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Monsters of Jazz-Influenced Rock

Jeff Fitzgerald, Genius By

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Rock 'n' Roll went from being disposable teenage pap to becoming a legitimate art form, if you can call thinly-veiled drug references set to fake sitars art
And summing up last month's article on jazz as background music in 70's porno flicks, the tumescent Swede did in fact represent the rise of European influence, particularly in Fusion (as obviated by the mustache), while the naive-but-willing coed represented the collective reception of the American jazz audience. The later addition of the Mexican pool boy and the randy schoolmarm represent the continuing multicultural appeal of jazz and the seductive effect it has on traditional academia. Starring Manfred Eicher as himself.

And the winner of the "Guess the Clip" contest was Shawn M., who correctly identified 32 of the 34 participants from 1978's classic Dogpile on Delilah. No one was able to identify John McLaughlin's "Friendship."

Now, on to new business.

One of the most frequent requests I receive here in the Infotainment Division, besides queries related to my encyclopedic knowledge of movies where Toshiro Mifune scowls and scratches himself a lot, is for a critical analysis of the influence of jazz in rock music. I have long planned on just such a thing, and was going to get around to it after my three-part series on the evolution of Miles Davis' hair (Part I: The Jheri Curl Sessions). But when my research bogged down, mainly because those bastards at the Library of Congress refused to man up and go get The Illustrated History of the Afro back from Sen. Ted Kennedy (D., Mass.), I decided to go ahead with the rock thing.

Rock 'n' Roll music was invented in the relatively peaceful and prosperous 1950's to give everyone over the age of thirty something to complain about. It was the perfect music for teenagers; loud, kinetic, simplistic, and filled with overwrought emotions. Ostensibly an amalgam of blues, folk, country (!), and rhythm and blues, it represented that uniquely American ability to take a variety of disparate influences and cobble them together into a unique product that may be sold back to the masses for two prices.

From the very beginning, Rock 'n' Roll shared some very important characteristics with jazz. Both relied heavily upon saxophones as lead instruments, both rose from the outskirts of society to become an integral part of the American musical canon, and both went through more ganja than Willie Nelson hanging out at Snoop Dogg's playing Guitar Hero with the ghost of Bob Marley.

As Rock 'n' Roll evolved (if you can call it that), it began to differentiate itself from its influences. The guitar moved to the forefront as the lead instrument, a slight which saxophone players have still never fully forgiven as they've been relegated to permanent wing-man status and even the bassist is getting more leg.

Such as that is.

Throughout the 1960's, Rock 'n' Roll went from being disposable teenage pap to becoming a legitimate art form, if you can call thinly-veiled drug references set to fake sitars art. Crowded between the mass marketed top-forty fluff and pretentious psychadelia, a few players were venturing beyond the sacred three-chord trinity and developing some serious chops. The Zombies' keyboardist Rod Argent incorporated credibly jazz-inspired licks to his solo on 1964's classic "She's Not There," and Jimi Hendrix took elements of blues and free jazz and melded them together into a blistering style that still sells Fender Stratocasters to middle-class stoners.

Rock (it dropped the "'n' Roll" after losing a copyright infringement lawsuit to Wok 'n' Roll, a chain of incredibly forward-thinking drive-thru Chinese restaurants) began borrowing from jazz more liberally. Some credit John Coltrane's extended improvisations on his unlikely top-forty hit version of "My Favorite Things" with inspiring not only long-form rock hits like The Doors' seven-minute "Light My Fire" and CCR's eleven-minute "I Heard It Through the Grapevine," but later jam bands from The Grateful Dead to Phish. Coltrane would be posthumously acquitted of this charge in 1977, when the U.S. Fourth District Court of Appeals determined that there's just no accounting for some white folks.

Perhaps the breakthrough moment for Rock-Jazz relations came when Miles Davis, working with chemists from Dow and the guy who coined the term "crunchocolatey," developed a Jazz/Rock hybrid called Fusion. Integrating the electric instrumentation of Rock with the advanced harmonic and melodic innovations of Jazz, Davis' seminal Bitches Brew set the stage for a completely separate piece on the influence of rock on jazz because, as interconnected as the two topics may seem, I've got 12 damned columns to write this year and what do you people think I'm made of—new material?

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