Mar 22, 2018

1968: Jazz vs. Rock


"I mean jazz, man. You know, that's where it's at. I mean, you know where I'm at. It's jazz."
With this jumble of half-sung, almost too-hip phrases, Stevie Winwood, leader of Traffic, begins and ends an instrumental piece, "Giving to You."
It's not jazz in the sense of long, improvised solos working out a musical theme, but it is closer to jazz than most of the Traffic's repertoire.
Traffic generally is considered a rock or pop band. But Winwood indicates he also leans toward a different bag - one which has not been considered remotely similar to Top 40 material since the '30s and '40s.
Now, however, one of the major controversies in music circles is whether pop and jazz actually are merging.
West Coast critic Ralph Gleason believes they are, calling it "a natural musical and sociological development and there is no reason to expect it to get any less intense. Rather, expect it to increase."
Another view is expressed by Nat Hentoff. He contends that because the "core of identity" of jazz comes from black artists, "the new pop, while sometimes provocative, is not deeply nor directly enough related to the growth of black consciousness."
Both arguments, of course, are highly subjective, but there are indications that jazz (which Bob Dylan once maintained never "appealed to the younger generation") is starting to heavily influence some rock groups, as well as some rock music making inroads into jazz.
The Grateful Dead's concerts are almost totally improvised. Jefferson Airplane's crew acknowledges debts to John Coltrane and Thelonius Monk. Ginger Baker and Eric Clapton, once with The Cream, have been strongly influenced by jazzmen. Kaleidoscope sometimes sounds like an avant-garde jazz group.
Meanwhile, jazzmen are crossing over to rock territory.
Hugh Masakela made a hit of "Grazing in the Grass." Long-haired vibist Gary Burton not only looks like a rock musician, he often plays with a rock group. Jeremy Steig and the Satyrs are almost as near to jazz as to rock. Gabor Szabo, who believes "Jazz is dead," does jazz renditions of pop tunes. Charles Lloyd's pitch to the new generation is a new record, "Love-In," recorded live in the Fillmore Auditorium.
The growing appeal of jazz music to rock-oriented young audiences is evident in the successful billing of some jazz groups at San Francisco ballrooms: Don Ellis, Cannonball Adderley, Count Basie, Cecil Taylor, Buddy Rich, Thelonius Monk, Roland Kirk.
In addition, one of the new albums to be released through the Beatles' new company, Apple, will be one by the Modern Jazz Quartet.
Naturally, purists like to think that forays by jazz musicians into the rock realm are purely for commercial reasons.
"Musically rock 'n' roll hasn't influenced jazz, jazz has influenced rock 'n' roll," Lionel Hampton said in an interview in Down Beat magazine.
Charles Tolliver, however, thinks "rock 'n' roll has had a very strong influence on jazz. Of course, the roots are close." Pianist Herbie Hancock feels this influence has been "healthy." So does Gary Burton: "I dig rock myself, and I think my experience with it has helped me."
Says Don Ellis, whose "Electric Bath" enjoys some popularity among young listeners, "There's a certain affinity between the things I'm doing and rock. We're both interested in rhythm."
Chris Connor comments, "Rock hasn't hurt jazz one bit. A lot of jazz musicians are incorporating that sound - Bud Shank, Ramsey Lewis - and I'm glad to see them make it. Actually, there are some good sounds in rock."
Down Beat, the staid, traditional jazz magazine, apparently agrees. It reviews rock records and even uses some pop artists on its covers.
Jazz magazine has added "Pop" to its title and every issue strives to include something about the fusion of the two forms. Eric Clapton, for instance, told a Jazz & Pop interviewer:
"Right now there's such a close affinity. Apart from volume, there isn't a lot of difference between Gary Burton and a good rock group. Larry Coryell - he plays a lot of runs about the same as I play. You know, his simple ones. I can't play all those things that he does. But he can play the things that I do. And he does."
Important jazz influences still are largely centered in England and San Francisco. As music critic Philip Elwood puts it: "The San Francisco sound in electronic music holds much the same position, compared to the commercial pop-Top 30 music, that jazz held for so long during the Hit Parade-Tin Pan Alley era of popular music."
The Grateful Dead, one of the innovators of the San Francisco sound, is also one of the rock bands furthest into jazz. The group uses two drummers, allowing for complex rhythm patterns, and every set is almost complete improvisation.
The group's songs no longer are constructed around lyrics, but around musical themes, as is jazz. Yet it maintains the high volume and social appearance, both associated with rock music.
The Dead and The Cream are the best examples so far of how close rock musicians can come to jazz. Jazz is more complex than rock and financially less rewarding, so few other groups have abandoned their thing for jazz music.
Still, the line between the two musics is increasingly blurred, mainly because rock musicians have become more proficient and like the challenge of jazz music.
The popularity of what is called rock music is beginning to support a lot of musicians who like to think of themselves as jazzmen. What remains to be seen is whether the cohabitation will one day produce a new kind of music, an exciting amalgam of rock and jazz music.

(by Geoffrey Link, Chicago Tribune-New York News Syndicate, from the Baltimore Sun, 19 December 1968)

See also: (Ralph Gleason 1967)

1 comment:

  1. Not much on the Dead here, just a few sentences on their similarities to jazz music, but I included this since it's an interesting piece on jazz/rock crossovers, written before Miles Davis 'went electric' and the idea of jazz-rock fusion was still new.

    Geoffrey Link also reviewed a March '68 show by the Dead for Down Beat, writing similar things about them in that piece:
    "[Last year the Dead were] still dependent on lyrics... Now it is the music that is important. It's more jazz than rock... There is now more improvising in [the] playing than ever before... [With a second drummer,] new worlds of dynamics have opened up."

    Link was a music critic who had a regular syndicated column on rock music (this article was also printed in multiple other papers in early '69), and at the time he was also the San Francisco news correspondent for Billboard. (Hence many of his references are San Francisco-based.) His articles were about trends in rock music - such as its use of blues roots, the embrace of electronics & synthesizers, or the adoption of classical-music structures.
    Here, oddly, he talks more about jazz artists and their nods to rock music, rather than the other way around - only a few rock groups influenced by jazz are mentioned. With In A Silent Way yet to be recorded, the primary examples of jazz artists heading towards rock include Charles Lloyd, Gary Burton, and Larry Coryell; and Link wonders whether jazz & rock will someday unite to "produce a new kind of music."

    At the time, the thought was anathema to some jazz critics, who viewed any embrace of primitive rock music with horror; not to mention the rock critics who were equally disgusted by rock music trying to emulate complicated jazz styles. But there were also fans of genre-blending, and some critics who claimed that a few rock bands were already pretty much jazz, like Rolling Stone editor John Burks ("With their long rampaging improvisations, Cream, in all their virtuoso glory, gave rock a new dimension, carried the music in a direction parallel to jazz - some critics called it jazz, and the Cream themselves don't argue - and set new standards...") and Ralph Gleason (who said the Dead were "really jazz," and Cream's music also "seems to me to qualify as jazz... It has the irreverence of jazz, the edge of jazz, and the feeling of spontaneity always involved with jazz. And it is exciting music. The time will come, in the not too distant future, when concerts will present groups like the Cream and jazz groups like Albert Ayler.")
    As mentioned in this article, Gleason was an especial supporter of the idea of merging jazz & rock: "The more the rock players listen to jazz, the more complex and inventive they will become. And the jazz players, for all of their complexity and invention, have things to learn from rock."