Jazz-Rock Fusion: The People, The Music
There's a ton of wonderful information contained in Coryell's conversations but I have to say that the title of the book may be a little misleading. This is not so much a book about JRF and the musicians who made it, as it is a book about a decidedly fruitful and creatively fertile decade or so in which popular music was rapidly evolving. And it's a book about many of the musicians who, in one way or another were associated with, or saw themselves a part of, that phenomenon. Coryell herself addresses the dichotomy between the book's title and the fact that so many of those interviewed for the book have never been thought of as being of the JRF persuasion. In her introduction to the original 1979 edition of the book, she notes that "...although we call this work Jazz-Rock Fusion, we wish to emphasize that not everyone included in it plays a 'style' of music that can... be labeled either jazz, rock, or fusion. The title, therefore, is only to identify a period in the history of music and not the music itself. I'm not sure I buy that as a defining paradigm by her reasoning, virtually anything happening in the world of music during this "period in the history of music could be called JRF. But at the same time, I'm willing to accept her thesis as a starting point, since it would be a waste of time and energy to devise a universally acceptable definition of JRF, and then to impose that definition on those few hand-picked musicians who might happen to fit that artifically invented definition most closely.
In his preface to the 1979 edition, Ramsey Lewis puts this question into a somewhat different historical context. "Jazz has been and always will be a changing and enduring art... , he says. And who can argue with that? (okay, Wynton and Stanley we know how you feel about jazz changing over time). But then, when he tells us that "It is obvious that the birthplace of fusion music was in Chicago , you want to ask: "Obvious? To whom? Chicago? Huh? . He goes on to give a shout-out to his own group as being a birth-mother to the fusion phenomenon: "It was during the early sixties that the Lewis Trio (El Dee Young, bass; Red Holt, drums) were unknowingly setting the stage for things to come...El Dee, Red, and myself at that time did not consider what we were doing to be terribly new. Without knowing it, we combined into an approach some of the music we had always been exposed to: black church music, rhythm and blues (melodic repetitive rhythms), and jazz. Because of my classical training... we also showed the influence of European harmonies, musical devices, and theories... From musicians and critics alike, there were shouts of foul play..." There are countless musicians and groups who could say the same thing combining European melodies and harmonies with African and Black American rhythms and styles has always been a central hallmark of jazz, since its very beginnings.
In Lewis's defense, however, he does cite other early innovators and influences, including Ahmad Jamal and Eddie Harris, but especially Miles Davis: "It was not until the late sixties when Miles Davis gave his stamp of approval by incorporating some of these ideas into his albums that musicians accepted that rock rhythms and influences other than the traditional ones could be integrated with jazz." He underscores the depth of Miles's role in this music, indeed in the whole generation of musicians who grew up with it and who grew out of it, when he asks us to ponder "exactly how many people in this book have at one time or another been directly or indirectly under the influence of Miles Davis."
Acknowledging the central role that Miles played in the promulgation of JRF, Coryell gives him by far the most space in the book a full eight pages, uninterrupted by questions, excerpted from several conversations she had with him. Interestingly enough, he says nothing here about JRF what he thought of it, where he thought or hoped it might go, his own take on the part he played in the fusion movement, what he thought of audience and critical reactions to In A Silent Way and Bitches Brew (many die-hard jazz critics especially lambasted him as a sellout when Bitches Brew became a Grammy winner). It would have been a nice element in a book ostensibly about the era that he, perhaps more than anyone, ushered in.
[For an interesting side trip, check out Coryell's portrait of Miles, which accompanies the excerpts from their conversations. She paints a picture seemingly at complete odds with the typical, stereotyped image of Miles as a nasty, brutish, arrogant, and confrontational beast of a man who, oddly enough, composed and played some unbelievably beautiful music. In her estimation, "Miles is a teacher. He always has been... He is an extraordinarily kind and compassionate man...very patient, very amusing when he wants to be... serious when he needs to be... Most of all, he is a lot of fun to be with."]