe and Japan for more than twenty years.
Other influential musicians that emerged from the fusion movement during the 1970s include fusion guitarist Larry Coryell with his band The Eleventh House, and electric guitarist Pat Metheny. The Pat Metheny Group, which was founded in 1977, made both the jazz and pop charts with their second album, American Garage (1980). Although jazz performers criticized the fusion movement’s use of rock styles and electric and electronic instruments, even seasoned jazz veterans like Buddy Rich, Maynard Ferguson and Dexter Gordon eventually modified their music to include fusion elements. The influence of jazz fusion did not only affect the US and Europe. The genre was very influential in Japan in the late 1970s, eventually leading to the formation ofCasiopea and T-Square (The Square), respectively, in 1976. The younger generations embraced this new genre of music and it gained popularity quickly approaching the early 1980s. T-Square’s song Truth would later become the theme for Japan’s Formula One racing events.
By the early 1980s, much of the original fusion genre was subsumed into other branches of jazz and rock, especially smooth jazz, a sub-genre of jazz which is influenced stylistically by R&B, funk and pop.Smooth jazz can be traced to at least the late 1960s. Producer Creed Taylor worked with guitarist Wes Montgomery on three popular records. Taylor founded CTI Records. Many established jazz performers recorded for CTI (including Freddie Hubbard, Chet Baker, George Benson and Stanley Turrentine). The records recorded under Taylor’s guidance were typically aimed as much at pop audiences as at jazz fans.
In the mid- to late-1970s, smooth jazz became established as a commercially viable genre. It was pioneered by such artists as Lee Ritenour, Larry Carlton, Grover Washington, Jr., Spyro Gyra (with songs such as “Morning Dance“), George Benson, Chuck Mangione, Sérgio Mendes, David Sanborn, Tom Scott, Dave and Don Grusin, Bob James and Joe Sample.
The merging of jazz and pop/rock music took a more commercial direction in the late 1970s and early 1980s, in the form of compositions with a softer sound palette that could fit comfortably in a soft rock radio playlist. The Allmusic guide’s article on Fusion states that “unfortunately, as it became a money-maker and as rock declined artistically from the mid-’70s on, much of what was labeled fusion was actually a combination of jazz with easy-listening pop music and lightweight R&B.”
Artists like Lee Ritenour, Al Jarreau, Kenny G, Bob James and David Sanborn among others were leading purveyors of this pop-oriented mixture (also known as “west coast” or “AOR fusion”). This genre is most frequently called “smooth jazz” and is not considered “True Fusion” among the listeners of both mainstream jazz and jazz fusion, who find it to rarely contain the improvisational qualities that originally surfaced in jazz decades earlier, deferring to a more commercially viable sound more widely enabled for commercial radio airplay in the United States.
Music critic Piero Scaruffi has called pop-fusion music “…mellow, bland, romantic music” made by “mediocre musicians” and “derivative bands.” Scaruffi criticized some of the albums of Michael and Randy Brecker as “trivial dance music” and stated that alto saxophonist David Sanborn recorded “[t]rivial collections” of “…catchy and danceable pseudo-jazz”. Kenny G in particular is often criticized by both fusion and jazz fans, and some musicians, while having become a huge commercial success. Music reviewer George Graham argues that the “so-called ‘smooth jazz’ sound of people like Kenny G has none of the fire and creativity that marked the best of the fusion scene during its heyday in the 1970s”.
Jazz fusion has been criticized by jazz traditionalists who prefer conventional mainstream jazz (particularly when fusion was first emerging) and by smooth jazz fans who prefer more “accessible” music. This is analogous to the way swing jazz aficionados criticized be-bop in the mid-1940s, and the way proponents of Dixieland or New Orleans style “jass” reviled the new swing style in the late 1920s. Some critics have also called fusion’s approach pretentious, and others have claimed that fusion musicians have become too concerned with musical virtuosity. However, fusion has helped to break down boundaries between different genres of rock, jazz, and led to developments such as the 1980s-era electronica-infused acid jazz.
Although the meaning of “fusion” became confused with the advent of “smooth jazz”, a number of groups helped to revive the jazz fusion genre beginning in the mid-to-late 1980s. In the 1980s, a critic argued that “…the promise of fusion went unfulfilled to an extent, although it continued to exist in groups such as Tribal Tech and Chick Corea‘s Elektric Band“. Many of the most well-known fusion artists were members of earlier jazz fusion groups, and some of the fusion “giants” of the 1970s kept working in the genre.
Miles Davis continued his career after having a lengthy break in the late 1970s. He recorded and performed fusion throughout the 1980s with new young musicians and continued to ignore criticism from fans of his older mainstream jazz. While Davis’ works of the 1980s remain controversial, his recordings from that period have the respect of many fusion and other listeners. In 1985 Chick Corea formed a new fusion band called the Chick Corea Elektric Band, featuring young musicians such as drummer Dave Weckl and bassist John Patitucci, as well as guitarist Frank Gambale and saxophonist Eric Marienthal.
Joe Zawinul’s fusion band, The Zawinul Syndicate, began adding more elements of world music during the 1990s. One of the notable bands that became prominent in the early 1990s is Tribal Tech, led by guitaristScott Henderson and bassist Gary Willis. Henderson was a member of both Corea’s and Zawinul’s ensembles in the late 1980s while putting together his own group. Tribal Tech’s most common lineup also includes keyboardist Scott Kinsey and drummer Kirk Covington – Willis and Kinsey have both recorded solo fusion projects. Henderson has also been featured on fusion projects by drummer Steve Smith of Vital Information which also include bassist Victor Wooten of the eclectic Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, recording under the banner Vital Tech Tones.
Allan Holdsworth is a guitarist who performs in jazz, fusion, and rock styles. Other guitarists such as Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai and Yngwie Malmsteen have praised his fusion playing. He often used a SynthAxeguitar synthesizer in his recordings of the late 1980s, which he credits for expanding his composing and playing options. Holdsworth has continued to release fusion recordings and tour worldwide. Another formerSoft Machine guitarist, Andy Summers of The Police, released several fusion albums in the early 1990s.
Guitarists John Scofield and Bill Frisell have both made fusion recordings over the past two decades while also exploring other musical styles. Scofield’s Pick Hits Live and Still Warm are fusion examples, while Frisell has maintained a unique approach in drawing heavy influences from traditional music of the United States. Japanese fusion guitarist Kazumi Watanabe released numerous fusion albums throughout 1980s and 1990s, highlighted by his works such as Mobo Splash and Spice of Life.
Brett Garsed and T. J. Helmerich are also watched as prominent fusion guitar players, having released several albums together since the beginning of the 1990s (Quid Pro Quo (1992), Exempt (1994), Under the Lash of Gravity (1999), Uncle Moe’s Space Ranch (2001), Moe’s Town (2007)) and collaborating in many other projects or releasing solo albums (Brett Garsed – Big Sky) all them falling in the genre.
The late saxophonist Bob Berg, who originally came to prominence as a member of Miles Davis’ bands, recorded a number of fusion albums with fellow Miles band member and guitarist Mike Stern. Stern continues to play fusion regularly in New York City and worldwide. They often teamed with the world-renowned drummer Dennis Chambers, who has also recorded his own fusion albums. Chambers is also a member of CAB, led by bassist Bunny Brunel and featuring the guitar and keyboard of Tony MacAlpine. CAB 2 garnered a Grammy nomination in 2002. MacAlpine has also served as guitarist of the metal fusion group Planet X, featuring keyboardist Derek Sherinian and drummer Virgil Donati. Another former member of Miles Davis‘ bands of the 1980s that has released a number of fusion recordings is saxophonist Bill Evans, highlighted by 1992’s Petite Blonde.
Fusion shred guitarist, and session musician Greg Howe has released solo albums such as Introspection (1993), Parallax (1995), Five (1996), Ascend (1999), Hyperacuity (2000), Extraction (2003) with electric bassist Victor Wooten and drummer Dennis Chambers, and Sound Proof (2008). Howe combines elements of rock, blues and Latin music with jazz influences using a technical, yet melodic guitar style.
Drummer Jack DeJohnette‘s Parallel Realities band featuring fellow Miles’ alumni Dave Holland and Herbie Hancock, along with Pat Metheny, recorded and toured in 1990, highlighted by a DVD of a live performance at the Mellon Jazz Festival in Philadelphia. Jazz bassist Christian McBride released two fusion recordings drawing from the jazz-funk idiom in Sci-Fi (2000) and Vertical Vision (2003). Other significant recent fusion releases have come from keyboardist Mitchel Forman and his band Metro, former Mahavishnu bassist Jonas Hellborg with the late guitar virtuoso Shawn Lane, and keyboardist Tom Coster.
Influence on progressive rock and metal
Jazz-rock fusion’s technically-challenging guitar solos, bass solos and odd metered, syncopated drumming started to be incorporated in the technically-focused progressive death metal genre in the early 1990s. Progressive rock, with its affinity for long solos, diverse influences, non-standard time signatures, complex music and changing line-ups had very similar musical values as jazz fusion. Some prominent examples of progressive rock mixed with elements of fusion is the music of Gong, Brand X, Ozric Tentacles and Emerson, Lake & Palmer.
The band Atheist produced albums Unquestionable Presence in 1991 and Elements in 1993 containing heavily syncopated drumming, changing time signatures, instrumental parts, acoustic interludes, and Latin rhythms. Cynic recorded a complex, unorthodox form of jazz-fusion-influenced experimental death metal with their 1993 album Focus. In 1997, G.I.T. guitarist Jennifer Batten under the name of Jennifer Batten’s Tribal Rage: Momentum released Momentum – an instrumental hybrid of rock, fusion and exotic sounds.
Another, more cerebral, all-instrumental progressive jazz fusion-metal band Planet X released Universe in 2000 with Tony MacAlpine, Derek Sherinian (ex-Dream Theater) and Virgil Donati (who has played withScott Henderson from Tribal Tech). The band blends fusion-style guitar solos and syncopated odd-metered drumming with the heaviness of metal. Tech-prog-fusion metal band Aghora formed in 1995 and released their first album, self titled Aghora, recorded in 1999 with Sean Malone and Sean Reinert, both former members of Cynic. Gordian Knot, another Cynic-linked experimental progressive metal band released its debut album in 1999 which explored a range of styles from jazz-fusion to metal. The Mars Volta is extremely influenced by jazz fusion, using progressive, unexpected turns in the drum patterns and instrumental lines.
This section lists a few of the jazz fusion artists and albums that are considered to be influential by prominent jazz fusion critics, reviewers, journalists, or music historians. For a longer list, see the List of notable jazz fusion recordings article.
Albums from the late 1960s and early 1970s include Miles Davis‘ ambient-sounding In a Silent Way (1969) and his rock-infused Bitches Brew (1970). Davis’ A Tribute to Jack Johnson (1971) has been cited as “the purest electric jazz record ever made” and “one of the most remarkable jazz-rock discs of the era”. His controversial album On the Corner (1972) has been viewed as a strong forerunner of the musical techniques of post punk, hip hop, drum and bass, and electronic music. Throughout the 1970s, Weather Report released albums ranging from its 1971 self-titled disc Weather Report (1971) (which continued the style of Miles Davis album Bitches Brew) to 1979’s 8:30. Chick Corea‘s Latin-oriented fusion band Return to Forever released influential albums such as 1973’s Light as a Feather. In that same year, Herbie Hancock‘s Head Hunters infused jazz-rock fusion with a heavy dose of Sly and the Family Stone-style funk. Virtuoso performer-composers played an important role in the 1970s. In 1976, fretless bassist Jaco Pastorius released Jaco Pastorius; electric and double bass player Stanley Clarke released School Days; and keyboardist Chick Corea released his Latin-infused My Spanish Heart, which received a five star review from Down Beat magazine.
In the 1980s, Chick Corea produced well-regarded albums, including Chick Corea Elektric Band (1986) and Eye of the Beholder (1987). In the early 1990s, Tribal Tech produced two albums, Tribal Tech (1991) andReality Check (1995). Canadian bassist-composer Alain Caron released his album Rhythm ‘n Jazz in 1995. Mike Stern released Give And Take in 1997.
Fusion music generally receives little radio broadcast airplay in the United States, owing perhaps to its complexity, usual lack of vocals, and frequently extended track lengths. European radio is friendlier to fusion music, and the genre also has a significant following in Japan and South America. A number of Internet radio stations feature fusion music, including dedicated channels on services such as AOL Radio, Pandora and Yahoo! Launchcast.
- Jazz Rock Fusion ” The People The Music “, Julie Coryell et Laura Friedman, Ed. Hal Leonard
- Jazz Rock A History , Stuart Nicholson, Éd. Canongate
- Power, Passion and Beauty – The Story of the Legendary Mahavishnu Orchestra, Walter Kolosky, Éd. Abstract Logix Books
- La vie Extraordinaire et tragique de Jaco Pastorius , Bill Milkowski, Éd. In Folio
- Jazz Hot Encyclopédie ” Fusion “, Guy Reynard, Éd. de L’instant
- Weather Report – Une Histoire du Jazz Electrique, Christophe Delbrouck, Éd. Le Mot et le Reste, ISBN 978-2-915378-49-8
- The Extraordinary and Tragic Life of Jaco Pastorius (10th Anniversary Edition) backbeatbooks
- Jeff’s book : A chronology of Jeff Beck’s career 1965-1980 : from the Yardbirds to Jazz-Rock. Rock ‘n’ Roll Research Press, (2000). ISBN 0-9641005-3-3