Jazz-Rock Fusion: The People, The Music
In fact, very few of the interviews in Jazz-Rock Fusion even contain an explicit reference to JRF and of those musicians who do talk about it, some are downright disdainful of it. Here's what John McLaughlin (ironically, someone who is almost always credited with being one of the most influential and groundbreaking of the early "mainstream" fusion artists) says: "How do I feel about jazz-rock? Boring! It bores me to tears; it just doesn't go anywhere... I never listen to it, never. I don't want to hear it." Or percussionist Lenny White, who says that, "The art is subservient to the business. You're thought of as a commodity... That's the name of the game... That's part of the reason why you have the jazz-rock fusion music, whatever you want to call it."
As if to underscore White's observations, there's Ms. Coryell's comments on the commercial aspects of the concept of "fusion as seen by the music business, as opposed to that of the musicians. In her introduction she speaks of the record companies, "...where new 'fusion' divisions are being created for the purpose of seeking out and developing new talent to satisfy the growing market. Once again, the old story of supply and demand threatens the vitality and innovativeness of the scene..." However, all is not lost, she reassures, because "what keeps it human is the music and the musician."
But there are others, with an openness that truly makes one nostalgic for an era during which virtually anything was possible, when the horizons of creativity stretched out as far as you had the courage (and talent) to take them. Guitarist John Abercrombie says it well: "Two guitarists that were very important in shaping a new direction for jazz guitarists were Gabor Szabo and Larry Coryell. They brought to jazz music other influences, like rock 'n' roll, country, and folk, that gave the music a more impressionistic quality. It made me realize that there are many ways to play music and it is up to each individual to channel his or her own personal experiences and influences into a way of playing that will suit their needs and reflect their ideas and feelings..."
What's even more valuable about what some of the musicians have to say in this collection, is their perceptions of what was happening to (and with) the music in the 1960s and '70s. Michael Gibbs, composer and musician from Zimbabwe, talks about how counter-productive a label like JRF is, how it not only doesn't describe the music, but actually constrains where you can go ultimately with the music a testament to the power of labels. "I think to label a particular music 'fusion music' is to limit the music. There's a lot of jazz-rock fusion at the moment, and as long as that music is labeled that way, it always remains two musics and the fusions don't have room to take place." Gibbs goes on to trash the whole concept of calling just one kind of music a "fusion , when music by its very nature has always been a fusion of different cultural and artistic elements: "There is a fusion going on every time somebody writes music... It's not just a fusion between jazz and classical, or jazz and rock; there are all sorts of elements going in, all sorts of inspiration and influences which come out in the composer as one thing."
Of particular interest are those who were quite aware that they were creating some new kind of music. When Larry Coryell talks about what The Free Spirits were doing, and how audiences perceived it, he recalls that "We felt that we would be ten years ahead of our time if we made the music we wanted... what later became known as jazz-rock. Nobody understood it. As a matter of fact, the Free Spirits album was appreciated more in Europe, especially Denmark, than it was [in the U.S.]." And as Abercrombie recalls: "My first real involvement with jazz-rock music came...in 1968-1969 when I was asked to join a newly formed band called Dreams which included, at that time, Randy and Michael Brecker, Billy Cobham, and Barry Rogers. It was my first experience playing a sophisticated type of rock in which I found myself, with my knowledge of jazz phrasing and use of electronics, attempting to fuse the two into some kind of sensible-sounding music." I think it's important to note how Abercrombie refers to the sophistication of rock, and how they were trying to "fuse that with jazz to create "some kind of sensible-sounding music. He makes it sound serious dead serious, or to borrow the title of Valerie Wilmer's book about the so-called Free Jazz movement of the same period, "as serious as your life".