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Jazz Meets Rock in an Intoxicating Potion

John Edward Hasse, Ph.D
 

By John Edward Hasse (original source The Wall Street Journal)

“Fifty years ago this monthColumbia Records issued Miles Davis’s churning ‘Bitches Brew,’ confronting two genres of music and crystallizing a third, jazz-rock fusion. It was a potent cauldron: a quicksilver leader and 12 younger musicians improvising over rock and funk rhythms, semi-jams as long as 27 minutes, cutting-edge editing techniques, and a dreamlike Afro-futurist cover. Bold, transformative and bestselling, this double record marked a milestone for Davis and American music.

Most innovative artists make their breakthroughs in their 20s and spend the rest of their careers exploring and burnishing their new approach. Like Picasso, Stravinsky and Frank Lloyd Wright, Davis—subject of a recent PBS/BBC documentary—repeatedly shed his style to create a new paradigm. ‘Isn’t it great that you can experience surprise through music?’ the influential trumpeter mused to writer Kiyoshi Koyama for a set of abandoned liner notes…to what album, it’s not clear.

Davis started his career in the 1940s playing bebop, innovated a counter-bop style known as cool jazz, then became a mainstay of earthy hard bop. In the late 1950s he pioneered a modal approach in jazz, and in the 1960s he stretched further away from jazz’s conventional approach to harmony.”

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