(Post by John Allan from Bridgetown, Western Australia – July 2022.)
I know jazz is not to everyone’s taste but bare with me. Two words.
Bitches Brew. No it’s not a lethal concoction of special lager and fortified wine. It’s the Miles Davis seminal album of 1970 that paved the way for the music form known as jazz fusion or jazz rock. (Or jizz ruck as bassist Brian fae Gala would say when I made a brief attempt to play this style of music in a Glasgow based quartet in the early 80s.)
Trumpeter/band leader/composer Davis having been in the forefront of such jazz styles as bebop, cool jazz and post bop decided to change direction at the dawn of the 70s. Having admired the likes of Jimi Hendrix, The Byrds and Sly and the Family Stone and the power of amplification and electronic effects, he thought I’ll have some of that !
In 1969 he augmented his regular quintet with keyboardists Chick Corea and Josef Zawinul and guitarist John McLaughlin for the album In A Silent Way. Critics saw it as selling out to a Rock ‘n Roll audience. Undeterred he persevered with the double album Bitches Brew in 1970, opened for rock acts such as Neil Young and Crazy Horse and the Steve Miller Band and attended the Isle of Wight festival in 1970 in front of 600,000 people. Unheard of for a jazz artist at the time. And still the (black) critics claimed he was genuflecting to white culture.
Now, I had another listen to Bitches Brew on Spotify the other day and even for me it was hard going. It’s basically a jam session recorded over a few days and spliced together to form tracks some 20 minutes long. It’s what it spawned that I think is important. All 3 keyboardists became pioneers in the use of synthesizers and electric keyboards in jazz fusion/modern music.
Herbie Hancock combined jazz with funk and disco to gave us the hit Rockit. Later he would produce an album of jazz standards with the music of Don Henley, Peter Gabriel, Prince, Steely Dan and Nirvana.
Chick Corea along side drummer Lenny White went on to form Return To Forever and produced such albums as Light as a Feather and Hymn of the 7th Galaxy. (Corea was into Scientology hence the wanky names !)
Josef Zawinul along side Davis‘ sidekick saxophonist Wayne Shorter plus a young wunderkind fretless bassist called Jaco Pastorius formed Weather Report whose best selling album Heavy Weather produced the jazz standard Birdland.
Guitarist John McLaughlin with drummer Billy Cobham formed The Mahavishnu Orchestra and had releases Inner Mounting Flame and Between Nothingness and Eternity. (McLaughlin was into guru Sri Chinmoy hence the wanky names !) Also greatly influenced by Miles, a young Missouri guitarist named Pat Metheny was putting his debut album Bright Size Life (1976) together with the aforementioned Jaco Pastorius. Sixty albums later (which I have 20+) he is still my favourite recording artist. You may remember his collaboration with David Bowie, This Is Not America
As an aside, Messrs. Hancock, Shorter, Pastorius and Metheny had a great influence on the music of Joni Mitchell. (Hejira, Don Juan’s Reckless Daughter, Shadows and Light)
So if you ever find yourself with a spare hour or two, I encourage you do give this often maligned art form a listen.
As a seasoned Jazzer once replied to the statement But I don’t like jazz !
You do. You just don’t know it yet !