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Jazz fusion

Jazz fusion

Jazz fusion emerged in the late 1960s under the term "jazz-rock." The hybrid musical style combines elements of traditional jazz with a more amplified electric sound. The genre's most famous artisans include Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and, later on, Pat Metheny.

Jazz Fusion

Originally dubbed jazz-rock, jazz fusion came into being in the late 1960s. The term refers to a heterogeneous musical style blending elements of traditional jazz with the more electric sonorities common to rock and funk.

John McLaughlin It first emerged used on the British scene with the music of organist and saxophonist Graham Bond, who combined blues and R&B while flirting with jazz. Performing with Bond's group, over the years, were guitarist John McLaughlin (who went on to found the Mahavishnu Orchestra), bassist Jack Bruce (who formed the rock trio Cream with Eric Clapton), drummer Jon Hiseman and saxophonist Dick Heckstall-Smith. (The latter two played with Colosseum, an important English jazz-rock group.)

Also among the seminal bands from this groundbreaking period were Nucleus (founded by trumpet player and Miles Davis biographer Ian Carr) and Soft Machine.

Miles and his disciples

Miles Davis In the United States, trumpet titan Miles Davis played a primordial role in the birth and development of jazz fusion, leading the shift to a more electric sound with In a Silent Way (1969) and Bitches Brew (1970), two of the genre's signature albums.

As well as explore electric instruments and sounds, these works showcase an improvisational style more akin to rock, coupling its pure energy with complex textures and rhythms of jazz.

Herbie Hancock The genre-bending efforts of Miles Davis were soon emulated by others destined to earn a place of their own alongside the household names in jazz – pianist and keyboardist Herbie Hancock, whose group Headhunters defined an era with their eponymous 1973 album, and Chick Corea, founder of the famous jazz-rock group Return to Forever.

Pat Metheny In the long line of Miles Davis disciples, one would be hard pressed to overlook pianist Joe Zawinul a pioneer of the electronic and electro-acoustic keyboard, and saxophonist Wayne Shorter. Zawinul and Shorter were the founding members of the iconic group, Weather Report.

A versatile and adventurous musician, guitarist Pat Metheny has patented a style all his own, firmly rooted in jazz but also receptive to rock, folk and bluegrass influences. In the early 1980s, the American took his brand of fusion a step further by integrating new technologies.

Building bridges

While it is difficult to categorize jazz fusion – it is, after all, a hybrid form of music – we can safely say that its emergence served to broaden the technical scope of rock instrumentation and foster greater virtuosity.

The jazz fusion era also gave rise to an "electrification" of instruments, with the electric bass replacing the double bass, and the use of the electric guitar and keyboards becoming commonplace. Together with collective improvisation, the use of the riff, the definition of textures and the complex layering of sound were among the hallmarks of the genre.

Also important to mention is that jazz fusion served as a bridge between popular rock and jazz - which may explain why it wasn't unusual, at the time, for the likes of Miles Davis and Jimi Hendrix to share the same festival bill.

Rock artists, too, borrowed freely from jazz – the unclassifiable Frank Zappa's long list of collaborators included French jazz-rock violinist Jean‑Luc Ponty. In France, the group Magma, founded in 1969 by composer, singer and drummer Christian Vander (whose idol was American free-jazz saxophonist John Coltrane), exerted a powerful influence on the development of jazz-rock.

In the 1980s, jazz fusion paved the way for new forms of funk and free funk – personified by Luther Thomas or the father of free jazz, Ornette Coleman, and his Prime Time Band.

Fusion at the Festival

In the last 30 years, many of the major players in jazz fusion have trod the boards at the Festival International de Jazz de Montréal, among them trumpet titan Miles Davis. On a few occasions in the 1980s, the endlessly innovative Davis performed before an audience numbering in the hundreds. For those who were there, it was surely, in hindsight, the chance of a lifetime.

The darling of Montreal jazz aficionados, Pat Metheny has put his personal stamp on several editions of the Festival. In 1989 he headlined its 10th  anniversary, giving an incredible concert on McGill College Avenue before tens of thousands of music fans.

Chick Corea Keyboardist Herbie Hancock has also been a mainstay at the Festival since 1983, as has saxophonist Wayne Shorter, one of the stars of the 2009 edition. Each is a recipient of a Miles Davis Award, with Hancock honoured in 1996 and Shorter honoured the following year.

UZEB In 1992, UZEB, a seminal band on the Québec jazz fusion scene, marked the history of the Festival with a memorable farewell concert before 95,000 fans.

More recently, in 2008, the Festival rolled out the welcome mat for Chick Corea and his group Return to Forever. The pianist was back in 2009, this time performing alongside John McLaughlin in the days leading up to the Festival's 30th anniversary. As part of the Five Peace Band, the two musicians renewed a musical chemistry dating back to the first Miles Davis Quintet in the late 1960s.

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